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Self Awareness Leads To The Life You’ve Always Imagined

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Creative Commons License photo credit: seanmcgrath

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”  – Joseph Campbell

Be Yourself” is a popular piece of advice.  Everyone likes to hear it, yet what does it really mean?  The Ancient Greeks said to “Know Thyself,” but why is it so important to know who you are?  The concept of Self is not that clear, yet we all seem to sense a pattern of qualities, traits and characteristics that are completely one’s own.

How do you come to know who you are?  This seems to be a silly question as you spend every minute of your life with yourself, yet we can still be astonishingly ignorant about who we really are.

And when you arrive at knowledge about yourself, what do you do with it?  How does this knowledge help you through life?

Self knowledge is the foundation of any fulfilling life, because with knowledge rooted in your Self you can take powerful action towards the life you wish to create.  Taken all together – knowledge of self, powerful action, and imagined life outcome – this is Self Awareness.

“Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues.  Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.”  – Sydney J. Harris

Look Within Yourself

When searching for self knowledge, look for patterns and trends in your behavior, thoughts, and emotions that have held up over time, even if they don’t look exactly the same at different points in your life.  Here are some things you can look for:

  • Proclivities
  • Underlying Fears
  • Underlying Motivations
  • Underlying Goals
  • Environmental Preferences
  • Personality Preferences
  • Values
  • Likes/Dislikes/Loves
  • Strengths/Weaknesses

How do you find these things?  Through reflection and through paying attention to what you are doing.  Take some time on a regular basis to think back on what you have done in your daily life and ask yourself these questions:  “What was I doing”? and “How did I feel while doing it”?

Also, practice asking yourself these questions while you are going about your day.  Begin to notice what you are doing and how you feel about it while it is happening.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart…. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung

Look at Yourself from Without

It may seem that self knowledge only involves looking within yourself, when, in fact, it also involves looking at yourself from the perspective of others.  Looking only inwards is like driving a car without peripheral vision or mirrors.  You can drive straight ahead, but won’t know how to react to something coming at you from the sides or rear.  Sooner or later you’re going to crash the car.

Do you know how people see you?  Are you communicating to people what you think you are communicating?  Imagine yourself sitting across the table from you.  Literally, imagine yourself out of body staring at yourself.  What do you see?  What is your facial expression like?  How are you dressed?  Body language?  Tone of voice?  What is your impression of this person sitting in front of you?

Also, notice how people react to you.  Do people often react in a way that puzzles you?  Did you get a reaction you didn’t expect?  Do people seem to take what you say or do in a way you didn’t intend?  Reflect back on the situation after it has happened.  Again, watch the situation from the perspective of a third party and observe how others are reacting to you.

If you cannot see what you look like to others, you cannot direct your action appropriately and can never use the knowledge you have gained.

Act Powerfully

Action that is based on self knowledge is powerful action because it has roots in who you are.  Taking action that is rooted is always better than rootless action because it has a strong foundation.  When you take powerful action you not only know what to do, but why to do it, and knowing why to do something is dependent upon knowing what you’d like the outcome to be.

On the other hand, rootless action is not powerful because the consequences are completely up to chance.  Instead of being proactive, you are simply reacting to the situations around you, because you don’t have a good idea of where you’d like to go.  Your action has “what,” but no “why.”

The active creation of your life is an incredibly rewarding experience, and is really never finished.  Essentially, using your self knowledge, you imagine the life you want to have and direct your action towards that.   Although you can’t control everything that happens to you (external forces are acting on us all the time), you can actively take part in the aspects that you have more control over.

There is no such thing as a “successful life” that is not relative to your Self.  Each of us has our own idea of what a fulfilling life would be, we just have to figure out what that is.  Creating a life is not as simple as going to the “Choose a Life Website” and picking the features that seem the coolest.  There is a very specific way in which each of us will live fulfilled, and without self knowledge you will never know what that is.

“A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them, for they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”  – Sigmund Freud


{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Avani-Mehta July 29, 2008, 1:36 pm

    Loved your article.
    Looking at yourself from without is a very powerful tip. Often we spend so much time looking at us with our own perceptions and judgements, we forget that everyone doesn’t share similar viewpoint.

  • Amanda Linehan July 29, 2008, 2:53 pm

    Avani – Yes, it can be hard to remember that how we perceive ourselves isn’t always how others see us. We have to make sure to look for it!

  • Mr. Limbo July 30, 2008, 5:10 am

    Yup, most people are shallow, superficial, and live in the fear of reality. They can’t handle who you really are, so better to put on an act and suck up to their petty needs. When in doubt, I ask myself: What would George Carlin think? And he’s dead, so there you go. Have a nice day!

  • Amanda Linehan July 30, 2008, 9:15 am

    Mr. Limbo – Thanks for your comment.

    I will remember that – “What would George Carlin think”? 😉

  • lloyd August 1, 2008, 1:17 am

    I really like your style .

  • Amanda Linehan August 1, 2008, 9:49 am

    Lloyd – Thanks a lot.

  • Lance August 1, 2008, 12:50 pm

    Amanda, this is so well-written. You have hit upon something that I believe is the key to living the life we desire. We have to know ourselves, and sometimes that is the hardest of all. It’s much easier to look for answers “outside” when we already have them within us – we just have to see them with our hearts and minds.

    Why is it so hard to look inside? Are we afraid of what we might see? Do we fear the spirit that lives inside of us, that it doesn’t fit with what the world expects?

    I’m not sure, but I think this is part of it.

    I know that I’m not there yet, but I’m working in that direction. Thanks for writing this, it is reassuring for me as I go forward.

  • Rachel August 1, 2008, 11:08 pm

    I loved this article! I would love to say I know who I am 100% but I don’t. I feel it is an everyday ongoing process. But, I think at least if you try to know youself the best you can you will miss out less then if you don’t know yourself at all.

  • Amanda Linehan August 2, 2008, 11:50 am

    Lance – I think there is something scary about looking at who we really are. And, I think you’re right on about being scared that what we find inside won’t “fit in with what the world expects.”

    I’m not completely there yet either, but I strive to be – and I’m much better off than I was a few years ago.

    Great comment! Thanks.

    Rachel – I think that striving to know yourself is one of the most important things that someone can do. And, I definitely agree, it’s a step by step, ongoing process (and usually slow!).

  • madmax January 23, 2009, 6:28 pm

    felt very reassured reading your article. i am going through some difficulty in relationship and that made me look within myself, which was very painful and insightful. i resolved lot of issues that i have carried since childhood. self awareness.. thats the way to go!

  • Amanda Linehan January 23, 2009, 11:13 pm

    Madmax – Looking within ourselves can be painful, but what we gain from the process is very valuable! I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

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