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All too often, we fall into a trap. We imagine that happiness lies outside ourselves. We think we’ll find happiness like buried treasure–in the right relationship, in a new home, in a better a tax bracket.
But what you’re looking for isn’t a partner or a raise or big house. What you’re looking for is yourself.
The enjoyment we derive from external forces is fleeting.
This causes us to flit from one possession, job, or relationship to another in search of whatever it is that will give us lasting happiness.
But lasting happiness doesn’t come from objects or status. It comes when you find yourself and start living authentically.
What does life look like once you’ve found yourself? For one thing, you know your own mind and don’t need to consult with dozens of friends to come to a decision. You know what’s important to you and let your internal compass be your guide.
You feel comfortable in your own skin. While you may not love everything about yourself, you’re okay with that. Although you continue to set goals and work toward them, you appreciate yourself for who and where you are at the moment.
Because you know who you are, you know what you will or will not tolerate. As a result, you have solid boundaries and healthy relationships—you don’t settle for less than you deserve. You understand exactly which qualities are important to you in a relationship and you honor that.
You feel deeply content with your life. While it may not be perfect, you feel pleased overall with where you are. Rather than feeling lost, you have a clear vision of the life you intend to lead and you take the proper steps to make that intention a reality. You understand that life’s a journey, not a destination, and you know you’ll continue to grow and learn along the way.
Finding yourself means that you know who you are, what you have to offer the world, and where your values lie.
But you can't tackle the process of finding yourself on their own. Here are some steps you can take to find yourself.
Look Back to Move Forward
Finding yourself requires self-awareness and reflection. How can you know where you are now without examining the path you took to get here? Perhaps you already do this. If so, that’s great.
Even if you aren’t the type to “dig deep,” you’ll find that doing some digging will reap tremendous rewards.
There are some different ways to examine your past, but the most effective is reflection. Speaking to someone or writing about your journey can help you to build a stronger sense of who you are.
Reflection is a common practice in recovery circles. In order to fully heal, addicts must be able to identify the behaviors and experiences that have led them to where they are. By identifying the behaviors holding them back, they can make lasting changes. This is why the fourth step in AA is conducting “a searching and fearless moral inventory.”
Your goal may not be to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, but you can still derive benefit from doing this reflection exercise. To get started, think back on the major events in your life. Focus particularly on the very good and the very bad. Make a list. Then ask yourself these questions:
- What happened?
- How did it make me feel?
- Are there recurring patterns or themes in my life?
- Are there areas of my life where I see myself as a victim? If so, can I reframe those situations to heal my bitterness?
- Are there areas of my life where I haven’t consistently done my best? If so, what would I need to do to live up to my standards?
- Which parts of my life are going well?
- Which parts of my life would I like to improve? What changes do I need to make to see improvement in those areas?
- What are my primary values? How much time do I devote to those values?
In thinking through your past, you’ll begin to develop a stronger sense of who you are and what’s important to you. This knowledge is key to your growth.
View Your Past with Compassion
When performing this type of self-inventory, it can be difficult not to be harsh on ourselves. Avoid that temptation. Mistakes are a part of life. This exercise isn’t about judging yourself—it’s about developing better self-awareness so that you can make lasting improvements in your life.
So, when you’re performing your moral inventory, remember the words of author Maya Angelou:
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
Rather than condemning your past behavior, vow to do things differently moving forward. This will keep your focus firmly on the future, allowing you to derive the greatest gains from this exercise.
Act "As If"
When you find yourself, you’ll develop real, lasting confidence.
Real confidence can’t be faked, and developing real confidence is a process—it won’t just spring up overnight after doing a self-reflection exercise.
It takes time to develop, just like any worthy goal.
Fortunately, there’s a shortcut that can speed up the process: acting “as if.”
Essentially, acting "as if” is behaving as if you already are the person you’re trying to become. Maybe you want to be more decisive. Act as if you’re more decisive, and you’ll become more decisive.
Most people are plagued by self-defeating thoughts. Acting as if you already are who you want to be will prove to yourself that you can be that person.
Perhaps the most dramatic evidence in favor of acting “as if” lies in research done by Harvard psychology professor, Ellen Langer. In 1979, she recruited a group of elderly men to go on a week-long retreat. While there, they were told to act as if they were 20 years younger.
To make it realistic, she surrounded the men with common objects found in the 1950s: a black-and-white TV and a vintage radio. The men were instructed to speak in the present tense without mentioning anything that occurred after 1959.
The results were startling.
