“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” – Socrates
I’ve always believed that I had higher than average levels of self-awareness compared to most people. Since I was a teenager, I have been reading self-help books, doing personality assessments, studying human behavior, and constantly reflecting on my actions and how I interact with those around me.
Boy was I wrong. I discovered that there was a whole dimension of my character that was out of my sphere of consciousness once I began working with a career coach at a crucial juncture on my professional path. One of the tasks I was assigned in the initial stages of my coaching sessions was to collect feedback about my character and general conduct from my friends, family and co-workers.
Initially, I perceived this task to be a little daunting because I was unsure if my skin was thick enough to weather a brutally honest assessment of my overall personality. My coach then advised me to take it all in with a grain of salt and adopt a rational approach towards the insights that I received from others.
After mustering up some courage, I scheduled calls with a list of 10 people I had complied with great care. I had my pen and notepad ready for each call and by the end of the task, I had almost 8 pages of notes. It was an extremely enlightening process that made me aware of untapped gifts that I wasn’t mindful of, but also several blind spots that I had overlooked and that needed some adjustments.
This proved to be a powerful exercise for me because it escalated my self-awareness to stratospheric levels. I later found out that there is a model in communication studies known as the Johari Window that supported the truth of my revelations. It illustrates that there are four key areas of our identity:
- a public self that is known to ourselves and others
- a private self known only to us
- an unknown self that is neither open to the public nor us
- a “blind spot”, which is what others know about us that we are not yet aware of ourselves
The JW model is commonly applied in the world of commerce and business. Personality assessments such as 360 degree feedback and the Myers-Briggs Typology tests are used within organizations to gain a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each employee and how to improve them.
I believe that it would really serve us if we took on a similar measured approach towards understanding ourselves, whether it is through others’ feedback or insights from self-awareness tools and activities. The idea is to probe deeper into the many unidentified contrasts and contradictions that lie within our interior world such as our emotions, physical health, our mind, motivation, desires, failings and habits.
If we invest the time in getting to know ourselves better, we could compile our very own “user’s manual” about who we are, how we work, and what makes us the unique individual that we are. The only issue is that we don’t operate like machines. We are complex beings with many wonderful layers to our personality. We can’t take different parts of our psyche apart and analyze them as separate entities.
Although we have a basic physical anatomy, there is so much more to us than what meets the eye. We have a spirit – an unidentifiable and nameless, amorphous part of our being that represents the essence of who we are, on the energetic and ethereal plane. We have all been in the presence of people who emit a magnetic, soulful aura – those charismatic individuals who tend to leave a deep impression on us.
I usually find that these captivating individuals have two things in common – they are comfortable in their skin and in-tune with their purpose in life. They are self-assured, confident and in alignment with their truth. They tend to make better friends, partners, and have a sense of calm and ease in their ways.
On the flip side, the people who neglect their personal growth are usually incapable of handling the darker and shadow aspects of their being. Disowning one’s flaws can drive a person to engage in self-sabotaging behavior such as smoking, drinking, entering unhealthy relationships, or any superficial tonic to assuage any unaddressed pain and lingering issues.
A lack of understanding about our deeper values, purpose and ethics can cause us to live a life that we don’t love and lead us down a path where we feel tired, run down and resentful. Eventually, we’ll experience feelings of being lost, dissatisfied and unhappy about the direction that we are heading in.
The reality is that there are just way too many choices in the world today, and given our limited time and resources, it behooves us to make the most suitable choices based on what we feel is right for us, by peeling away the many layers to get to the core of our being. I believe that this organic process is the gateway to a satisfying and fulfilling life that is full of meaning, purpose and tailored to our aspirations.
That’s not to say that it is an easy and straightforward process. It requires an open mind, a willingness to engage in trial and error, and plenty of resilience to withstand failure. We have to take some time out to step away from all the distractions and demands of our daily life. A readiness to take on a creative approach towards self-discovery involving both rational and intuitive means is a must.
Traditionally, the intuitive methods used for building self-awareness include meditation, therapy, journal writing, and engaging in self-reflection. While these certainly are effective portals to learning about our inner-self, I would like to add a few non-traditional tools that could quite possibly resonate with you:
- Discover your archetypes: A term coined by Carl Jung, an archetype is defined as “a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches”. Each of us can relate to certain archetypical figures, such as the jester, the princess or the mystic. We see these archetypes demonstrated in fables, mythological stories, and even contemporary movies all the time. One of my favorite resources on archetypes is the book, Sacred Contracts, by Caroline Myss. You can find a comprehensive list of archetypes on her website. Discovering your archetypes will give you an idea of the major themes of the roles you play in life and how you can tap into your strengths.
- Engage in creative activities: Seeking a creative outlet to express our deepest expressions is a powerful way to give form to the unconscious intelligence that lies within us. Artists, musicians and writers will tell you how they are able to “find themselves” when they are in their creative flow while working on their craft. We don’t have to be in a conventionally creative career to engage in this form of self-discovery. We can always take up a hobby such as painting, dancing, singing, etc. to give our creative impulses a voice. It’s important that you choose something that speaks to you and that you are curious about, because only then will you produce work that will be a true reflection of your subconscious urges.
- Travel: Based on my previous blog posts, you know that I’m a big fan of traveling because I see it as compelling way for expanding your awareness. It broadens your horizons by exposing you to different kinds of people and places. Your sphere of experiences expands, thereby giving you the opportunity to form connections and associations, which reposition how you see yourself in a global context.
- Esoteric sciences: I believe that the mystical world of astrology, tarot cards, tea leaf readings, runes and iChing can offer us a wealth of untapped information, which can offer us a deeper understanding of the key aspects of our personality that we wouldn’t be able to access on a rational level. While this may not be way to go if you are skeptical about these modalities, if you are willing to give them a try, you’ll find it be a fun and effective way to connect with the hidden symbolic nature of the cosmos.
- Set challenges and take risks: It’s a known fact that our toughest experiences have turned out to be our greatest learning experiences. By creating our own mini-quests that allow us to push our limits, we can get the same benefit of learning about our limits and learning how to cope with pressure and stress. When we have to tough it out and stretch ourselves to accomplish a goal, we will be shown sides of our personality that we would not be aware of had we been just coasting along in life.
The next time you look into a mirror, really gaze into your eyes. Look into your eyes long enough until you connect with that deeper aspect of yourself. You will notice the soul essence of who is hidden within you, waiting to be unleashed and expressed in the world.
This is the real you. It is the truest expression of who you are, in its purest and most glorious form.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: After reading this article, what are some of the ways that you are willing to try to increase your self-awareness?
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