Why do I think that Self-knowledge is an extremely important topic and it should be addressed and taught through the educational system? Because knowing your mental abilities is just as important as knowing your physical ones. The same way you know (and pay attention to) that you are prone to catch a cold when not wearing a scarf, can’t function properly unless you sleep exactly 7,5 hours, or fantastic at sprinting but not at long distance running, you should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your cooperating abilities, communication skills, self-authenticity and many more aspect of you.
Self-knowledge is not sorcery or witchcraft. It is a tool that can help you get to know yourself, your brain, your way of thinking, and can help you to be a balanced person. One could say the somewhat cliché wisdom: the better you know and get along with yourself, the better you’ll be able to build healthy relationships with others.
So what can you do if this is the very first time you thought about this topic? Well first as a start there are a great number of available personality quizzes that you can find online. Not all of them are accurate but it can be a start. If you get a result that you end up deeply disagreeing with that’s also a start of a conversation between you and yourself.
Besides quizzes you can find great articles on the topic, written by therapists and psychologist that might give you a push to the right direction. (I’ll leave a list of recommendations at the end of this article.)
My contribution right here will be the description of two great exercises. You can complete them by yourself and with others, it can give you some kind of feedback and of course, hopefully it will spark your brain.
So the first one is called Skill Trade. I want you to comfortably sit down at a table in front of an empty sheet of paper with a pen. Close your eyes and imagine that we are in the future, where money does not exist the way we know it. The new currency is skills. There was a machine invented that can quantify your abilities and skills, which you can trade with others. So now your job is to write down the 3-5 things you know that you’re excellent at, that you could use as “money” to get into trading. It can be anything you can think of. Some things that you’re so good at that if the machine quantified them you could give some away and still have plenty left.
Is your list ready? Amazing! Was it difficult? Could you have written down more than 5 or it took you forever to even come up with 3? Let me tell you something! Everybody has strengths. In fact everybody has MANY strengths. Our job is first of all to try a lot of things and figure out where our natural talents lie, and also identify some generally important skills that we need to work on no matter what.
Ok. Second round. Let’s go back to our futuristic world and imagine that we have plenty of currency to trade, so we can pick 3-5 skills, and have the machine just upload it to our brain. Try to think of things you consider important, you know you could use them well but you think they are rather your weak points. Write them down.
Why did you choose those particular ones? What would you use it for? Aren’t those things - by any chance - skills you could start working on on your own? A lot of people for example write down language skills, meaning they want to learn to speak foreign languages but they find it difficult. And it is. But it needs pretty much one thing: strong will. You have to be consistent and practice a lot, and you could even learn Hungarian. I mean it would literally be one of the most useless languages since there is just one tiny country in the whole wide world where they speak it, and it’s not the land of endless opportunities either, but for sure you could use it during holiday season. Because to be absolutely objective, Hungary is one of the most beautiful countries, especially the capital, Budapest.
Without joking, now that you managed to identify a few skills you desire to possess on a high level, the next step is to figure out how to improve them. You can find so many excellent online learning opportunities for free or little money that it shouldn’t be a problem. There are things you can pursue easily via e-learning like computer skills, but if your wish rather falls on the practice-heavy side you might want to find someone to help. For example if you want to learn how to be a better public speaker, additionally to watching videos and reading about it you will eventually have to practice in front of family and friends.
Besides working on your less fantastic skills, the second thing you can do with your brand new knowledge is to use it well. Try to find a profession that fits you and your strengths, emphasize your powers during a job interview, take advantage of your gifts by helping others! After doing this exercise alone, you can ask a family member or close friend to discuss your choices with you. They can give you valuable input.
The second exercise I want to share with you is derived from the psychological theory/model called the Johari window created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham American psychologists in 1955. They mostly used it for self-help groups but it was taken over to corporate settings as well. The point of the exercise is to better understand ourselves, and our relationship with others.
Luft and Ingham put together a list of 55 adjectives that were given to a subject and his peers, who had to know each other fairly well. After this the subject had to pick out the 5-6 adjectives that he felt described him the best. The peers had to do the same, picking out the adjectives they felt described the subject the best, and then conclusions where drawn and applied to the actual model, than can be called a window or a house with 4 rooms. See it here.
The Arena or Open Area is the section where those adjectives go that were mentioned by the subject and the peers. Those things fit here that are known by self and also known by others.
The Façade, also called Hidden Arena contains those characteristics that are known to self but not known to others.
The Blind Spot or Blind Arena includes everything that was mentioned by the peers but not my the subject itself, meaning those attributes we are not aware of ourselves but people who live around us are, belong here.
Finally, the Unknown Area is what we don’t know about ourselves and is not known by others either. Things we haven’t lived through, situations we haven’t faced characteristics that haven’t been discovered either by us or by anybody else. One might want to think that he would be a hero on a sinking ship but until it happened it is just an assumption that could be true or false.
A healthy balanced personality has a big Arena, where openness is the dominant with smaller Façade and Blind Spot. Having a larger Façade can mean that the person is an introvert who keeps it to himself, which is absolutely ok unless it’s out of balance and damages the personality. Having a larger Blind Spot on the other hand is always tricky. It means there are problems with that person authenticity. They are not aware of how they perceived by others. Just think about that one friend who just doesn’t know how to stop talking. A larger Blind Spot can very well make building healthy relationships hard.
The exercise can be modified based on specific goals. (You can find the original adjective list here.) I have created a version that I used to use with Communication and Cooperation groups where the trainees where forced to compare their own idea of their communication/cooperation style with the results of how the others perceived them. It was always a big hit and a very useful experience. Based on this model you can create your own personal exercise and "play" with your significant other, best friend and learn if your assumptions of yourself match their opinion.
It is necessary to know if our picture of us inside of our head is an authentic version of the picture others have of us. No matter what the results is nothing is carved in stone. Self-knowledge and the development of one’s self is nothing but making a conscious effort. As long us we don’t know what to work on that process can’t even start.
Links to quizzes and articles about this topic:
http://www.seemypersonality.com/#q1 http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test http://www.newlineideas.com/communication-style-quiz.html http://www.queendom.com/tests/access_page/index.htm?idRegTest=2288 http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141954 https://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/know-thyself-how-mindfulness-can-improve-self-knowledge.html http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-knowledge/