Fair to say you’re reading this article cocooned in your home under lockdown or self-isolation.
Unfortunately, it looks like we will be hibernating in seclusion for a while.
But social isolation doesn’t have to be all bad.
When you think about it, it’s an incredible opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
Because when we remove ourselves from the social context of our lives, we are better able to see how we’re shaped by that context.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, and writer who spent years alone held a similar notion. “We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom,” he writes in Thoughts in Solitude.
It might take a little bit of work before we turn social isolation into a pleasant experience, but it once does it becomes maybe the most important relationship anybody ever has, the relationship you have with yourself.
We all struggle to know ourselves in a profound way; some more than others.
But with some simple steps and the development of good reflective habits, you can come to know yourself in a meaningful way that helps you get the most out of your life.
If you are struggling to find your way, it might time to sit down and start making sense of your life as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
Here is a guide to help you find out who you really are in the world.
Before I get started, I want to let you know about a new personal responsibility workshop I’ve helped to create. I know that life isn’t always kind or fair. But courage, perseverance, honesty — and above all else taking responsibility — are the only ways to overcome the challenges that life throws at us. Check out the workshop here. If you want to seize control of your life, then this is the online resource you need.
How to find yourself: 12 steps when you’re feeling lost in life
1. Create a timeline of your life
In order to get where you are going, you need to learn more about where you have been.
The past can be painful for a lot of people, but it is an important part of discovering who you really are in the world.
Take some time to create a timeline of where you have been in the world, who you have shared experiences with, and how those experiences and places have left a mark on your life.
You might find that these were not positive experiences, but if you are willing to sit with the discomfort of exploring them and revisiting them, you’ll find strength and confidence to go forward for further exploration and understanding.
This exercise isn’t about wallowing in self-pity. It’s about understanding what you’ve learned about yourself from these experiences.
Our struggles, tribulations, and experiences make us who we are. Reminding ourselves of the hard times we have been through gives us courage and strength.
2. Acknowledge what makes you different.
On your path to discovering who you really are in the world, it will be important that you take time to identify and celebrate what makes you, you.
What makes you different from everyone else on the planet?
It’s hard to tell sometimes, especially because we are often so critical of ourselves in comparison to other people.
But rather than feeling weighed down by your differences, celebrate them and put them front and center in your exploration of yourself.
If you allow yourself to be happy about who you are, you’ll find that you are much happier in all areas of your life.
A practical exercise to find out what your unique characteristics are is to list down 10 traits about yourself that you’re proud of.
This could be your kindness, your loyalty, or the fact that you’re skilled at knitting!
Keep in mind:
Before you can do any kind of work on your future self you need to reconcile who you are right now.
It’s easy to discount the good things you think about yourself and let the negative thoughts take over.
But understanding what your positive traits are and what makes you unique will help you banish the negativity and accept yourself.
And if you’re going to find yourself, you need to accept who you are right now.
Change, whatever that might look like for you, is really going to come from a place of understanding and love.
Here’s a beautiful passage from Master Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh on the power of self-acceptance:
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”
3. Write your own eulogy
If you really want to find yourself, try writing your own eulogy.
Okay, this might sound a little scary. But hear me out. Because it can be an incredibly powerful thing to do.
I learnt about this exercise from professional life coach Jeanette Devine.
And I actually did it myself a short while ago.
I wrote a eulogy describing my future life which I had no idea about.
It scared me at first. I don’t want to think about death.
But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My life is finite. If I’m going to live a life of purpose, I had to embrace this.
I need to choose to live my life to the fullest.
So I started writing.
I wrote the fullest, most jam-packed eulogy I could muster. Everything I’d want someone to say about me, I threw it in.
And at the end: I was left with it: my vision for the future.
Jeanette Devine’s book helps you be your own life coach. She helped me discover my true values, figure out my own strengths, and set me on a guided path to achieving my goals.
If you want to seize control of your own life, but like me balk at the price of one-on-one sessions with a professional life coach, I think Jeanette Devine’s new book is well worth diving into.
The best bit is that Jeanette has agreed to make her book available exclusively to Hack Spirit readers at a heavily discounted price.
4. Find new ways of being.
Rather than continue to do the same old things and expect to find new things about yourself, set yourself up for discovery success by trying to live your life in new and intentional ways.
Be present when people talk to you. Be curious about what is around you. Ask yourself questions about why you are the way you are and be ready to be confronted by answers you might not like.
It’s all part of the growing process to help you find who you really are.
Once you confront things you don’t like about yourself, it is easier to point out the things you do like and focus on making them part of your new ways of being.
And in the end, fully embracing your weaknesses is the only way to improve them.
And being honest about what they are will allow you to adjust your life, which will create opportunities for growth.
For me, I use to always avoid the relentless anxiety that existed within me.
But avoiding and fighting against what is happening inside me only made it worse.
It’s only when I learned how to practice acceptance that I was able to see some sort of positive growth. (You can read more about how Buddhist philosophy changed my life here).
5. Identify what brings joy to your life.
When it comes to finding your way in the world and knowing who you really are, you’ll need to figure out what really makes you feel alive.
Put yourself in front of things that make you feel good as often as possible and focus on the good instead of the bad.
There is room for the good and the bad in our lives, and there will be time to explore the things that make you feel less-than-ideal.
But when you are trying to find your best life, the good is what gets your attention. Making sense of who you really are is about being okay with the bad but lifting up the good.
