Self-Knowledge: What is Self-Knowledge and Why is It Important?

  • Devansh 
  • 15 min read
Self-Knowledge

What is self-knowledge and what are the stages? A checklist of 44 self-study questions and writing practice to answer the question “Who am I?”

Although we study ourselves from the moment of birth, we often cannot answer simple questions: what do we love in ourselves, what is our strength, what do we want from life? But the point is not even the answers themselves, but in the search and investigation of the inner “I”. Self-knowledge – how much is it possible? Is it a fashion trend or a vital necessity? What motivates us or takes energy away? We share answers and a list of 44 questions that will help you to know yourself.

What is Self-Knowledge?

Self-knowledge is the study of oneself, one’s manifested and hidden mental, emotional, intellectual and physical characteristics, motives of behavior, talents, actions and results of reflection. This is a search for answers to the questions ” Who am I?”, ” What am I?”, ” What is the meaning of my existence?” This is not passive self-contemplation, but an active search for the general subtleties of the inner “I” and their place in life.

Self-Knowledge: What is Self-Knowledge and Why is It Important?
Self-Knowledge: What is Self-Knowledge and Why is It Important?

This is a leisurely but unusually entertaining process that lasts a lifetime. But if self-knowledge takes so much time and effort, why know yourself at all? Let’s start with a simple example. To understand how a computer works, you need to study its components and how it works. Knowing the computer thoroughly, you can use it at full capacity. So it is with self-knowledge.

To get the most out of your personality traits, resolve internal conflicts, build your own value system and relationships, you need to get to know yourself as best you can.

In general, self-knowledge is a very necessary thing. Without knowing yourself, it is impossible to find a favorite job and a suitable person, raise children, make friends, adequately react to what is happening in society and within oneself. In short: self-knowledge makes it possible to make friends with oneself and with the world.

Comprehension of the inner “I” is interesting because the personality is simultaneously an object and a subject of study. Moreover, the inner world of every person is truly inexhaustible and no definition can comprehensively embrace all that is reflected during self-knowledge. Self-knowledge occurs and is formed at different levels:

Sensual (Empirical)

It relies on integral images that arise in consciousness, which are formed in the form of sensations, perceptions, representations, emotions. This is the initial stage of acquaintance with the outside world, since a person receives primary information precisely through the senses: vision, hearing, tactile sensations.

Rational

It is peculiar only to a person, since it includes thinking about time, space, relies on mathematical, philosophical, religious ideas. The methods of study and knowledge of the world are based on abstract thinking: concepts, judgments, inferences.

Social

Assesses the personality through interaction with society. Communication with others gives you the opportunity to get feedback on the adequacy of your actions, intentions, statements, behavior, teaches you to correct your actions.

Self-knowledge is impossible to abstract from who I am? Because the most valuable thing in forming your own identity is your inner work and personal findings. Self-knowledge is not a template, not an attempt to adapt to other people’s standards. It takes place exclusively at the request of the person himself – no one can be forced to know himself.

The desire to be “in trend” or to be in fashion is also not a strong motivator. Fashion will change, desire will go away. Therefore, self-knowledge is possible to the extent that a person is ready for it.

History of Self-Knowledge Concept

History of Self-Knowledge Concept
History of Self-Knowledge Concept

The philosophers of antiquity were the first to see the beginning of philosophy in self-knowledge. According to legend, the commandment “know yourself” is the fruit of the joint conclusions of the seven great sages of Ancient Greece.

The same problem became the core of the Socratic teaching. According to Socrates, constant turning inside one’s own “I” is a way to maintain a harmonious balance of the soul and body. And the one who does not know himself is not able to conduct business, become happy, make others happy.

Different aspects of self-knowledge and interaction of the individual with the world were developed by representatives of different schools of thought. The medieval Father of the Church, Blessed Augustine, believed that immersion in oneself is necessary to search for traces of God, and not individual traits of one’s personality.

In general, in religious philosophy, self-knowledge was recognized as impossible without the practice of numerous religious teachings, ascetic asceticism, and the mystical experience of spiritual prayer.

The topic of self-knowledge was considered and discussed in the writings of the founder of the Taoist tradition Lao-Tzu, Buddhist sages, Confucian and Arab philosophers. But representatives of Western and Eastern philosophical schools approached the study of the issue from different points of view. From the standpoint of both traditions, the “I” cognizes itself as if from the outside, going beyond its own limits. But the East considers a person as a part of the world, while the West associates self-knowledge with the autonomy of the “I” from the environment.

