What do you feel right now? Right at this moment? That feeling comes from your brain – do you know how? Understanding how the brain works and how ‘your’ brain responds will help you to thrive in life.
When I was 24 I went off travelling – to explore, to step out of my comfort zone (I went alone) but most of all to ‘find myself’.
Travelling does open your eyes to different cultures, opinions, opportunities and does give you time to reflect BUT unless you’re looking for yourself in the ‘right way’ it still doesn’t provide the answers.
The reflection time did lead me back to a career in psychology as my ultimate dream. I still wanted to help people and loved learning about the quirky traits of being human.
Initially after travelling I went back to my corporate job (now hating it more than ever) and started talking to anyone and everyone about my options. Ultimately it made sense to build on the experience I had in business. So, I decided to go down the route of performance rather than mental illness. The added bonus was this would hopefully keep my own head from spinning out. I quit my job and went back to uni to do my ‘Master of Science’ degree.
This was when – finally – after all of this time – I started learning more about the brain. It provided a massive turning point both in how I saw myself and how I understood others. I’d learnt about brain damage in my first degree. Now I was learning about the brain in terms of ‘normal’ functioning and behaviour. Things that applied to me and everyone in my world.
Knowing the fundamentals of how the brain works is critical. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to learn (but I would advise that you take guidance from someone who actually knows rather than claims to know) about the brain. But without understanding the basics of your brain mechanics you can end up wasting a huge amount of energy. It’s a bit like trying to find a location without a map. You may make your way there but you just don’t know if you’re heading south or west (especially without a north star); you can’t tell if each step is taking you closer to or further away from your destination.
“Relationship is the mirror in which you discover yourself. To be is to be related.” Bruce Lee
You are so interconnected with those around you. Which means that you simply cannot know yourself without knowing how you impact the people in your life. Whoever they are.
Having completed my MSc I found a job working for a firm of business psychologists. To become a chartered psychologist in the UK takes a total of 7 years. I’d done the first 4 but had 3 left, being supervised in a job that enabled me to demonstrate the application of my psychological knowledge.
This was where I learnt step 2 of becoming more self-aware. Feedback and lots of it. Yes I’d had feedback before – we all get it all the time whether it’s someone complimenting us on our new shoes, giving us a mark on an essay or helping us park the car. But this isn’t the type of feedback that helps us to grow as a person.
In order to get a really honest and balanced perspective, to gain accurate self-knowledge about who you are, you need to know what other people see. Put simply, if you don’t get feedback, you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction to achieve your goals. That goal could be anything from picking up a dirty top from the floor to becoming leader of an organization. For example, I learnt that I tend to talk over people in group situations. This is typically because I get a bit excited or want to say things before I forget but it’s not a great tendency to have, especially as a psychologist.
My prime goal is to help people gain a better understanding of psychology. Although this is my work goal, it’s also my broader vision and has an influence in every area of my life. So if I talk over everyone in every social situation, it’s going to negatively affect my progress toward my goal, whereas knowing about my tendency and its impact helps me realign my behaviour to engage people more effectively when I’m “on topic.”
Feedback is essential to performance in all walks of life, from sport (e.g., the score in a match, video analysis of an athlete in action), to business (e.g., how the company is performing in the marketplace, what a boss says about an employee’s work), to our personal lives (e.g., comments on our mood, a partner telling us what they want from the relationship). It’s also critical to our well-being, optimal performance, & success in whatever you pursue.
We are so interconnected that you simply cannot know yourself with it.
We’ll explore how to explore you in the next and final post in 3 part self-awareness series.