Why does it take us so long to be who we truly are?

Dr. Srini Pillay

5 Research-Based Perspectives on Self-Neglect and How to Correct This

Man’s reflection on body of water photography: Courtesy of Randy Jacob/Unsplash

So many people go through their entire lives, never being who they truly are. Why does this happen and what can they do about this?

Normality: People strive to be normal, but when you are part of the norm, you lose touch with your unique characteristics. You often hear people judging or reassuring one another about the normality of their behavior. While normality does allow us to adhere to a set of social conventions, it has disadvantages too.

In 2007, social psychologist Dustin Wood and his colleagues explored what it meant if people judged themselves as normal. They found that if you thought that you were normal, you were generally agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable. But they also found that you lacked a certain psychological trait called “openness to experience.” (OTE) While this may help you fit in, it does not help you explore yourself or what the world has in store for you. As a result, you lose out on potentially defining experiences.

For example, Renee Wu left her Ph.D. program in physics and quit her job at Microsoft to become a pole dancer. Such a change would not be possible without OTE.

Also, when you have OTE you are also more creative. People who judge themselves as normal give up on their creativity too.

Takeaway: What is one safe non-normal thing that could move your life forward? Schedule it into your day now.

Too much focus: We might think that if we focus, we will stride ahead and become who we are. But your psychological center of gravity—your core self—comes alive when you build unfocus times into your day.

As I explained in my book Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, learning to build unfocus time into your day will enhance your self-connection and allow puzzle pieces of yourself to come together too.

For example, when Doris Kearns Goodwin was asked to name the most underrated leadership quality of several US presidents including Lincoln and FDR, she said that it was that they made sure that they took time off so that they could think more clearly.

Takeaway: Schedule a 15-minute nap, free-walk on a curvy path or block off time to doodle now. Repeat every day. Each of these can refresh your mind, enhance your originality and help you retrieve important memories that were long forgotten.

The trauma of normal life milestones: In life, we cross several thresholds, and when we do, we leave something behind. For example, when you enter a romantic relationship, you gain intimacy but lose autonomy. And when you have children, you satisfy your personal needs for generativity but your personal life may stagnate.

Usually people just accept their choices in life, when in fact, it helps to regain autonomy and prevent stagnation. Of course, it’s hard to juggle too many things at once, but when you stop to ask yourself important questions about what you have given up, it will help you prevent regret in the future.

Studies have shown that when you lack autonomy in your relationships, you are less satisfied and also have poorer conflict management skills. In fact, ensuring your independence increases your overall sense of wellbeing.

Takeaway: Take 30 minutes off right now to ask yourself: Do I have the autonomy I want? Am I stagnating? Most people can improve on both aspects of their lives. So schedule one action today that will help you regain your sense of self.

Goal obsession: People spend so much time focusing on their goals, they lose out on their full power of self-awareness. If fact, studies show that too much focus on goals will not get you there.

It’s compassion that you need, more than someone whipping you to the finish line. In fact, too much goal focus will turn on your fight-or-flight system and freak you out. You won’t be able to concentrate.

If you’ve ever watched a tennis player like Roger Federer play, you would have noticed that his eye is always on the ball, not where he wants to hit it.

Takeaway: Know your goals. Feel them in your bones. But when the time comes to pursue them, stay rooted in the moment. To help yourself develop this capacity, practice five minutes of mindfulness before you start any task. A brief period of mindfulness will help you connect with your deeply felt priorities.

Frozen self syndrome: The problem with trying to “become” yourself is that there is no actual person to become. The process of living is one of always being and becoming.

Who you truly are, is someone who is always evolving. You have to stay committed to this truth so that you don’t become an emotional couch potato.

Psychological flexibility and activity will help you always question where you are and where you will next go. But sometimes, you have to stop and ask the question overtly.

For example, afetr seeing a movie you like, you might ask, “What did this movie teach me about myself? If I stopped living my life in autopilot, what different thing might I do today?

Takeaway: You must be committed to constant evolution to experience the idea of “becoming” yourself. Make it a habit tto ask yourself, “Is it time to re-invent myself?”

When you think of what a short time we have to live on earth, why not do all that you can to optimize your self connection? When you take time out to ask and answer important questions, it can add the very speed and depth you’ve been looking for in self-evolution.

Srini Pillay, M.D.is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, brain-imaging researcher, certified master executive coach, musician, technology entrepreneur and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. He will be holding a LIVE WORKSHOP ON SELF-DISCOVERY.

To learn more about the workshop, click here: https://nbgcorporate.com/transformational-leadership/

Dr. Srini Pillay

Written by

Harvard Psychiatrist. Tech creator. Brain Researcher. Executive Coach. LinkedIn Learning Instructor. Author: Tinker Dabble Doodle Try.

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