We are the product of the world we grew up in, the values we hold, the society in which we live, the advertisements we are exposed to, and so much more. With so many things continuously influencing us it can be difficult to know who we truly are.
We spend much of our lives getting to know others, but often fail to focus on getting to know, or getting reacquainted with, ourselves. It’s possible you are as much a mystery to yourself as you are to the people you pass in your daily life.
Taking the time to connect with yourself allows you to truly understand what makes you happy, what drives you, and what is most important to you.
The goal of getting to know yourself is so that you can connect and truly understand the person you are. Self-connection is defined as “consisting of three components: 1) an awareness of oneself, 2) an acceptance of oneself based on this awareness, and 3) an alignment of one’s behavior with this awareness.” The focus for this post is on the first component, awareness of oneself.
Self-awareness “can be broadly defined as the extent to which people are consciously aware of their internal states and their interactions or relationships with others” Understanding your thoughts and emotions helps you to regulate them so they are not controlling you.
Learn to listen to yourself
When we experience unpleasant thoughts or emotions it can be tempting to ignore them rather than work through them. Bottling up emotions or pushing away thoughts can take a toll on our mental health and lead to anxiety and depression.
Learning to listen to yourself can be easy on a bright sunny day as you go for a walk in the woods or curled up in a blanket with a good book. When we are content it can be easier for us to accept and understand those feelings. What can be harder is when we are faced with conflict, strong emotions, stressful events, or new situations. But the negative thoughts and emotions we feel are just as important to acknowledge and accept as those that are positive.
If someone we cared about came to us wanting to discuss a stressful or unpleasant situation they experienced, most of us would be there for them to listen and help as needed. We should do the same thing for ourselves, because we should care about ourselves the same way we care about others.
What you can do
Periodically check in with yourself. Throughout the day take a few moments to see how you are feeling both physically and mentally. What emotions are you feeling at this moment? Is your body comfortable? Is anything weighing on your mind?
Don’t push away strong, unpleasant emotions. Whether you are feeling frustration, guilt, sadness, anger, or something else, take the time to acknowledge how you are feeling. Sit with the unpleasant feeling and think about what caused it and what is making it stay. The more you take the time to be aware of the strong emotions the easier it becomes to understand why and how they arise.
Ask yourself Questions
Just as you would do to learn about a new person, ask yourself questions to get to know yourself.
What you can do
Don’t limit yourself to serious questions. It’s important to learn about all aspects of yourself, from the silly, to the mundane, to the important and significant. When is the last time you thought about your favorite Halloween candy? What musical do you still know all the words to? What is your favorite dinosaur?
But don’t shy away from going deep. Think about what questions you might ask someone else to truly understand who they are. What values are most important to you? What motivates you? What do you want to do but are scared to do?
You don’t have to know all the answers. Don’t treat this like a job interview, the goal is not to have an answer right away, but to get you thinking. Some questions you may already be ready to answer while others may leave you feeling unsure. There is no time limit on having answers, so take the time you need to think things through.
Spend time with yourself
Spending time alone with yourself gives you a chance to both do something you enjoy but also learn about yourself. There are a lot of advantages to doing things on your own, but overthinking can easily hold us back.
If the idea of being alone with yourself and your thoughts makes you anxious, you are not the only one. There are many reasons why we may want to surround ourselves with others or distractions. When the outside world is providing stimulation it means we don’t have to focus on what is going on internally.
Think of spending time with yourself like a first date. You’re a bit nervous and you don’t know what to expect, but there’s an excitement about the possibilities. You may not know what to talk about or where the day will lead and that’s OK, don’t rush things and enjoy the time you have.
What you can do
If you’re new to doing things on your own. Take it slow and make it easy, there is no deadline and no competition. Maybe it’s going for a walk down the street, visiting a coffee shop near work, or checking out your local library. Find something close by that interests you and put it in your calendar so that it’s not just an idea, but something you’re planning to do.
If you’re used to doing things on your own. Consider scheduling time for you to do things on your own so that you make yourself a priority. Even if you are comfortable being alone and doing things on your own, it doesn’t mean you are always making time for it. Take yourself out on a date and make it a special day.
Writing down your thoughts is one of the best ways to slow down and make sense of an overthinking brain. Taking the thoughts that are in your head and putting them down on paper, with no judgement or editing, can be cathartic. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and writing about your true feelings can help you release negative thoughts from your mind.
