Five ways to understand yourself better  

a person facing the mountain

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with one of my long-term coaching clients on the topic of “how to understand oneself better”. After the coaching session, I can’t help but keep pondering on this subject. And now I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to understand ourselves better.

I don’t claim to know the answer, as I believe there is not a simple one to this question. Everyone shall embark on their own journey and seek the answer themselves. I hope my reflections can offer you some food for thoughts, as well as some practical tips you can use in your everyday life to get to know yourself better.

 1. Observe yourself in relationships.

Every relationship is a mirror which reflects back the energy you put out into the world. By noticing how you relate to others, you can gain valuable insights about who you are and how you relate to yourself.

When you think someone else is hurting you, it is likely that you are hurting yourself. When you believe someone else is disappointed in you, it is likely that you are disappointed in yourself. Others will treat you the same way you treat yourself. If you need respect from others, you need to respect yourself first. If you want to be loved, you need to love yourself first.

You need to observe not only your relationships with others but also your relationships with your own thoughts and emotions. You can do this in meditation or simply take a pause when you feel a tension within yourself: observe the way you talk to yourself – is it critical or kind? Is it cautious or courageous? Is it driven by fear or love?

 2.   Let go of what you wish to be and embrace what you are.

Understanding yourself is not about accumulating past knowledge of yourself. It is about understanding what you are from moment to moment, not what you “should” be or what you wish to be.

Too often, you feel anxious because there is a discrepancy between what you are and what you think you should be. Most sufferings in life come from your attachment to the past or future, and this attachment is preventing you from fully connecting to your mind, body and spirit in the present moment.

Your whole idea of yourself is often based on the past (the memories, beliefs and what has been taught to you) and the future (your fears, hopes, and desires). Most of the time you are not even aware that such conditioning is affecting everything you do. The first step is to be aware of the conditioning, because when you are aware of it, it has less power over you.

The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti says, “To know oneself as one is requires an extraordinary alertness of mind, because what it is constantly undergoing the transformation, change, and to follow it swiftly the mind must not be tethered to any particular dogma or belief, to any particular pattern of action.” There is nothing wrong with remembering the past, Krishnamurti adds, as it is essential in our normal functioning in the world, but the problem arises when we over identify with memory and allow it to take us away from living in the present moment.

One of the best ways to connect to the present moment is meditation. It allows you to cultivate alertness of the minds, and to become aware of your thoughts as well as how it affects your feelings and actions. It also helps you develop a non-judgemental attitude towards yourself and others, which is essential in improving your self-understanding.

Start by practicing meditation for five to ten minutes every morning. you will notice a considerable change in how you relate to and understand yourself. Only when you let go of your image of who you should be or wish to be, can you honestly and clearly see who you are.

3. Journal regularly.

I used to journal a lot when I was at school, but then stopped when I started working in banking because the day-to-day life became so hectic that I didn’t have the time or mood to write anymore. I resumed journaling two years ago, and found it to be an easily accessible and yet meaningful way to connect with myself. I also enjoyed going back to my previous journals from time to time, and am often surprised at how the dots are connected when I look backward.

One ritual I particularly enjoy is writing “Morning Pages”. This is a practice suggested by Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” that allows the stream of consciousness writing to flow out of you, completely unfiltered. It enables you to see what is going through your mind and at the same time unclutters your brain space.

According to Cameron, “Morning Pages are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

Both journaling and morning pages are great ways to get a better understanding of your thoughts process, identify what affects your emotions, and capture those untold stories of your life that are hidden inside you.

4. Listen to your body.

Your body knows a lot about you. You store emotions in your body, unconsciously. When your shoulder, back or hips are tight or aching, it’s likely that they are sharing the emotional burden of your life.

The reality is that we often forget about our body and live in our head instead. When the body whispers to you, you are often too busy to hear it. You only pay attention when your body starts to shout at you, and often by then it has been burdened with too much suffering and pain.

So start listening to your body and treat it kindly, and it will treat you back. Practicing yoga is a great way to know your body, connect with it and release the tension stored in it. Doing body scan meditation also helps you pay closer attention to what is happening in your body. Your body has a lot of hidden wisdom in it, and you simply need to access it.

5. Follow your energy

You must have those days when you feel totally energized by what you do, and days when you feel depleted with energy. Your energy is the life force in you, and it often shows you the direction of your life’s calling .

When I was working in banking, I always felt a lack of energy. It was probably partly due to the fast paced environment and constant traveling, but I also felt I had to put in a lot of efforts to be someone I was not, which required an enormous amount of energy. While I was good at what I do technically and got recognised for it, I knew it was not sustainable, and it was not my life’s work.

Then I started to take notice of what energised me: reading and writing about human conditioning, philosophy, psychology and personal development; spending time in nature, and using my presence and purpose to be a catalyst for change and growth. As I listened to what life was trying to say to me and follow whatever gave me energy, a different path unfolded in front of me.

You will feel the natural, unobstructed flow of energy only when who you are is aligned with what you do. When you pay attention to what gives you a sense of flowing energy, you will be following your true north.

I hope these reflections can give you some useful tips to continue the journey of self-exploration. It is never easy and the question of “who am I” is one of the central enquires of human being. My personal motto at the moment is to stay curious and have an open mind about your experience in life – as you know yourself better, you also understand humanity better.

Now over to you. What challenges have you faced in your exploration into yourself? What actions will you take to get to know yourself better? I’d love to hear you thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time,


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2 Responses to “Five ways to understand yourself better  

  • Thank you, Jessie for your insights. A reminder of a few things we can do quite easily to reconnect and start recognising and using that positive energy.

    • Thank you Lorna for reading and sharing your comments:)

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