How well do you really know yourself? It’s not just a question for philosophers and psychologists. In fact, when we face a difficult time or phase of our lives, we often step back and self-reflect. We wonder what’s wrong with us, why we can’t seem to feel connected and happy. We wonder why our lives seem to be falling apart, or why we feel so different than everyone else seems to feel.
We ask ourselves questions, such as the following, in order to try to figure it all out.
- Who am I?
- What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
- Why am I here?
- How can I find my true passion?
- Who would be my ideal partner?
- What is the best job for me?
- How can I find true happiness?
- What can I do better?
- What do I need to know about myself to find success?
If you want to learn and grow and evolve to become the best possible version of yourself, it’s important to understand your abilities and passions, as well as your patterns of behavior and your psychology. Modern life is full of distractions, but it’s worth the effort to check in with yourself more often because self-knowledge and self-awareness are the foundation for emotional intelligence.
Self-knowledge means more personal power.
Think about it! You can more effectively use a computer when you know more about it, and in the same way, you can more effectively use your own brainpower, mind, and body when you understand them better.
Shouldn’t knowing yourself be simple?
Of course, you know who you are, right? But here’s the thing – as humans, we’re flawed. And there’s one pretty significant human behavior that tends to prevent us from learning more about ourselves. It is our tendency to rationalize things we don’t understand.
As humans, we tend to assume that we understand ourselves and the choices we make. And, by nature, we feel compelled to explain ourselves and the world we live in, and at least on some level, to believe our own explanations. Of course, this isn’t self-knowledge, but self-explanation, or rationalization, and it is one of our strongest human habits.
Self Knowledge Versus Self Explanation
When you were a child and you did something your parents didn’t like or that you weren’t allowed to do, they might wonder why you chose to do that.
Most of the time, you probably answered with something like, “I don’t know.”
And you weren’t lying! But while this is the truth, it’s not something that your parents were probably thrilled to accept. As you got older, saying “I don’t know” when you were asked to explain yourself was never an acceptable answer, so eventually, you probably started to come up with rationalizations and justifications for your behavior.
Just think about the irony of this whole thing. As a kid, given a few seconds to explain your behavior is nearly impossible, because you genuinely probably aren’t aware of it – but somehow, you were expected to know yourself well enough to do exactly that, while at the same time, even the best psychologists might to be able to do the same thing.
So, even though your child-self truly didn’t know why you did the things you did, you felt a lot of pressure to figure it out. As you got older, this pressure only increased, which led you to start to sort of “make up” a reason that you did what you did.
But if you’re looking for true self-knowledge, this is a real problem? How do we learn the true causes of our behavior if we already have our explanations?
Be Content to Wonder, and to Wander
A better approach is to say “I don’t know.” If it helps, follow it with “Maybe it’s because of…” and let the explanations spill out, but don’t be too quick to accept any of them. It isn’t always necessary to explain.
For example, suppose you are avoiding a certain person. If you never know why you are avoiding them, isn’t it better to leave the question open than to accept a false explanation based on a habit of self-justification and rationalization? When you leave questions unanswered, you may someday have a better understanding. A quick answer just means a quick stop in your thinking and less self-knowledge.
Why not just say, “I don’t know,” and be content to wonder about it, and to wander around and figure it out. After all, isn’t it better to learn to accept your ignorance, and to keep observing yourself? Don’t let self-explanation get in the way of self-knowledge.
Why is Self-Knowledge So Important?
Self-knowledge can be as important as you choose to make it in your life. But if you want to create personal change in order to truly live the life you were meant to live, it’s absolutely imperative.
There are so many benefits to self-knowledge, and if you can honestly assess yourself, your behaviors, and your life choices, you also have the power to create serious personal change.
Self-Knowledge can help you make better, more intentional choices.
It’s easy to develop habits and spend much of our life on autopilot. When you examine your motives, you empower yourself to make changes and act more deliberately.
Self-Knowlege can lead to more happiness with yourself, your relationships, your work, and your life.
When you create a life that aligns with your values, you’ll experience more peace and satisfaction. You can go after what brings you joy.
Self-knowledge allows you to be more authentic.
Imagine accepting yourself and realizing that you are worthy just as you are. You can take risks and interact with others on a genuine level instead of trying to cover up your perceived weaknesses.
Self-knowledge can help you discover your truth and to find deeper personal fulfillment.
Do you spend more time trying to live up to external obligations rather than pursuing what you want out of life? Knowing yourself can be the first step to honoring your own priorities and devoting yourself to meaningful activities.
Self-knowledge leads to unapologetic self-acceptance.
Whether due to feeling invalidated by your parents as a child or to our society’s confusing messages about being not good enough, you might live in a negative space where you’re reinforcing those negative messages about yourself without realizing it. When you can unapologetically accept yourself, you can stop apologizing for who you are and start on the road toward actual, genuine self-love.