Getting Intimate With Yourself
The first step to a lot of self-improvement is self-awareness. Knowing thyself promotes discipline and self-control, confidence and serenity, and can save you a lot of time and effort. The problem is, it takes self-awareness to make self-awareness. When doing these exercises, if you aren’t honest with yourself, you won’t improve. Be very discerning, and take your time. If the answer to a question you’ve asked yourself doesn’t feel true, sit with it to figure out why. Intimacy can be uncomfortable, even when it’s just you alone in a room.
These days, with all our modern conveniences, it’s easy to get what you want when you want it, and so learning self-control is harder than ever. Unless you plan on becoming a Buddhist monk or aspire to be a stoic like Marcus Aurelius, you shouldn’t have expectations that are too high. You’re not going to become a master of discipline anytime soon, but a good way for people to improve their level of self-control, or willpower as it’s often called, is to have a clear idea of your likes, and dislikes. What do you love, hate, or feel neutral about?
Working out consistently is a perfect example of self-control as it takes continuous discipline and willpower, but not all exercise is created equal. Most of you probably aren’t going to love exercise, but there may be some types you like more than others. Maybe you’re a cardio gal, or maybe you like to lift heavy weights, or maybe you prefer to punch a bag hanging from the ceiling. The point is, even something difficult contains a version that isn’t so bad; a path of least resistance. Choose an activity that takes a degree of self-control (exercise, dieting, regimented sleep) and figure out what aspects of those things you hate doing, love doing, or feel neutral about. Understanding your paths of least resistance, what things are easy or hard for you, is a great first step in becoming more self-aware.
There are of course, more direct ways to become self-aware. Reflection is one of the obvious, but is far easier said than done. If you have trouble beginning to become more self-critical, then therapy may be the answer. In fact therapy is one of, if not maybe the best way, to become more self-aware. Therapy of course, costs money, and there are plenty of other ways to improve your self-awareness. Playing off of therapy, being open to other people’s opinions about you and your opinions is key. You could actively ask people for their opinions, or you could just try and be more cognizant of your friends’, family members’, and co-workers’ thoughts. You may not think you’re dismissive of other people, but we often don’t take any time to reflect, or even remember, what other people said. After having a conversation with someone (about anything) take some time to remember and think on it.
You don’t need other people to do this by the way. You can do it all on your own. Probably the most common way is through journaling. When you see your thoughts written down, they become removed from you, and you’re able to think of them more objectively. Plus, you can look back to old journal entries to get even more distance from yourself. The more distance, the more clearly you can judge your own thoughts.
It’s also important to question your emotions, but not quite in the same way. You don’t want to question if you’re actually sad, you want to question why you’re sad. If you’re angry, why? If you’re joyful, why? Anytime you feel an intense emotion, try and get to the core of it. What is the kernel of truth at the center of that emotion that caused you to feel that way?
Whatever you do, just be cognizant not to get too negative. The goal here isn’t to become our own biggest critic, but to do the opposite actually. The better we know ourselves, the more comfortable we are (the greatest fear is the unknown after all) and the more confident we become.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
The exercise of self-awareness can, rather easily, unravel into something overly confusing and grandiose. Many people quickly get wrapped up in the idea of their place in the world, the meaning of their existence, and other pretentious thoughts. While it can certainly be fun to go there, and maybe take some Maryjane along the way, this isn’t necessarily what we’re telling people to do. The goal in asking yourself these big questions is to actually limit your curiosity, rather than expand it. We aren’t getting all cerebral here just for the hell of it, we’re doing it to make us more productive, and nothing makes you more efficient than saving time.
Curiosity is an essential attribute for a freelancer. Traditionally, the people who chose to freelance weren’t satisfied with the monotony of a full-time life. Freelancing provided (and required) far more spontaneity and curiosity. But one can in fact be too curious. When someone is so obsessively curious that they need to try everything, or have a hard time settling on something because they feel they’re missing out on other things, it becomes a problem. The better you know yourself, the less time you waste on over exploration. This isn’t to say you should avoid variety, but you can’t be so obsessed with it that you end up spending time and money trying every brand of socks, when the one you already owned worked just fine. Being able to answer questions like “how big of an apartment do I need?” or “do I love a hobby so much that I don’t want it to be a job” will save you enormous amounts of time and effort that might have been spent exploring things for no good reason.
A good way to start asking yourself these big questions is to take some personality tests. Not because they’re accurate (they aren’t) but because the questions they ask can be useful. Forget about the answers they give you and ponder some of the questions yourself.
Keep chiseling away at the stone slab that is your personality, until that statue of David (or whatever your name is) reveals itself.