A few years ago, I embarked on a trip abroad to “find myself.” I felt stuck, bored, but most importantly lost. Then I stepped onboard that plane to Europe and three months later returned with a newfound happiness and confidence. I was certain in who I was and who I was becoming. While I’d recommend traveling overseas to every single person reading this, it’s more important to note that you don’t have to go on a vacation or dramatic journey to “find yourself” or to get to know yourself better. Instead, you can improve your self-awareness wherever and whenever you want to. Here are a few tips for doing so:
1) Look inward and then outward.
Licensed Psychologist Dr. James Millhouse says you should first use mindful meditation to better understand your thoughts and feelings. “Looking inward using mindful meditation is a way to gain a broader knowledge of how you feel and think about things,” he says. “Mindful meditation can be thought of as focusing inward in a relaxed state and watching thoughts and feelings related to a specific topic go by as if in a river.” Then, you should turn your attention outward: “Focusing in the opposite direction doing active things that you do not normally do such as rappelling and skydiving can bring to the surface a different set of feelings and thoughts than what you normally experience,” he explains. “A key factor here is quieting down your usual inner dialogue that runs most of the time and being open to new thoughts and feelings.”
2) Listen to your body.
Another strategy for increasing self-awareness is listening to what your body’s attempting to communicate, as explained by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Connie Habash: “One of the most immediate sources of feedback about how we truly feel is through our visceral experience in the body. If you’re struggling with a quandary or trying to understand yourself better, your physical sensations give you immediate information on your inner truth. You can better discern your authentic feelings, needs, and desires by paying attention to sensations. If you’re clenching your teeth, what might that say about how you feel in this moment? When you consider accepting a job offer and your stomach tenses, what message may that be giving you about the opportunity? Taking some time to feel your body can release pent up emotions, bring clarity, and provide insight into your situation and life.”
3) Write it down.
Coach Casey Moran, personal development enthusiast, says the key is to write or jot it down—your thoughts, your feelings, your story. “Becoming self-aware means learning about yourself. The best way to learn about yourself or anything else is to write it down,” he explains. “When you write things down you are 42% more likely to do them as you have made it real. Whether it is a journal you write your days in or just a phone app where you jot down thoughts or notes—writing things down can teach you a lot about yourself and allow you to become self-aware.”
4) Rediscover what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
“Finding yourself includes rediscovering what you enjoy and what your talents are,” says Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Life Coach Frank Healy. “How do you know what you enjoy doing? Look at pictures from the past and ask yourself questions like, ‘What good memories do I have?’ ‘What did I enjoy doing?’ ‘What was I good at in school?’ Maybe you enjoyed going to the beach and surfing, but also used to paint pictures of the beach. Maybe your best times were with other people or maybe they were alone. By getting into a meditative state and thinking of your life you will be able to think of what you are and not what other people told you that you should be or do.”
5) Focus on your breathing.
Timothy Wenger, men’s mental health professional from themaneffect.com, says that you can become more self-aware by embracing the power of breathing. “I know, I know, you have heard every spiritual guru out there tell you to focus on your breathing, but here is the thing: it is an actual tool that can change the way you think and feel,” he says. “With the proper intention, it can grow the muscle of self-awareness. Just take it easy on yourself do this following practice 1-3 times a week to get comfortable with it: either sit in a quiet place or go for a walk. Exhale four times then inhale four times. Do this for a minimum of 5-10 minutes, preferably 30-45 minutes. While executing this breathing pattern, focus on what your body is feeling, what emotions you are experiencing, and what thoughts you are having.”
6) Check in with yourself throughout the day.
You can also get to know yourself better by checking in with how you feel and what you need throughout the day, says Eliza Boquin, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: “Take a moment throughout the day to get off autopilot. Ask yourself in that moment, ‘How am I feeling right now? What emotions—happy, sad, mad, glad, fearful? How does my body feel? Is there tension anywhere?’ Take a few deep breaths then tend to whatever needs you may have at that moment. ‘Do I need to stand up and stretch? Do I need human connection?’ The more you intentionally begin to check-in with yourself, the easier it will get to be aware of what is happening in the moment.”
7) Channel your creative juices, and make something.
Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, says you will also benefit from tuning into your creative side and making art: “I think that one of the easiest ways to help improve your sense of self-awareness is to start making art. While we may not always be artistically inclined by nature, challenging ourselves to pick up a pen, brush, or sculpting tool, is a great way for us to understand our inner selves, as we only really get a clear image of who we are on the inside when we try to express our ideas or self-image in reality,” he explains. “It’s important to note that you probably won’t be great when you first start out, but practicing art helps to teach us self-discipline, can focus the mind, and allows us to track our progress as we develop over time.”