5 Tips for Knowing Yourself Better (& Why it Really Matters)

5 tips for knowing yourself better

If knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom, as Aristotle said, then asking yourself “Who Am I?” is an important practice. Knowing who you are is critical for making lasting changes and becoming happier.

In order to move forward, to make progress, or to be happier, you have to start with who you are, where you are, and what is important to you. After all, the happiest people “are always evaluating and improving themselves. The unhappy people are usually evaluating and judging others.” – Lisa Villa Prosen

“Happiness is the belief that change is possible, the joy you feel striving toward your potential.” – Shawn Achor

To be happier and to get closer to your potential, you first need to understand who you are and have a vision of who you want to become. Here are a few tips for knowing yourself better.

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5 Tips for Knowing Yourself Better

Tip 1: Discover Your Tendency

“Self-examination starts with seeing yourself clearly. You can’t change what you can’t see.”

While seeing yourself clearly sounds simple enough, it takes some mental work and introspection to figure out what makes you, you. It’s not always easy to see ourselves clearly. We might judge ourselves too harshly, or not realistically enough.

Honestly owning up to both your strengths and weaknesses takes courage. Sometimes it means facing some hard truths about yourself. But if you only see a clouded version of yourself, you won’t make lasting change and progress.girl wearing glasses reflection of city see clearly

One great resource for self-examination (which I discovered while watching the Peak Work Performance Summit, an online series of interviews with top authors and thinkers – it’s awesome, it’s free, it’s once a year around the end of March – check it out), is a book titled Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, a writer who studies happiness, habits and human nature.

In the book, Rubin explains her Four Tendencies framework about how there are 4 different types of people in regards to how we meet expectations, both inner expectations (like a New Year’s resolution) and outer expectations (like a work deadline).

  • Upholders readily meet both inner and outer expectations.
  • Questioners question all expectations and only meet those they feel make sense to them, essentially meeting only inner expectations.
  • Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  • Rebels resist all expectations, both outer and inner.

Many people can identify their tendency just from a brief summary, but there’s a quiz if you want the official result.

I was so inspired by the interview that I immediately took the Four Tendencies quiz, and eagerly awaited the results. Only to be massively disappointed moments later when I found out that I was, in fact, an Obliger, which seemed to me the least attractive tendency.

I suppose that deep down, I already knew I was an Obliger, but before learning the Four Tendencies framework, I didn’t know how to put it into words. It was such an aha moment, and for the first time, I was seeing this one aspect of myself clearly. And while it is only one small piece of the complete “who am I”  picture, for me it has been very significant.

What is An Obliger?

An Obliger is someone who can easily do things for others but have a hard time doing things just for themselves. They are great at helping others and being a team player. You can count on them to turn in assignments on time, to meet work deadlines, volunteer at the school, contribute to the bake sale, etc. They make great spouses, co-workers, and friends. 41% of the population are Obligers so if you aren’t one yourself, it’s very likely that someone close to you is.

While Obligers readily meet the expectations placed on them by others, they struggle to meet inner expectations, like a new year’s resolution, to eat healthily, exercise regularly, start a new hobby or really any other thing they want to do for themselves. Understandably, Obligers can feel very frustrated by their inability to meet their own expectations.

According to Rubin, the key for Obligers to be able to meet their inner expectations is to get outer accountability. That could be someone (or even something) to help motivate them to meet their own inner expectations -do it with them, check up on them or coach them through it.

Initially, I was quite upset. I did not want to be an Obliger. I don’t like the feeling of frustration that comes when I am not meeting my own expectations. (Of all the tendencies, Obligers are the most likely to be unhappy with their tendency.) And I certainly did not want to get outer accountability to accomplish the expectations that are most personal to me.

Thinking that I would rather be an Upholder, which seemed to me to be the perfect tendency, I wondered if I could change my tendency to become an Upholder. Wanting to explore this idea, I checked out the Better Than Before audiobook from my local library and subscribed to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier” and devoured them while folding laundry and washing dishes.

I learned so much from Better Than Before. It might be cliche, but that book really did change my life. It gave me a deeper understanding of:

  • myself and why I do some of the things I do
  • how to work better with myself
  • how to work better with others
  • how to relieve the frustrations that commonly occur in marriage and family relationships due to differing expectations

You should read it. You really, really should.

There’s also a follow-up book that goes even deeper into explaining and exploring the four tendencies called The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) I highly recommend it as well. The title isn’t lying. It really does show you how to make your life better, and other people’s too. If you have to interact with others or lead a group of people (as all moms do), this book will help you do it more effectively with less push back. Really. Read it.

Tip 2: Work with yourself, not against yourself.

One of the things I learned from reading both books was that while it may be possible to change your natural tendency, it’s a whole lot of work. You are fighting yourself the entire time.

Pretending to be an Upholder when I am really an Obliger turned out to be exhausting. And not very successful. I ended up frustrated and grumpy and still feeling like I was letting myself down.

