Know Thyself: 7 Ways to Develop Self-Knowledge

A man waits in line. He stares up at the menu, searching. There are dozens of flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, pineapple, and . . . black olive frozen yogurt? The man grimaces. He doesn’t like black olives. He knows he doesn’t like black olives. But when it’s his turn to order, he finds himself saying, “Black olive, please.”

Absurd, right? Who orders a flavor they know they won’t like? No one. Because of self-knowledge.

We all have different levels of it, but self-knowledge gives us clarity. The more self-knowledge you have—beyond simple likes and dislikes—the more clarity you have.

When you know yourself, you make decisions that lead to the-best-version-of-yourself.

When you don’t know yourself . . . you order black olive froyo.

Just like any meaningful relationship, self-knowledge takes time to build, brick-by-brick. Here are seven tips to get you started.

1. SPEND TIME IN SILENCE

Have you ever tried getting to know someone at a crowded bar? The music is blaring, the twenty TVs are playing twenty different sporting events, and you can barely hear your conversation over all the other conversations. Our modern world is like a crowded bar, a universe of noise.

It’s impossible to get to know yourself in a universe of noise.

Taking ten minutes every day to just be with yourself, in a quiet, comfortable place—devoid of any distractions—will change your life. It’ll be scary at first, but it gets easier.

Find a quiet room in your home. Don’t even bring your cell phone with you. Turn off or remove anything that might be distracting (TV, computer, radio, kids’ toys and clutter, etc.). If there isn’t a good place in your home, try it during your morning commute to work.

For the first few minutes, enjoy the silence. Clear your mind and just . . . be. Then, when you’ve settled into the quiet, ask yourself these five questions:

What do I want?
What am I afraid of?
What am I grateful for?
What matters most in my life?
What is holding me back?

The road to self-awareness is paved with the answers to these questions. When you spend time in the classroom of silence—asking yourself these five questions every day—you have no other option but to get to know yourself.

2. GIVE YOUR FUTURE SELF A BREAK

I put a lot of pressure on my future self. I promise that I’m going to go to bed earlier. Or that I’m going to run tomorrow. Or that I’m going to start eating better. Sometimes I do these things. Many more times I don’t. But my current self keeps making these promises my future self can’t keep.

We all do it. Because we trust our future selves to make better decisions than our current selves.

I’ve never met anyone who said, “Six months from now I want to be a worse version of myself.” That’s just silly. We all want our future selves to be better than our current selves. Problem is, more often than not, we also want our future selves to do all the work.

You can’t expect your future self to run a marathon if you haven’t ran at all in over a year. Instead, promise your future self that you are going to run for just ten minutes today.

If you know you aren’t going to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to work out (because you’ve already broken that promise for months), try setting your alarm for just ten minutes earlier than usual and do a set of push-ups.

Start small. Take baby steps. And give your future self a break.

3. JOURNAL

Everybody learns differently, but it’s a widely accepted fact that taking notes is a great way to absorb and retain knowledge. Self-knowledge is no different. Journaling is taking notes.

Journaling each day will give you a snapshot of who you are each day.

These are the things that happened, these are the things you were thinking about, and these are the things you were feeling. This is what helped you become a-better-version-of-yourself, and that caused you to be a-second-rate-version-of-yourself. If it helps, try to imagine you’re writing letters to your future self. What would you want your future self to know about your current self?

Over time, your journals will become the photo album of your inner self—a treasure trove of self-knowledge.

4. CREATE A DREAM LIST

In my family, we love to-do lists because they not only help us keep track of what needs to be done, but also say a lot about what is important to us. They are our lists of little priorities . . .

What are your BIG priorities? What are your dreams? Whether or not you’ve ever voiced them out loud, I bet you’ve got loads of dreams. You may not even call them dreams, but that’s what they are. Who you want to be says a lot about who you are right now.

Think about your dreams (another activity for the classroom of silence), and then write them down. This is your dream list.

Your dream list is the blueprint of who you are now and the roadmap to who you want to become.

5. TAKE A PERSONALITY TEST

Full disclosure: I never put much stock into personality tests. I thought they were the Astrology of Psych 101 students. I refused to believe that a fifteen-minute test could put my whole self into one of sixteen boxes. I am special! I am unique!

Then I actually took one.

I was floored. I was pegged. I was figured out.

Much of what I read didn’t come as a surprise, but I began to seriously think about how I process information and how I react to certain situations. Reading about my own personality was fascinating in its own, but then I started reading about other personalities, and how my personality type fit into the bigger picture of all the other types out there.

I am special. I am unique. And now I can better voice exactly why.

6. FOCUS ON YOUR HABITS

How often do you focus on your habits? Most people just . . . do them, without thought. That’s why they’re called habits.

“Our lives change when our habits change.”

– Matthew Kelly

Habits are powerful things. They shape our lives, dictating who we are and who we will become. If you can tell me what your habits are, I can tell you what your future looks like.

If you’re unhappy, you can probably trace that unhappiness to one or more negative habits. If you’re happy, it’s probably because you have more positive habits than negative ones. When you change your habits, you change your life. You can’t change your habits if you aren’t aware of your habits.

Tomorrow, write down your habits. Just one day’s worth. You can do this while journaling. Then, put a star next to any negative habit you want to change and make a plan--one based on realistic, truth-based, baby steps--to change them.

7. Get Honest Feedback

Okay. So you’ve done all the things above to try to get to know yourself better. It’s time to ask for help.

Ask your friends to describe you. Obviously, you’ll want to ask people who know you well. Asking a stranger to describe you might get some blunt truths, but it won’t go any deeper than the surface. Self-knowledge is about going deeper than the surface. Ask your best friends, your co-workers, your spouse, or your siblings. Write down what they say so you can process it over time and not feel the need to react in the moment.

Be prepared to hear some things you may not like. We are all broken people, and we all have things we can work on. What’s broken can be fixed. But you can’t fix a problem you don’t see.


We are really good at deceiving ourselves. Most people think they are better listeners than they are; most people think they are better drivers than they really are; most people think they are healthier than they actually are; and most of us think we are better, kinder, more selfless people than we are.

Self-knowledge can help cut through self-deception. Modern culture wants to confuse us. It wants to surround us with noise and lights and distractions so we remain strangers to ourselves. Don’t let it.

Get to know yourself.

And for goodness sake, don't order the black olive froyo!

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