4 practical ways to understand yourself

I talk about the concept of “alignment” a lot.

But there’s not much point aligning stuff if you don’t even know who you are, right? And what does that even mean? How do you get to know yourself?

If anyone tells you that this process of knowing yourself is a quick process, make a very angry face at them and then run away — because they are lying to you (and probably trying to sell you something).

This process will take up your life, so take comfort in every layer of non-truth that you peel in the never-ending quest to “find yourself”. It won’t happen in one day, one trip to Bali/India (sorry), or one year spent being a rolling stone. It’ll take up your whole life, so you might as well spend some time on a daily basis doing a little bit of inner work. Plus… you’ll be changing with time. The moment you think that you’ve “found” who you are, time will sneak in and go, “Ha! Wrong! THE JOKE IS ON YOU, BRO”.

Here are some things that helped me understand who I am and what I need in my life:

Self-exploration through personality tests and labels

We claim to hate labels, but still want to be a part of a community. I think the issue with labelling is when we deny that there is more to a person than just the one label we know them by. I should stress that not all people from a label are the same. However, I think it’s really handy to understand yourself as a combination of various labels — and I hold mine quite proudly.

One way to understand these different aspects of yourself, is to break down your labels, and then choose to invest some time in understanding that label, or interacting with other members of that label’s community.

Important: I’d like to add a quick note that my lovely friend Amner Shefford pointed out. Be careful not to use any of these labels as an excuse or an obstacle in the way of your growth. It could be very easy to end up continuing a behavior that is harmful and then use any of these labels as an explanation. Know yourself — and then grow yourself.

Here are a few labels to get you started:

  1. Race/ethnicity: Are you from one race? Multi-racial? Can you find out more about your race?
  2. Nationality: What does your passport say?
  3. Locality: Where do you feel at home? How did/do these places affect you?
  4. MBTI: What Myers Briggs type are you? I find that it’s handy to learn more about the first letter (extraversion vs introversion), and the combination of the middle two letters. Those are very defining characteristics.
  5. Astrology: If this is your thing and you’re into the woo, what can you learn about yourself from the different houses (note: I’m not speaking about simply assessing yourself according to your sun sign)? Numerology and other “woo” studies can come here, too. Kindly note that I will not get into discussions on this unless it’s with a person who’s spent at least a year studying more than just the superficial aspect of astrology.
  6. How your family behaved, or what they identified with: What patterns can you see in yourself that you saw in your parents or guardians? This could be genetic behaviour or environmental influence — but either way, your family will have had some influence on you as a child.
  7. Gender: We are currently in an age where we have started questioning the norms when it comes to gender. What gender do you identify with? What can you learn about this gender? While we are still exploring the concept of gender as humans, and don’t have all the answers — this can definitely be a great starting point for people who have never stopped to consider this aspect of their identity. Don’t worry if you sometimes are left with more questions than answers. This journey isn’t just about the answers — but about asking the right questions.
  8. Sex/Genetics/Biological Factors: What can you learn about the sex you were born with? There may be some biological reasoning behind some of your traits, and it’s always good to discover these during your quest for knowledge. Sometimes illness or physical characteristics cause us to be a certain way, so connecting with others that you identify with can be profoundly healing when you realise that you are not alone.
  9. Mental Health: I personally believe that a large amount of us all have gone through some form of mental health issues at one point or another. Some of us have chronic mental health disorders, and others may have had an experience that destabilised their mental health for a period of time. I think its very important to invest time into understanding your mental health beyond what a doctor or school tells you, as new research comes out regularly — and the only one who truly knows you best (ironically), is you.
  10. Age: What can you learn about your generation?
  11. Religion: If you grew up with a particular religion, how did that subconsciously affect your behaviour?
  12. Income level: As much as people may not want to speak about it, this can have such an effect on the shaping of one’s character. How did this shape you?
  13. Education: Your educational background can shape your character so much. I’m a high school drop-out (not by choice), but learned everything I know through experimenting and self-study — and so I often find myself getting along more with people of a similar background. How did your education impact you?
  14. Style: Some people have a particular style that they prefer to wear. As much as it might seem like an insignificant and superficial label, I find that this can also shape you through its community as well as the activities that may belong to a particular style.
  15. Career: How has your career choice shaped you? While you may have chosen a career path to suit your character, you may find that that choice ends up shaping it in some ways, too.
  16. Hobbies: If you are serious about a particular hobby, this will affect your character too. Just because you do something for fun, that doesn’t mean that it won’t have a massive impact on your life (especially if you love it more than your job).
  17. Who you love: They say that you are the average of your closest friends. I feel that you end up becoming the average of the people you spend the most time with — so while you need to take responsibility for your own characteristics — your loved ones can often give a clue as to why you are a certain way.
  18. Human nature: Some people find that simply being human has its own characteristic traits, and learning about sociology, history, or psychology may help one understand the self a little better.

Self-exploration through journaling

The simplest method is journaling, or speaking into a voice message to allow yourself to explore thoughts on a particular topic (which saves you having to worry about what another person is thinking, like when you have a conversation).

Here are some ways that people like to journal:

  • Pick a word from a novel or dictionary, and write whatever comes to mind about that until you’ve run out of things to say.
  • Write until you’ve filled a certain amount of pages (In The Artist’s Way, they recommend 3 Morning Pages).
  • Write for a specific amount of time.
  • Start with “Last night I dreamed about” if you have vivid dreams, and try to explore any symbolism in your dreams related to current fears/worries/thoughts.
  • Start with “I feel” and check into your body to see what you are actually feeling.

Just remember that there is no wrong answer — and no pressure to write anything of significance. Even if you end up writing about how bored you are with journaling, that counts. You never know what might come up if you allow it.


Self-exploration through therapy

Some people respond well to talk-therapy. Some people find CBT, or other therapies that are solution-oriented, helpful. And yet others will prefer more energetic ways of discovering the self — like past life regression, or Tarot card readings. Whatever works for you is fine — at the end of the day, as long as you aren’t harming others (or yourself), there is no “wrong way” to learn more about yourself.


Self-exploration through coaching

I hate the term “life coach”, even though it’s essentially an umbrella term for what I do. I prefer to call it “vulnerability coaching”, as I help my clients connect to their audience, by connecting on a deeper level with themselves… publicly. Scary stuff, and not for everyone, I must admit.

But any good coach out there will make you come face to face with yourself. From your hidden mindset obstacles to your core beliefs, a fantastic coach in any industry will somehow help you understand a little bit more of who you are by the end of their work with you.

Yes, even a good business coach will confront you on your demons, even if they don’t do so overtly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything you do — especially your career — will rest heavily on your mindset. You can’t get good results in anything if you’re being blocked by mindset, so most good coaches (and personal trainers) will focus on that aspect of things with you.

Be wary of the coaches who don’t speak or write about these things. It’s akin to noticing the clothing of a romantic partner, without acknowledging their character — it’s great for show, but there is no substance and so will end up falling flat.

I hope this helps you understand yourself a little better.

If you have any book recommendations, or tips, feel free to share what worked for you in the comments when it comes to exploring who you are. :)


Originally published at Melissa de Blok.