So I gave up fighting. I embraced my Obliger tendency and worked to find solutions that work for Obligers. I found ways to get outer accountability that work for me. When I did that, I was able to start making progress on some dreams I’ve had for a long time but wasn’t accomplishing. And it was 100% easier.

I still spend a lot of my time doing things for others. I enjoy it. It’s part of who I want to be. But I also make sure there’s space for my own things too. And I utilize the right strategies for me to be successful.

What works for me, might not be at all what works for you. But there is some strategy that will work for you, exactly the way you are.

Therefore, work with yourself. It’s less stressful, more natural and less frustrating than working against yourself. Either way, you can achieve the same desired end result. But working with yourself is the much easier path to get there.

Tip 3: Ask Yourself about Yourself

woman pointing to herselfTaking a few minutes to think about or even write down the answers to these questions can help you discover more about yourself.

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • If you had a magic extra hour in the day, what would I do with it?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What type of person do I want to be?
  • Am I an early bird or a night owl?
  • Tidy or clutter prone?
  • Do I like to start things or finish them?
  • What skills do I have?
  • What do I want to learn?
  • What am I most proud of?
  • What do I feel like I should do daily?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • How do I want to use my time?
  • Which things are most important to me?
  • In 5 years from now, what do I want to have accomplished?
  • In 10 years, what do I not want to regret?
  • How do I want to be remembered?

Tip 4: Phone a Friend

Once you have done some introspection, consider getting input from others to broaden your perspective. Ask several people who know you well to tell you 3 words or phrases they would use to describe you. Tell them that you’re trying to better understand how others perceive you and you’re looking for constructive criticism and welcome an honest answer.

When I tried this, I got lots of positive feedback that gave me a huge happiness boost. I also got a few responses that surprised me and gave me good insights I wouldn’t have seen on my own.

I also asked my oldest children, ages 14 and 12, but they were reluctant to answer. I promised them I wouldn’t get mad or feel bad about their answers. That I was honestly just curious. And I kept pushing for an answer. The 14-year-old, fearing it was some kind of a trap, still refused to answer anything. And I learned I needed to make some changes so she could feel comfortable being honest with me.

The 12-year-old waited until we were in the school drop off lane, and timed it perfectly to dash out of the car right after saying very cautiously: “Nice. And…well…sometimes you can be a little over-controlling.” (Spoken in a tone of voice that said he thinks I’m a lot over-controlling but he didn’t want to tick me off by actually saying so.)

Honest? Yes.

Words I was hoping to hear? Nope.

But it was the perfect thing for him to say. It spoke volumes about our relationship and showed me clearly where I needed to make some changes to be a better mom. So I started working on it.

I asked them again a year later and this time I got “female, human, 40” from my daughter, accompanied by a teasing smile. And “Nice, Loving, Motherly.” from my son. I’ll count that as progress. 🙂

Tip 5: Be Honest With Yourself

To make a change or to be better, you need to be honest about where you are at – because that is the most effective place to start.

When I realized that my relationship with my oldest children wasn’t as good as I thought it was, I signed up for a parenting class – 14 years after becoming a parent – and started at lesson 1 and worked my way through the class. One-on-one connection turned out to be the missing piece for me.

If you set a goal to run a marathon, but your activity level is currently that of a couch potato, don’t start by trying to run 10 miles a day. Start with owning that your activity level is 0. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The goal here isn’t to tear yourself down, the goal is to be happier by striving for your potential. So figure out the baby baby steps, that will get you to the next level up from where you are.

Maybe that means to put your running shoes on, leave the house and walk down the street. Maybe it’s the shoes plus leaving the house plus running for 5 minutes.blue shoe on foot, in motion

Then, after you are a person who runs for 5 minutes, push yourself to level up to being a person who runs for 10 minutes. And so on until you are a person who can run a marathon.

If you’re a night owl, don’t try to do more in the morning. Instead, look at how you can do less in the mornings and move those tasks to your lunch break or to your evening routine after the kids have gone to bed at night.

Knowing yourself is the process of a lifetime.

It doesn’t come all at once. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. You be you. Don’t worry if your progress feels slow. Any progress is still movement in the right direction.

Focus on what works for you. Instead of fighting against yourself, work with your natural tendencies. After all, remember from Aristotle, the better you are at knowing yourself, the wiser you will be.

  1. Discover your Tendency
  2. Work with yourself, not against yourself.
  3. Ask yourself about yourself.
  4. Asks your friends and family.
  5. Be honest with yourself.

Try One of These Small Things to Know Yourself Better Today:

  • Take the Four Tendencies quiz – see if it gives you insight into who you are and how you deal with expectations.
  • Answer a few of “Ask Yourself About Yourself” questions in the middle of the post.
  • Ask family, friends or co-workers what three words or phrases they would use to describe you.

Let’s chat!

Let me know in the comments if you took the quiz and what tendency you are. I’m endlessly fascinated with this topic. My family thinks I’m a huge nerd because of it, but I’m just going to own that. 🙂 What strategies do you use to know yourself better?

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