“Self-knowledge” has a pretentious ring to it, but it’s really a down-to-earth concept. Do you know yourself? Do you understand what makes you tick? Do you have some grip on what’s important to you? Your likes and dislikes?
Self knowledge comes to people at different stages in life. Some ten-year-olds know, unwaveringly, exactly who they are and what they want to do in life. Other people die old and regretful, always living other people’s agendas and never grabbing what they wanted out of life for themselves.
It can be disruptive to look inward. When you turn a spotlight on your own values, desires, and sense of purpose, it can create cognitive dissonance with the current reality of your life. You might end up quitting a job, ending a friendship, or moving to a different city. Or you might reaffirm existing aspects of your life and “double down” on what makes you happy.
The process itself can be emotionally exhausting and mentally difficult. It’s hard to “zoom out” and think about your life in the abstract. On the other hand it’s also simple. What’s working? What isn’t? What makes you happy? What makes you crazy?
The dividends of investing in active self-knowledge are enormous. To live your life “on purpose” instead of by inertia means more happiness, more clarity, better health, and better relationships.
It also means a better world. When you encounter social systems and structures that conflict with your values and purpose, and you know what your values and purpose are, there will be heat and friction. You’ll resist. Millions of individuals resisting adds up to social change.
So where do you start?
The Self-Knowledge Blueprint
There are a multitude of practices that might lead to increased self-knowledge, including meditation, cognitive therapy, and journaling. In this post I’ll look at a very direct approach — grappling directly with questions of purpose, values, and ethics.
For myself, trying to answer the following questions, in writing, as concisely as possible, has resulted in some major “a-ha!” moments and life course corrections:
- What is my life purpose? I like Steve Pavlina’s method for exploring this question, but there are others that might be just as effective.
- What are my personal values? Friendship? Family? Learning? Service?
- What are my societal values? What’s most important, to you, on a societal or civic level? Scientific research? Public health? Education? Protecting the environment?
- What is my personal code of ethics? Under what conditions would you ever lie, steal, cheat, or kill? Never? To protect your family? To increase your personal wealth?
- What are my heart-driven action priorities? What is your heart telling you is most important to do in life?
- What daily practices work for me, bringing me energy and happiness? Meditation? Writing? Running? Keeping a clean house?
- What situations or activities have I tried enough times to know I should just avoid them? Crowds? Musicals? Martinis? Tennis?
Don’t try to tackle the whole list at once. The questions are difficult, so you should get a full night’s sleep between each exercise so that your subconscious mind can process your answers (several times I’ve gone to bed feeling muddled and confused about one of these questions and then woken up with total clarity).
I revisit each question periodically. Do my answers still ring true? Have I changed? Sometimes I change my responses, and this leads to changes in my behavior. The self fluctuates, and active self knowledge is an iterative process.
I hope this post was helpful to you, so that you can live your life a little more on purpose.