Connecting to your personal data points to be your best self
The component to a happy, fulfilled life that was reinforced for me today was that knowing yourself is fundamental to your happiness and well-being, yet we are so often disconnected from ourselves and this powerful sense of knowing. You’ve probably experienced this disconnection at one point or another. Some cues are if you’ve answered “I don’t know” when someone asks you what you want, or find you’re often unhappy, stressed, or coming home drained from your work or feeling empty/unfulfilled but you’re not really sure why and what changes to make. Knowing yourself is the first step in being true to yourself, and fundamental to the integrity of your goals and actions, thus leading to greater well-being, fulfillment, love and happiness.
Why is knowing yourself important?
This may seem like a redundant questions, but there are some clear benefits of knowing yourself that are worth stating.
It provides a guide for you to create meaning and fulfillment in your life. Knowing yourself includes knowing such things as your strengths, values, passions, and dreams. And at a higher level, bringing these together in a guiding purpose. It is knowing and living this purpose that will lead to more meaning and fulfillment in your life.
It is key to creating and aligning with goals and research shows that people are happier when they are living self-concordant goals (Tal Ben-Shahar). It is through knowing and understanding yourself that you design your life and your day. Knowing yourself provides direction and the data for daily alignment with higher level goals and values.
It is your guide to action and decision making. When you have developed your self-knowledge, you have an personal compass that you can check in with. Without it, we may feel adrift and ill-supported to make decisions.
It opens the door to your potential: being both your best self with those around you, as well as contributing your unique talent to this world. Your potential is at the nexus of your strengths, passions and values as a purpose. When you connect to this purpose, you have found the spot for you to best develop your potential and contribute to the world.
Lastly, when we know ourselves and can therefore be true to ourselves, there is an internal sense of well-being; “The best-adjusted people are the ‘psychologically patriotic,’ who are glad to be what they are” (Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing).
Unfortunately, extroversion rather than introversion is valued in North American society, and looking inwards is neither valued nor taught. As a consequence, we are often left not knowing what we want, what path to follow, what to choose, or why a relationship/job/situation doesn’t feel quite right. Let’s break down an easy way to look inwards.
Why do this now?
You start focusing on something that can be truly helpful for yourself.
Connecting and accepting ourselves and developing our strengths is a more helpful focus than trying to fix ourselves or conform (Dr. Helgoe, Introvert Power); and
Action creates momentum; and
It takes time.
Knowing yourself/”figuring things out” is not going to occur through a magical epiphany but rather takes conscious, diligent, applied introspection, so start now.
So, how do you get to know yourself?
We can all theoretically understand the meaning of “being true to yourself,” but sometimes we’re stuck when it comes to what this means in practical terms for ourselves. Sure, sometimes we do things we know are not leading to our best selves, but often the case is that we don’t even know what it is that leads to our best selves. To be our best we need to know ourselves. Connecting to your true self and your myriad of parts is not a one time, sit down and tick the box job; it is a process.
If you really want to be your best, I recommend a lab coat approach to get to know yourself. The lab coat approach reinforces a growth mindset (Dr. Carol Dweck, Mindset) rather than a fixed mindset. From this approach we’re constantly learning about ourselves and growing.
The lab coat approach also gives you back your power. As an example, in my life and with clients, I utilize the findings of positive psychology research to help me and others be their best. These interventions are undertaken as an experiment and tested to see what works best for oneself. It’s a test and tweak approach rather than one-size-fits-all.
With this approach, you are a researcher and your subject is what makes you your best. This means that you are going to look at you and your life in detail. If you choose to try this approach you will need to cultivate your curiosity about yourself: your choices, your thoughts, your behaviours, your reactions, your feelings.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
What energizes me?
What contributes to me feeling calm/grounded?
When am I happiest?
What throws me off? Frustrates me?
A helpful method is to put your lab coat on and take a more in-depth look at your day. Here is a Personal Data Log to start tracking your data points. You could also use a pinterest board or any other structure that works best for you.
Here’s an example of my lab coat experimentation
The most positively impactful person in my life would say ‘data point’ with a smile as he learnt something new about me. In undertaking this lab coat approach to my life, the phrase ‘data point’ has become even more powerful. As I approach my life with lab coat playfulness, testing what works and doesn’t work for me, I gather my own data points on how to be my best self everyday. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll tell you about the pretty small tweak I’m going to make.
I love to ski, bike, and kite. These activities fill me with joy and energy. Most importantly, exercise outside is crucial to my mental and emotional well-being. However, I’m also a person who loses motivation to do these things. If I haven’t done it in a while, I’m tired, it’s rainy, or some hormonal game is being waged, I often don’t feel like doing the things I love. So, I’ve made it part of my routine: I do some form of physical exercise every day. It’s not a high stakes game, where if I don’t go for a mountain bike or a run, I’ve failed. If I’m feeling tired or unmotivated I go for a walk.
Yesterday I was struggling with getting outside, and almost didn’t go, but in the afternoon around 4pm I went for a mountain bike. It was amazing! It brought me home with more energy, willpower and pride. I realized that I almost missed out on such a fun part of my day, and I can’t risk not having this as part of my day. Here’s the tweak: I’m scheduling exercise for earlier in the day. This has a double bonus as exercise is shown to boost mood for 12 hours, and I might as well get the benefit all day long.
Knowing yourself is the first step in being true to yourself. Aligning and being in integrity with this is the next step (and a future topic). This deep internal sense of knowing yourself will both guide and support you in treading the path of honouring what is true for you.