What makes you truly happy?
At what moments do you feel most alive?
When you discover what ignites your soul and makes you happy, you can engineer your life to produce those moments more often.
6. Take responsibility.
The best way to find your true self is to take ultimate responsibility for your life.
Because I think taking responsibility is the most powerful attribute we can possess.
The reality is that YOU are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in your life, including for your happiness and unhappiness, successes and failures, and for discovering who you are as a person.
I want to briefly share with you how taking responsibility has transformed my own life, including helping me discover my true self.
Did you know that 6 years ago I was anxious, miserable and working every day in a warehouse?
I was stuck in a hopeless cycle and had no idea how to get out of it.
My solution was to stamp out my victim mentality and take personal responsibility for everything in my life. I wrote about my journey here.
Fast forward to today and my website Hack Spirit is helping millions of people make radical shifts in their own lives. We’ve become one of the world’s biggest websites on mindfulness and practical psychology.
This isn’t about bragging, but to show how powerful taking responsibility can be…
… Because you too can transform your own life by taking complete ownership of it.
To help you do this, I’ve collaborated with my brother Justin Brown to create an online personal responsibility workshop. We give you a unique framework for finding your best self and achieving powerful things.
It’s quickly become Ideapod’s most popular workshop. Check it out here.
If you want to seize control of your life, like I did 6 years ago, then this is the online resource you need.
7. Understand what gives you power in the world.
In order to find your place in life, you need to understand the power you have within you to make change happen and last for a long time.
We all have the courage and opportunity to make a change; we just have to be willing to go after it.
When we tap into our power, we are unstoppable and we can design the lives we really want.
If you want to find out who you really are, tap into the power inside you and use it as often as possible to challenge situations, people, and opportunities.
To dive deeper into how to take responsibility for your life, check out Ideapod’s eBook: Why Taking Responsibility is the Key to Being the Best You.
It’s an extremely practical guide that offers the tools and techniques you need to develop new habits and goals.
I’ve read the book myself and have already changed some of my goals and daily habits as a direct result.
The fact is:
Although many of us may think we take responsibility, it is a skill that has to be learned and developed—even by people who have achieved success.
8. Forgive your critical side.
If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.
It’s important that you let go of your critical side when you are looking for ways to live your best life.
Critical comments of yourself don’t help you grow. It is different than critical reflection, which is not critical at all, but exploratory.
You can’t grow from a place of hate. Find out who you are by being kind to yourself along the way.
“Be kind to your body, gentle with your mind and patient with your heart. Stay true to your spirit, cherish your soul and never doubt yourself. You are still becoming, my love, and there is no one more deserving of the nurturing grace of your love.” – Becca Lee
9. Don’t believe your negative thoughts
Most of us are inherently negative.
We have about 65,000 thoughts every day, and shockingly, 70 percent of them are negative.
But problems start to arise when we believe our thoughts, or we identify with our thoughts.
Eckhart Tolle says that identifying with our thoughts leads to a false identification of self:
“As you grow up, you form a mental image of who you are based on your personal and cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ‘ego’. It consists of mind activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking. The term ego means different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created by unconscious identification with the mind.”
How do we rise above our thoughts and not be so attached to them?
According to Eckhart Tolle, we need to become an observer of thoughts so we can live in the present moment:
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken…The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.”
Once you stop identifying with your mind, you can live in the present moment.
And as Eckhart Tolle says, it’s in the present moment that you can find out who you really are.
(To dive deep into techniques that help you reduce and live in the present moment, check out my eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life.)
10. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
Stand up for what you believe in and let others know what you think.
You don’t have to belittle other people to make yourself feel good.
Rather than try to get everyone on your side, be comfortable in taking a stand on your own and settle into a routine of being open to hearing other people but accepting of your own beliefs.
To stand up for what you believe in, you need to accept that at times, you’re going to be vulnerable.
But one of the best ways to get to know your real self is to allow yourself to be vulnerable in the face of others.
If you are wrong, say you are wrong. If you believe something wholeheartedly, say that.
If you are worried or have questions, allow yourself to look for the help you need.
When you are vulnerable and real, people will see that. This reinforces your own thoughts about yourself and makes you feel comfortable in the presence of others.
11. Serve others
Mahatma Gandi said that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.”
There’s certainly a place for introspection, but if we focus on ourselves too much, we can become self-centered. We can get lost in our own minds and our own problems.
But when you forget about yourself and your problems, and you focus on helping others, you gain a better perspective on life.
You realize that you’re not the center of the universe. There’s a beautiful world out there waiting for you to open your mind to.
As The Dalai Lama says below, if we think only of ourselves, then our minds occupy a very small area.
But when you develop concern and caring for others, your mind expands:
“If we think only of ourselves, forget about other people, then our minds occupy very small area. Inside that small area, even tiny problem appears very big. But the moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. The result? Big increase in peace of mind. So, if you think only of yourself, only your own happiness, the result is actually less happiness. You get more anxiety, more fear.” – Dalai Lama
12. Act now
If you’ve been through the steps above, you’ve probably come to a point where you’re understanding yourself better.
You’ve got a better idea of who you are, what makes you happy, and what you can offer to the world.
But guess what?
Once you’ve decided who you are and most importantly, who you’re going to be, it’s now time to start doing it.
The biggest test of character is doing what you’ll say you’ll do.
(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).