Rene Descartes, a representative of Western applied philosophy of modern times, considered the problem of self-knowledge as a problem that can be scientifically posed and solved. The English theoretical philosopher J. Locke interpreted self-understanding as the observation of one’s own experience. But no philosophical school has paid as much attention to the question of self-knowledge as German classical philosophy. The most cited and respected are the works of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling.

Despite its venerable age, the problem of self-knowledge is relevant in modern philosophy. The Russian physiologist I.M. Sechenov considered the reflex activity of the brain to be the basis for all acts of cognition. The French psychologist Janet recognized the impossibility of knowing one’s “I” without social interaction. The founder of psychoanalysis Z. Freud paid more attention to the issue of cognition of the unconscious.

In the 50s of the 20th century A. Maslow and K. Rogers formulated the self-concept of personality, which in the 80-90s became the basis for psychological science. The focus of self-knowledge gradually shifted from questions of consciousness to managing one’s own behavior, understanding and predicting one’s own life.

In the 20th-21st centuries, two interrelated sciences that study self-knowledge have become relevant: psychology and philosophy. A person’s awareness of his being is recognized as a component of his existence and development.

Motivators and Stages of Self-Knowledge

Motivators and Stages of Self-Knowledge
Motivators and Stages of Self-Knowledge

Scientists at Columbia University have shown that there are two types of motivation for self-discovery: Desire to avoid failure (dissatisfaction).It occurs at the moment when a person ceases to like the inability to manage his life the way he wants. Then comes the willingness to understand yourself and put things in order in life.

Thirst for success (curiosity).This is what makes us study ourselves as actively as people study space. Because inside everyone there are no less secrets than in space, and every person is a new universe for possibilities. It is mesmerizing and adds enthusiasm. Cognition of oneself is developed gradually; it is not in a person in a finished form. But if at an early age it happens instinctively, then for an adult it is a product of efforts and life experience. There are a different number of stages of self-knowledge, but there are three main ones:

Primary (construction): begins at the moment of birth. It is also called passive or constructive, since the child gets to know himself through others around him. The self-concept is completely formed through the gullible perception of the opinion of the environment.

Crisis of primary self-knowledge (destruction): occurs at the moment when the child first separates himself from the outside world. He gradually forms his own opinion, as he understands that the judgments of others can be different and contradictory.

Secondary (reconstruction): begins from the moment of psychological maturity. This is already a conscious study of oneself. The stage is also called the reconstructing stage, since the person himself “reshapes” and forms his personality, and the formatting of the self-concept occurs according to his own plan.

Self-knowledge is always built on conflict. But it is through him that a person leaves the world of illusions into reality and gains freedom.

Self Discovery Strategies

Self Discovery Strategies
Self Discovery Strategies

The main goal of self-knowledge is to turn knowledge about oneself into real life experience, into a part of practice. This path is quite difficult, it is impossible to go through it without spirituality. But in the process of self-study, you can learn not the most pleasant things about yourself. Therefore, it is better to tune in advance to evaluate yourself objectively.

The standard method of self-discovery is to observe your surroundings. Studying the standard norms created by others, a person knows himself through the “other”, through the universal. It’s like comparing yourself with some measure: someone else’s qualities, ideals, moral principles. Such a comparison takes place on a rigid scale of ratios: smart-fool, handsome-ugly, lucky-loser and makes a person defenseless before the assessment of others.

This stereotyped way has its advantages: the personality fits perfectly into the existing sociocultural coordinates. That is, it adapts, becomes comfortable for others. The disadvantages of this method are that individual and unique qualities are overwritten. A false “I” is gradually formed, which leads to an identity crisis.

Creative self-knowledge is the modeling of one’s personality, an original inner world, which becomes a source of knowledge for other people. A person is able to create himself, to invent himself and become what he wants to be.

Creative self-knowledge is also called psychotherapeutic, because it uses the techniques of psychotherapy . According to psychologists, the components of this method include:

  • Reflection – the ability to redirect your thoughts to the inner work of consciousness, analysis of feelings, states, behavior, actions that happened in the past.
  • Self -observation – observation of the inner plan of mental life, which helps to track its manifestations (thoughts, feelings, interests).
  • Self -analysis – the analysis of the data obtained during observation (judgments, experiences, conclusions), the search for cause-and-effect relationships, concentration on bodily sensations and the emotional sphere.
  • Self-esteem – a person’s assessment of their abilities, talents , behavior, position in society.
  • Self -awareness – awareness of oneself as an individual during the study, control, evaluation of one’s actions and deeds.
  • Self – acceptance – understanding your strengths and weaknesses, values, motivation or lack thereof.
  • Self – improvement is the conscious development of the necessary skills and qualities dictated by the requirements of life.