Stream of consciousness journaling can allow you to get all the thoughts and feelings out of your head, even the ones you may not be aware of. Though there are many different definitions, think of it as the continuous unedited chronological flow of conscious experience through the mind. Basically, write down whatever is in your head, not worrying about jumping to different topics, or finishing sentences, or even if what you’re writing down makes sense.
You can also use prompts as a way to help kick start your brain into doing some deep thinking. Maybe you’re just getting into journaling or maybe you’re having a hard time getting your thoughts together. Choose a prompt that feels right and try it out, if it doesn’t lead anywhere then simply choose another.
What you can do
Just start. There may not be a perfect time when you are both ready to write in a journal and have the time to. You may feel that you should wait until you are ready with the perfect notebook, pen, and relaxing music, but often times that’s not realistic. Start by just writing something down using what you already have on hand and go from there.
Try a few journaling techniques. Find a way to journal that works for you. There is no correct way to write in a journal and your technique may change from day today just as your mood, experiences, and state of mind change each day.
Take note of what you enjoy doing
We often work to remember things about other people, their birthday, foods they don’t eat, the names of their pets, or the latest book they enjoyed. A great way to build a deep connection with others is to take the time to get to know them and the things they like, and that’s exactly what we should do with ourselves.
If you’re not used to prioritizing yourself it can feel selfish to sit and think about all the things you like, but it’s not. You are allowed and encouraged to spend time really thinking about times when you have been happy and what has made you happy.
What you can do
Savor moments of contentment. When you find yourself truly enjoy an experience, whatever it may be, allow yourself to simply be there in the moment.
Keep a list. It doesn’t have to be a physical, it can simply be in your head, but keep track of the things that you like doing and the experiences you have enjoyed. You remember so much about what others like and you should know just as much about what you like.
Become aware of your inner voice
The way we talk to ourselves greatly impacts our lives. Think about how the words of others can affect your afternoon, day, week, or beyond. The same is true of our inner voice, how we talk to ourselves matters. We can learn a lot about someone by how they talk to others, the same can be said about how we talk to ourselves.
Many of us may be so used to our own self-talk that we don’t think much about it or we’ve decided there is nothing we can do about it. We may also believe that all the thoughts we have about ourselves are true. But how we talk to ourselves is not always based on fact and more often on emotion, societal pressure, or how someone else has spoken to us.
Our self-talk is not set in stone, we can change the way we speak to ourselves, but first we must take the time to be aware and understand how we are speaking to ourselves.
What you can do
Keep track of your inner voice. Throughout the day as thoughts about yourself come into your head, make a note of it. You don’t have to write the whole thought down, but how it made you feel. Was it negative? Positive? Neutral?
Reflect on your inner voice. At the end of the day look back through the notes you took. Were you kind to yourself? Were you harsh? Did you build yourself up? Did you tear yourself down?
Adjust your self-talk as needed. If you found you were often speaking negatively to yourself, work to change your inner voice. The next time a thought about yourself pops into your head, pause and take a moment to consider it. If the thought was negative, work to replace it either with something constructive or something positive. We don’t need to have every thought in our head be happy or pleasant, but they should be helpful and necessary.
Learning about yourself is not always easy and is rarely straightforward. It can be difficult to figure out where to start or what to do with the information that you learn. Because of this it’s important to realize that you don’t have to do this journey alone. The goal is for you to learn more and better understand yourself and having someone help guide your way can be a great help.
Therapy is not something that people should only seek out when they feel something is wrong or they have a something specific they want to work on. Therapy can be helpful to anyone at any stage of their journey through life. Wherever you are along the path of getting to know yourself, consider finding someone to help you navigate.
There is no way to rush a true connection whether that be with another person or with yourself. The journey is often not a straight and easy path, it can be winding and at times confusing. There is no map except the one you create as you go. Over time it will change as your understanding changes.
As with any new undertaking it will take time to figure things out. There may be false starts where you begin your journey but maybe the timing doesn’t feel right or you get annoyed or confused and put things on hold for a bit. It can take time to know how to start and how to proceed.
What you can do
When things get hard, write it down. When you start feeling big emotions that are stopping you from proceeding such as frustrated, sad, scared, or lost, write down what’s going on in your head. What were you thinking about when you felt those emotions? Where do you think they came from?
Take a step back. After getting your thoughts and emotions out of your head, step away to focus on something else. Sometimes we need to give our brain a break to process things before we are able to come back with fresh eyes and refocus.