Look, I’m a huge fan of wisdom. There’s a lot of it kicking around the annals of history, so when a bunch of the people who were considered the wisest seem to be throwing out the same types of info, it makes sense to listen. Today we’re talking about knowing yourself. Socrates and Benjamin Franklin in particular spoke of the difficulty in self-knowledge (as well as the importance).
Socrates says, “But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.” Self-reflection, discipline, and self-awareness are all key concepts in the Stoic philosophies as well. And, of course, I would be negligent if I didn’t explain how self-knowledge ties in with Unlock the Master Within. The Seventh Key, Focus Within, is all about this.
So what are some ways we can do this? A good place to start is within introspection and being completely honest with yourself about your flaws. You have to give yourself room to have flaws. No one is perfect, so recognize this about yourself. Also recognize that if anyone else expects you to be without flaw, they’re being unreasonable (not in line with the Ninth Key). Thus, expecting this of yourself is also unreasonable. So that’s the first thing. Now you must step outside your ego, view your thoughts and actions objectively, as an outsider does.
What are some things you might not want to face up to? What are some things about yourself that you might not want to admit? Now is the time to figure that out, so you can get past it. Know what your flaws are, admit them, that way you can work to overcome them or at least inhibit them. You can substitute flaw for vice, bad habits, etc. Looking at your weaknesses can be painful, and it’s tempting to avert our eyes and ignore whatever makes us uncomfortable.
Give yourself permission to be uncomfortable. Humans are also prone to overestimating their own knowledge and competence. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Some people are too stupid to realize that they’re stupid. It’s not unreasonable for me to suggest you should try to avoid falling prey to this (as well as its opposite, Imposter Syndrome, where people underestimate their abilities).
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision. – Bertrand Russell
That’s only part of it, though. The other side of the coin is to know what your strengths are and embrace them. Focus mostly within. This is not to say you should be self-centered. This is to say that you should consider your own contributions to your surroundings and your circumstances first. Most people focus on everyone else’s contributions — diverting blame or attention — so we don’t have to own up to our own mistakes and weaknesses.
Know thyself. – inscription at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Lastly, one very simple way to know you need to recalibrate yourself is to look at other people’s perceptions of you. We spend every second of our lives with ourselves, our thoughts, and we have all our experiences that contribute to the way we view the world. Others cannot see these things, so our own perception of ourselves gets skewed. Parts of our own perceptions about ourselves are correct — others simply do not have all the information we have — but parts are tainted with our own biases, comforting lies, ego, etc. Be aware of these perceptions, both of yourself about yourself, and of others. While it is generally good practice to ignore what others think of us, it does pay to be aware of it in general so we can contemplate whether they are right or not.
Image credit goes to Quote Fancy