In any case, you can cognize your “I” by any available methods. But self-knowledge alone is limited. You can successfully know yourself in the presence of a person you trust. This can be a partner, relative, mentor. If a person has low self-esteem, feels dissatisfaction, lack of self-confidence, it is better to turn to a psychotherapist.

You may also like to read: Self Improvement: The Path to Finding Freedom

Self-Knowledge Techniques

Self-Knowledge Techniques
Self-Knowledge Techniques

Immersion in the inner “I” is useful if it does not turn into self-criticism, self-examination, self- flagellation. To get on the right track and learn more about yourself, you need to ask yourself the right questions.

Technique 1: 44 Questions About Yourself

Most people don’t ask themselves such questions or try to answer truthfully. But in vain. The search for the answer forces us to look for the keys that open the doors of the inner “I”.

The order of the questions and answers does not matter. Moreover, some questions can be unpleasant, leading to bleak thoughts. But you will have to ask them yourself, because some problems cannot be ignored.

Hint: it is better to answer in writing, so that later you can return to the notes, re-read, supplement and reflect.

So, questions to yourself:

  • What do I want from life?
  • Why are my plans not being fulfilled?
  • How do I feel when I do something I don’t like?
  • Which is worse: failing or missing out?
  • How important is it to me to control the events of my life?
  • What is more important: to be or to seem?
  • When am I most productive?
  • What can I do right now to be successful?
  • What trait am I proud of?
  • What is my most objectionable trait?
  • What are my plans for the next month / year?
  • Who or what motivates me?
  • How can I make my dreams come true?
  • Why am I often in a bad mood?
  • Who is responsible for my mood?
  • What would I do if I had enough money?
  • Who really loves me? For what?
  • Who do I really love? For what?
  • When did I express my love?
  • What is going right / wrong in my life?
  • What books would I take with me to a desert island?
  • What do I regret the most?
  • What memory evokes sincere joy ?
  • Do I like myself outwardly?
  • Am I educated and erudite enough?
  • How often do I get offended? How long do I remember being hurt?
  • Do I know how to listen?
  • How often do I laugh?
  • How do I pamper myself?
  • What things do I regularly put off? Why?
  • What do I usually think of for the New Year?
  • Who have I helped?
  • What is my main achievement for today?
  • How many bad habits do I have? How do I get rid of them?
  • Do I care what others think of me?
  • How do I feel when I’m alone?
  • Am I passionate about my work?
  • Is my income good for me?
  • Am I going through with my plan?
  • What are my life principles? Do they help or hinder development?
  • If not now, then when?
  • What moment in my life would I like to relive?
  • What moment in my life would I like to fix?
  • Am I happy?

Perhaps, upon first reading, some of the questions seem trivial or incorrect. This is normal. It is impossible to predict in advance which of them will attract attention, and which you will want to return to in a day or a month.

Technique 2: Written Practice

As a child, many kept a diary. But these were just scattered notes about myself. There are enough books today that teach you how to use your diary entries for self-discovery.

Here are some tips:

It is better to write by hand. Whatever is written, putting thoughts on paper is considered psychotherapy.

It is better to write in the morning. It is more convenient to catch sensible thoughts immediately after awakening, when the brain has rested, and the inner critic has not yet woken up.

Write for at least 15 minutes. In general, it is advised to write at least three pages, which takes 40-50 minutes. If there is no such time, fifteen minutes is enough for important thoughts.

Write abstracts. If you can’t describe the reasoning in detail, you can sketch out a list. It will help develop a smart thought later.

Master freewriting. It is difficult to write for 20-30 minutes without stopping. But it is freewriting that helps to get to the bottom of secret desires and bring all insights to the surface.

Do not reread everything. The written word is a powerful tool. It helps to transfer negative emotions to paper and clear the mind. But if there are memories of traumatic events written in a state of depression or after a serious quarrel, it is better not to reread such notes.

Reflect on quotes. Catching quotes are not common, so it’s worth moving them into your diary. And later – to analyze them or argue with the author.

Write anything. Write about a conversation with your boss, a fight with a friend, a nice stranger in a cafe? Yes, you can start writing about anything. The first phrase can be a starting point for serious reflection.

Writing practice is not a very romantic name for the enjoyable activity of journaling. But diary travel really helps you find your way back to yourself.

You may also like to read: Self-Esteem: How Can I Improve My Self Esteem?

Conclusions

Self-knowledge is the comprehension of the inner “I” in its peculiar qualities, and all the subtleties of the personality. It requires inner work on oneself, theoretical and practical interest in one’s personality.

Self-knowledge is interesting and useful, it makes sense. The definition of the self-concept is never precise or final. This is always an under-determination. Psychotherapy helps to find out what a person already knows about himself and what he has to learn.

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