We humans possess an intellectual capacity that is unparalleled. With the complex brain we inherit, we have sculpted personas for our progressive survival. We have a distinct social and personal life. Even within social life, we have friends and acquaintances. We interact with people to experience a pleasant life. We learn the mechanics of these interactions from our family as we grow up. However, the one thing that is not taught to children and adults is the art of knowing themselves. This is known as self-reflection, self-awareness or self-knowledge. While the experts argue about the technicality of each term, I would like to bring your attention to this art form.
We impart knowledge to children with an intention to mould them into functional members of society. For instance, look at education. Children are administered education according to age and by how much information they can handle. This goes on until the child reaches a socially acceptable age when she can choose the area she should specialise in. Years of training in that chosen field makes her an expert. This process of accumulating knowledge is similar to building blocks on top of the foundation. As this is structured from the bottom to top, it is called a bottom-up process.
Building relationships with people is also another bottom-up process. We get closer to people after knowing more about their likes and dislikes, their personalities and their interests. Our best friends know us well enough they can predict our behaviour more than what we can! The same applies to building a family. We get to know a person well enough to start a family with them. Then, we educate our children with the same process we were introduced to.
These bottom-up processes help us navigate the direction of our lives. However, we are not taught how to look at ourselves to gauge our growth as a person. Looking at ourselves making judgements is not something that comes to us naturally. We are all products of our emotions and experiences. We see the world through our own unique eyes; even the green you see will be different from the green I see. In such a situation, where we don’t have a hard baseline to measure ourselves with, we use a different kind of baseline: ourselves. By now, I hope you do agree with me that we are products of unique experiences. Though our experiences are so varied, the way we react to certain situations doesn’t change. This is most commonly explained as one’s ‘nature’. Our aim is to quantify this ‘nature’ of ours, so we can get insights into our own lives.
Quantifying our behaviour is a task that can only be done by looking into the past. To understand this method, one should be familiar with the concept of self-awareness. It is nothing but the observance of one’s thoughts, beliefs, principles and emotions. We know that we all sometimes get angry, sometimes sad. We harbour a plethora of feelings when we are faced with various situations. Our beliefs change when we are presented with more enlightening information. Every so often we even defend our own beliefs for no logical reason. This is the nature of our brains. Most of the time, our actions are significantly influenced by our emotions without our knowledge. These faculties we have will change over the course of our lives. Lesser stress and continuous improvement being critical factors of self-awareness, it is imperative that one monitors one’s emotions and thoughts.
Unlike the structure for education which is bottom-up, the method used for self-reflection is top-down. The fundamental reason for this is the very nature of our experiences. One can rarely predict how one will act in a situation as numerous factors are involved. Hence, we must use a practical approach. This involves looking back at the situation, how you reacted, what was the outcome and finally how can you change this for the better. We know that whatever has happened in the past has a role in making us what we are. Though there is no point in living in the past, revisiting past situations and actions will help us analyse them more logically. One has to always remember that to quantify anything, we need logic. This method of looking in the past gives us a chance to look at the situation without the tinge of emotion which might have fuelled the past action. So, it is critical to look at your past with the eyes of a non-judgemental stranger.
If in any case, a situation has dramatically affected you, the best approach would be to analyse your stress level. This can help discover a pattern or even a stressor. Each of us has a different way of reacting to stress. This process of analysing your action including the words used in arguments will shed more light on the behaviour you have inherited from the cumulative experiences. Using these behaviours, we can logically reason if our behaviour was making sense or if it was out of an emotional outburst. If we can give numbers to this match or mismatch, we can quantify our action. For instance, if the argument made logical sense, we could assign it a 0 and if an argument was out of an emotional outburst, give it 1. Over time, observe if the ratio of 0 to1 changes. From these coding of actions, we can easily build an action plan on how to reduce 1s and how to increase 0s. This is the part where we have to take the lead. A trusted ally can help you with this but be aware of your emotional outbursts and compulsion to defend your stand! It would be absurd to lose friendships over understanding yourself.
Another way of looking at the situation is measuring how you feel when you think of that situation. If you still feel stressed, there is definitely something that went wrong. If you scrutinise and discover nothing that you can change, it is better to move on to stress-management techniques. But if you find something which can help you improve your understanding of yourself, seize it with open hands.
Some people like categorising emotions as good and bad. They usually call emotions like anger bad and joy a good emotion. In my opinion, it is okay to feel angry and joyful. We are programmed to experience them. I strongly believe there’s no good nor bad individual. We are a part of both. Naming and categorising emotions as good and bad will beat the purpose of transcending the current state of our self-awareness. However, if you think anger is the reason for most stress in your life, feel free to flag it red! If you would like to read more about labelling emotions please go to this article.
I hope these techniques help you understand yourself. Happy self-discovery!