Various psychological and physiological measurements were taken throughout the week. Within that one week, several participants stopped using their canes. Langer also observed measurable improvements in dexterity, speed, memory, blood pressure, eyesight, and hearing.
These men didn’t magically turn 50 years old again. By pretending they had, their bodies and minds experienced significant improvements.
Remember this as you begin the process of finding yourself. At first, you may feel like you’re not quite the person you want to be. But by acting as though you are, you’ll advance rapidly toward becoming that person.
Discover Your Life Purpose
Finding yourself requires a multi-faceted approach. Reflecting on your journey and changing your behaviors are only two cogs in the complicated machine of self-discovery.
Now let’s talk about your life’s purpose.
To really uncover who you are, you’ll want to give consideration to your sense of purpose. Think about what motivates you and prepare for the future you envision.
Uncover Your Motivation
When we think of motivation, we picture a mental drill sergeant driving us relentlessly toward a goal. Yet author and Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, says that mindset is all wrong.
Motivate doesn’t mean to scream and yell and encourage. No. To motivate actually means to provide a motive . . . a reason why.
It’s important to uncover those “reasons why,” because once you do, you can determine:
1) If your actions align with your values
2) Whether or not you’re devoting enough time to your priorities
To find out what motivates you, start by thinking about something you want. Think of it now. Picture it.
Now ask yourself why you want it.
Ask yourself again.
Ask yourself until you get to your deepest, underlying motivators.
To illustrate how this works, let’s look at an example.
You want a promotion.
Your first step would be to ask yourself why you want it. Is it the money? The prestige? The responsibility?
You decide it’s the prestige.
Why do you want the prestige?
Maybe it’s because you worry your job title isn’t impressive enough. Maybe you feel you should have accomplished more by the age of 40. Maybe you believe your job is a reflection of your worth.
The point of this exercise is to get to the things that really motivate you. Not only will these insights help you get to the root of your drive, but you can use them to choose goals that are worthy of your time and effort.
Visualize Your Future
If you live aimlessly, you’re en route to a lifetime of regrets.
Instead, imagine the life you want to create for yourself. What would your ideal life look like three years from now? Ten years from now?
Visualization is essential to your success. It prevents you from living aimlessly.
To develop your vision, think about your short-term and long-term goals. Create a clear picture in your mind of where you’ll live, what you’ll do for a living, how your relationships will look, and which activities you’ll participate in to feel fulfilled.
Determine Your “Golden Rules”
Finding yourself isn’t just about self-reflection and visioning. It’s also about having a strong sense of personal values—and then adhering to them. To do that, you’ll want to ask yourself questions like:
What is my code of ethics?
What values will I adhere to in all interactions?
What golden rules should govern my future decisions?
Having a code of conduct is especially important. It will affect how you see yourself and how you interact with the world around you.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
You may not have the time to devote your entire life to a cause the way Gandhi did, but maintain strong values and giving back to the world in whatever way you comfortably can to bolster your sense of purpose.
Your Reputation Is a Great Place to Start
Your values are crucial to building your reputation. Your reputation is one of your greatest personal assets. So much so that an entire market was built around Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People”.
In the book, Carnegie offers several principles to help create and maintain a good reputation, including: “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain,” and “Make the other person important—and do it sincerely.”
Although Carnegie’s book was first published in 1936, it’s sold over 15 million copies since.
His hundreds of pages of advice can be boiled down to a simple message: your reputation matters. By making your reputation a priority, you’ll have taken a giant step toward finding yourself.
Warren Buffett Gets It
Renowned billionaire Warren Buffett understands the importance of reputation. In his role as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, he’s repeatedly told his executives, “Do nothing that you would not be happy to have an unfriendly but intelligent reporter write about on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.”
Buffett understands that there is a premium on integrity.
He once had his brokers acquire stock at a cost higher than the market price. The Securities and Exchange Commission launched a year-long investigation. They wondered: why would a successful businessman pay more than he had to in a business transaction?
“Integrity is a reputational advantage that others will weigh in subsequent dealings.”
Buffett explained that he was responsible for the stock taking a temporary dip in value. He had no obligation to buy those stocks above market price this but felt compelled to act in line with his values. He understood the long-term value of integrity.
So, as you begin to think about who you are—and more importantly, who you long to become—consider the type of reputation you want. Let that guide your values and behavior.
Get Started Today
It’s worth it. There are few things more satisfying than finding yourself. But to do that, you need to act. So, don’t delay any longer—examine who you are, what you value, and how you can improve—then, turn those insights into a roadmap for a better, brighter future.
Although finding yourself requires a small investment of your time, it’ll yield you huge dividends.