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Three things you absolutely, positively must know about yourself

self-awareness
Self-awareness is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself

One of the easiest—yet hardest—things you can do to enhance the quality of your life (and in doing so, up your happiness factor by a quotient of at least 10) is to know yourself and know what makes you tick. I say easiest, because it’s much easier to unpack yourself and get to know how you work than another person. After all, you are always around. You can never hide from you. Granted, you can maybe zone out from yourself in the form of drugs or sex or alcohol or any other kind of self-medication you can think up, but you always wake up, or go to sleep, or get through the day with you. I say it’s one of the hardest things because knowing yourself often means that you have to face things about yourself that you may not like. No one wants to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, you aren’t the picture of perfection you thought you were. Sometimes, knowing yourself can be a teensy tiny bit shocking.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. ~Lao Tzu

However, you don’t need to delve that deeply into your psyche to enhance your self-awareness. There are three tools that I wish I knew about much earlier in my life that could have helped me understand why I just don’t gel with certain people, or why certain situations push my stress levels up, or why certain types of relationships are just generally fraught. If you know about these things already, awesome! If you don’t, spend some time taking the tests and begin the thrilling lifetime journey of discovery into who you really are.

1. Your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

I didn’t discover the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) until my 40s, when I accidentally stumbled on it as a way to develop fictional characters. It (or one of its forms) is used quite extensively as a team-building activity in corporations, but because I was humble teacher for most of my thirties, then a temp, I missed out on being MBTIsed. The tool is based on Jungian principles which theorise that we each experience the world in four ways: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. I won’t go into the history, or its development as a tool (you can read about it if you follow the link above); suffice it to say that it is an excellent tool to understand your preferences—and it is just a preference—to perceiving and deciding.

I generally get on best with people who have a FJ in their personality type (they are “my” people), and generally, anyone who is my polar opposite – ISTP – I have great difficulty connecting with.

For example, my MBTI is ENFJ. What that means is that I am an Extrovert (I am energised by other people, although this is lessening as I get older); I am iNtuitive (basically, a strategic thinker – lack of strategic direction is an ongoing gripe of mine); Feeling (I consider other people’s feelings in decisions, which is why I have real issues when organisations treat their staff poorly) and I am Judging (I am deadline driven, and cannot stand tardiness). I generally get on best with people who have a FJ in their personality type (they are “my” people), and generally, anyone who is my polar opposite – ISTP – I have great difficulty connecting with. It’s not impossible, but my relationships with people with this personality type are invariably poor, and I really have to work hard to be on the same page.

You can find out what your MBTI is here. Once you’ve taken the test, you’ll receive an explanation of what this means, with some percentages. For example, I am a high J, but a borderline E. And unless they’ve changed it—it’s been a while since I’ve taken this test—there will be a list of people who have your personality type. Incidentally, Oprah, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Nigella Lawson are ENFJs just like me.

2. Your SCARF style

I developed an interest in neuroscience, in particular the neuroscience of change management, when I was the victim recipient of poor change management practices a few workplaces ago. Why was I, usually so flexible and open to new opportunities, narky and resistant and a pain in the arse about changes that were directly impacting me? I blogged about my experiences, and one kind reader sent me in the direction of David Rock and his work on what happens to our brains in the working environment.

In a nutshell, our brain reacts exactly the same way irrespective of whether we are being hauled over the coals by the boss or dodging stampeding woolly mammoths

Rock’s work, in particular the SCARF model, is anchored in neuroscience and research into how the brain functions. In a nutshell, we are not rational beings, even if we think we are (read You Are Not So Smart if you need further proof). Over millions of years of evolution, we have been programmed for survival, and even though we are not dodging stampeding woolly mammoths or having to fight other Neanderthals for sabre tooth tiger meat (some would argue that their workplace is actually full of Neanderthals), in stressful situations, our brains respond as if they are. In a nutshell, our brain reacts exactly the same way irrespective of whether we are being hauled over the coals by the boss or dodging stampeding woolly mammoths. It perceives danger, and causes us to respond as if the threat were very real.

David Rock’s SCARF model is one of the best kept secrets on how to work collaboratively with, and influence others. If you want to bring the best out in your coworkers, for the love of God, don’t do anything to threaten or subvert their social status (S), certainty around their working life (C), their autonomy (A) and make sure that you ensure your relatedness is high (R) and that you are being fair (F). If you encounter any resistance to your change program, you can bet that you have activated one or more of these domains. Ditto if you are reacting badly to change that is being “done” to you.

You can take an online test to see which of the domains are likely to produce a threat response. Knowing this about yourself is useful, and even more so if your manager and your team also take the test. The domains that tend to activate my buttons are Fairness, Relatedness and Autonomy. I’m not so fussed about Social Status or Certainty. Yep. I’d agree with that.

3. Your attachment style

I have always been exceedingly nervous around men, and consequently, relationships. These nerves are not related to self-confidence issues, for example, how attractive I think I am as a potential mate and thus my ability to attract men; rather, my nerves start jangling when I start (or it looks like I am starting) something new with someone. I have always said that I am particularly bad at dating—I’d rather just jump in and get started on the relationship (even though this approach has pitfalls). That’s because I need to know that someone is happy to commit to me. I’m not insecure, but I am a better partner when I feel secure in the relationship.

I have never really examined this dating propensity until this year. I just kind of accepted that this is the ways things are. I’m ok once I’m in a relationship, but getting there just fucks around with my head. Heaps. Behold: Exhibit A. These are my new/potential new relationship thoughts: Does he like me? How do I know? When will he want to contact me again? Can I contact him? Should I contact him? I haven’t heard from him OMG OMG OMG… does that mean he really DOESN’T like me and has met someone else? OMG OMG OMG. That sort of thing. It’s a continuous tailspin of negative thinking that is predicting the immediate demise of this relationship, irrespective of whether this is true or not.

Attachment styles? How come I am 50 years old and have never heard of this adult attachment style thing? Apparently, your attachment style is dictated by your upbringing and childhood attachments.

But this year, after some shenanigans that did my head in (again), I did some research. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon information about adult attachment styles. Attachment styles? How come I am 50 years old and have never heard of this adult attachment style thing? Apparently, your attachment style is dictated by your upbringing and childhood attachments. If you have crappy parents, in particular your mother, you have been gifted with an anxious/insecure or avoidant attachment style. If you have wonderful parents, lucky you. You have a secure attachment style.

My attachment style, as luck would have it (and which is a direct result of a shitty childhood), is anxious/insecure. Aha. That explains EVERYTHING. And why I am so anxious/insecure in the start-up phase. Who would have guessed THAT? You can find out what your attachment style is here.

Last word

These three self-awareness things are things I wished I knew about much, much earlier. Knowing about this stuff would have made my life a lot easier because I would have understood why I acted or behaved or reacted the way that I did in certain situations. Self-awareness is a wonderful gift, and I would urge you to use all the tools that are out there to find out what makes you tick. You can circumvent a lot of misery and uncertainty and questioning and second guessing yourself if you do.

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