Many of us don't have the faintest idea who we are or what we're capable of.
If you’ve ever been a bit surprised by yourself — by something you did, or thought, or said — you should read this article. Because that means you don’t probably don’t know what you are capable of. And if you don’t know, who should?
“No one knows you better than yourself.”
“You know what’s best for you.”
“You are the best expert for your own interests.”
Do you agree with these statements? Well, they are not entirely true.
I couldn’t believe I said that
Magda, a 38-year old logistician, describes what happened to her during the tense negotiations of a major contract for her company: “I became very upset, and I yelled at the man on the other side of the table, ‘Do you know what your problem is? You are completely unprepared.’ Such aggressive behavior was never my style,” she said. “I really surprised myself.”
Afterward, a friend told her, “I knew right away you would do that.” Magda was stunned that her friend was so certain and seemed to know something about her that Magda herself didn’t know.
In fact, we know very little about ourselves — where we come from, what our interests and capabilities are (although especially when it comes to physical form, they may be overestimated). We don’t know our inner reserves until they are tested. How do you know whether you would invite a homeless person or a refugee into your home if you have never been in that situation? How would you behave in a moment of struggle, for example, if you found out that someone close to you were seriously ill? When it comes to the matters of the mind, we are not able to trace our own mental processes; it is not even logically possible.
So how can you get to know yourself better?
Ask your friends
“Tell me what you really think … what do you admire about me and what annoys you? Was there a time that I surprised you, disappointed you, amused you?” Asking questions is one way to try and get to know yourself. This knowledge, however, may be insufficient to make a difference, according to the research of Dr. Hanna Brycz, a psychologist at SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Study subjects were supposed to determine if they or other people exhibit certain behaviors. As it turned out, more than 80 percent of people could correctly judge the behavior of other people, but when it came to judging themselves, 80 percent made mistakes. Moreover, they searched for such information and experiences in themselves that would put them in a good light. So what is the lesson here? We tend to have a good opinion of ourselves, but not a very accurate one. Psychologists believe that people think well of themselves to maintain psychological comfort.
Draw conclusions from the past
More specifically, draw conclusions from the tasks you were able to complete (or not). A good way to do so is to leave your comfort zone. For example, someone who hates public speaking overcomes his fear each time he takes the podium. Remember, how afraid you were to ski down that black diamond trail? Last time you skied was 15 years ago. But you did it! What does it say about you? If you always stick to your comfort zone, you will most likely not know yourself well. And you will not have fun!
There is a chance that if you look at your experiences honestly, you will become stronger and your self-esteem will grow, even if you find out some peaks are too high for you.
Watch your relationships with others
It is best to learn about yourself in the context of relationships with others. But most of the people are not an objective source of such information or supply it limited to a particular area — what kind of a worker, boss or a partner you are. In daily relations, we don’t learn anything new. This is because we tend to repeat situations or relationships. A person who as a child was taking care of a parent will most likely enter a similar relationship with a partner. Someone who spent his entire childhood fighting for parents’ attention as one of many kids will always try to prove that he always sells the most or comes up with the best ideas in a professional setting, and he will view all co-workers as rivals.
Very often therapy, especially group therapy, or taking part in interpersonal training seems to be the best way to get to know yourself.
This article was originally published in the Polish Edition of Aleteia.