How to Know Yourself

Much, Much Better

We each make our own path through life.  To succeed and better understand our behavior; we must be prepared to ask where we are at every stage of the journey.  Then we can better decide where we want to go -- and how to get there.

Here are some guideposts to some of the most important issues we face and questions to ask as we meet life's challenges.

Growth

The main purpose of life is emotional and spiritual growth.  No one really ever becomes fully grown-up.  Most people are actually emotional children walking around in adults' clothing.

Growth involves pain.  Many of us would like to go back to earlier times in our lives -- even infancy -- when we were protected from the challenges of adult life.  That desire causes people to remain fixed in second childhoods -- self-centered, whiny and dependent.  To know whether you have the basic prerequisite for growth, ask yourself, Do I accept the impossibility of returning to childhood?

Courage

Emotional and spiritual growth demands that you meet the challenges with which life continually confronts you, despite your fear of painful new experiences.  Taking on these challenges in the face of such fear requires courage.

When you feel uneasy about an uncomfortable situation, ask yourself, Will I be better off avoiding -- or meeting -- this challenge?  If you act only when your inner voice tells you it is the right thing to do, you are truly on the road to growth and maturity.

Anger

Anger is a necessary emotion and an important self-defense mechanism.  But we need to know when anger is appropriate and how to express it.

When a situation provokes you to anger, there are at least five different ways to express it.  Ask yourself:

bullet Should I apologize?  My initial reaction was mistaken... I was at fault.
bullet Should I ignore it?  What the other person did was an accident... it was not his/her fault..
bullet Should I I minimize my anger?  The other person did insult me a little... but it wasn't important..
bullet Should I express my anger?  I will think about it for a few days.  If it is clear that the other person seriously wronged me, I will complain to him/her.
bullet Should I lose my temper?   The other person wronged me so badly that I have to express my anger strongly -- on the spot.
You can assess your own stage of life's journey to maturity by how often you step back, think through your anger and express it appropriately.

Judgment

It is impossible to go through life without making judgments about people -- whom you should marry... how much freedom to give your children... whom you should hire or fire.  How well you make those judgments is critical to the quality of your life.  Before you judge someone else, you should judge yourself. 
Example:  You have to fire an unsatisfactory employee.  It has to be done... but ask yourself
bullet Was I sufficiently concerned with the employee earlier? 
bullet Did I speak to him/her as soon as I could have... or did I avoid confrontation until it was too late to solve the problem?
If you answer such questions honestly, you will know how to act in the future to prevent the need for similar painful results.

Uncertainty

Life is a series of decisions -- and there is an easy way and a difficult way to make each of these decisions.
Easy way to decide Always follow a rigid rule.
Example:  Your teenage daughter wants to stay out on Saturday night until 1 am.  Your response may always follow the rule.  No!  You know that your curfew is 10 pm... or the rule  Of course.  Whatever you do is fine.
Difficult way to decideAnalyze every situation as thoroughly as you can.
Example:  You think to yourself.  She does have a 10 pm curfew... but we set it two years ago.  She is responsible and we trust her... but we aren't sure about the boy she's going with.
Then you try to decide the most appropriate reply - no, yes...  or a compromise, such as coming home by 11 pm.

The easy way avoids thinking and allows quick decision making.

The difficult way leaves you doubt but admits there is no magic formula for the correct answer in every situation.  If you take the difficult way, you know that you take life seriously.

Will

How much you achieve in life depends on how strong a will you possess... and on how well you can control it.

A weak will is like a little donkey in your backyard.  It can't do very much work, and about the worst damage it can cause is to eat your flowers.

A strong will is like a dozen Clydesdales.  If those massive beasts are trained, disciplined and harnessed, they can help you move mountains.  But if you let them run wild, they may knock down your house.

To harness your will, voluntarily subject it to a power higher than yourself.  The nature of that power is defined by your religious and moral beliefs.

To understand your role in life, ask yourself.  Am I undisciplined and selfish -- or willing to go where I am led by the higher power in which I believe?

Self Love

Army psychiatrists once studied the personalities of 12 people in the service.  All were very successful in their jobs, their families and their social relationships.  They were asked to list the three most important things in their lives.

While they disagreed on their second and third most important priorities, every one of those successful people named the same top priority -- myself.

This reply did not mean these people were exceptionally selfish.  All were loving spouses and parents and caring supervisors.  They stressed their self-love because they truly appreciated the value of life and felt a corresponding responsibility to make the most of it, which is why they were successful.

Self-love is consistent with a sense of humility, defined by a 14th-century monk as  a "true knowledge of oneself as one is."

If you can attain humility -- the ability to realistically evaluate both your virtues and your faults -- then you own the best compass for guiding yourself along the winding highway of live.

Excerpt from Bottom Line Personal  ( April 15 1994 issue)  with Dr. M. Scott psychiatrist, management consultant and founder of the Foundation for Community Encouragement in Connecticut USA.  His most recent book at the time of the article was Further Along the Road Less Traveled:  The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth, Simon  & Schuster.