This past weekend, a former colleague (thanks Eli!) invited me to participate in a Facebook live broadcast about the importance of self-discovery. Here is the content I prepared for that session, I hope you find it interesting; some of this you may have heard from me already.
Today I'd like to talk to you about the value of self-discovery, and how useful it is for life in general and for a coaching process in particular. Why? Because self-discovery helps us to find better solutions to our problems.
Have you ever had a problem (with your family, your partner, your friends, at work...) you initially didn't know how to resolve? Maybe you felt like complaining, and blaming someone else, but, did that solve your problem? Probably not.
Perhaps you resorted to asking for advice, getting someone else to tell you what to do. And did that solve the problem? Maybe, or maybe not. Because a solution that works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. And even if someone gives you advice with their best intentions, it may not be appropriate for your situation.
Today we're going to look at an alternative proposal, a different strategy for facing challenges that enables the solution to emerge from within, instead of being brought from outside. And that proposal is self-discovery.
Know thyself. This famous aphorism was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, in ancient Greece. Before making any inquiries to the Gods, the traveller was invited to investigate their own essence, to understand themselves as a starting point for understanding the world better, in order to be able to make wiser decisions.
Nowadays we have more modern versions of the Oracle of Delphi: we have therapists, coaches, self-help books, and all kinds of information sources. The advantage of a coaching process as opposed to a self-help book is that the coaching process is a lot more personalized: it focuses on the person and their specific goal, which can be related to solving a problem, overcoming a challenge, or reaching a particular goal. In either case, it's all about making a life change.
But making long-lasting changes that truly work for us is not always easy; in fact, we tend to find it quite difficult. Why? Because each person is like an iceberg.
What we can see of a person is only a minimal portion, less than 10%. We get to see the environment they live in, and their behaviour in certain situations, but we have no idea of the reasons behind it, their motivations, their fears, and so many other factors that make up their reality.
And the same applies to ourselves, even if we find it difficult to believe. Most of the time we're running on auto-pilot, making unconscious decisions, so if we want things to change, we need to dive into the iceberg and become aware of those areas of ourselves that are really unknown to us. That's what self-discovery is all about.
This metaphoric iceberg was described by Robert Dilts through what he called neurological levels. The first two levels (environment and behaviour) are conscious, and all the rest are unconscious unless we work on them. Our exploration can start with our behaviour, which is still conscious, and from there we can carefully dive in deeper to discover each level:
- Behaviour: How do I react in certain situations? What triggers me? What patterns can I find?
- Capabilities: What am I good at, and what am I not? What skills do I have to work on?
- Beliefs: What stories am I telling myself about myself and about the world? Are those stories helping me, or holding me back?
- Values: What do I consider most important in my life? Am I honouring those values in my day-to-day life?
- Identity: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become?
- Transpersonal: What meaning do I want to give to my life? What legacy do I want to leave behind?
As we dive deeper into the different levels of the iceberg, we start understanding ourselves much better, and we find explanations for the things that happen to us. And the deeper the level where we initiate a change in our life, the more effective, stable, and durable that change will be, and the easier it will turn out to be.
For example, if I want to quit smoking and I try to achieve it just by using my willpower, I'm going to find it really difficult, and if I still see myself as a smoker, I can relapse at any moment. In contrast, if I'm able to see myself as a non-smoker, as a smoke-free person, that new identity is going to make things a lot easier for me. I no longer have to fight against myself in order to maintain this new habit.
OK, great, understood up to here (I hope), now we know the theory 🙂. But in practice, where do we start? How do we approach getting to know ourselves better?
The key to this is self observation, being present so that we become aware of what happens when we´re running on auto-pilot: the thoughts that pop up regularly in our mind, the situations we feel comfortable and uncomfortable in, the way each of us reacts when certain things happen, etc.
From there, we leave judgment aside, and with curiosity, we start pulling the thread to find out what's hiding behind: what's my motivation to behave like this? What fear or need am I feeling right now? Has something similar to this ever happened to me?
That's how we start discovering patterns that show us how we relate to ourselves, to other people, and to the world, giving us a lot of information about the way we understand life and the strategies we use (successfully or unsuccessfully) to solve our problems.
We can also use a number of tools that help us to identify patterns according to our personality. Not because we want to label ourselves and justify everything based on that label, but because that knowledge is going to give us more freedom, and allow us to take advantage of our own nature, instead of fighting against it.
For the record, I want to highlight that every person is different, and there are many many factors involved in human personality. Self-discovery tools are nothing more than that: tools, approximations; they're not a rigid classification, or the absolute truth.
Here is a brief mention of my favourite tools, they're all fascinating, I'll explain more about them in future posts:
- From NLP, as well as Robert Dits's neurological levels, we can learn about representational systems, the tendencies we as humans have to rely on some senses more than others when interacting with the world (visual, kinaesthetic, auditory & digital).
- Morphosicology studies the relationship between facial features and personality, more specifically around our temperament (our innate capabilities). The face is the only part of the human body that's directly connected to the brain - that's why the configuration of our face somehow reflects the inner workings of our mind.
- The enneagram is a study of personality from a cognitive point of view: it explains nine ways of understanding life (the nine enneatypes, as they're called, represented by numbers from 1 to 9), the basic need each enneatype is focused on, and the set of strategies each enneatype develops in order to fulfill their basic need.
- The instinctual biases theory complements the enneagram. It tells us how all the natural instincts we inherited from animals can be grouped into three categories, and how each one of us gives more importance to one of those three instinctual biases (preserving, navigating, and transmitting).
In summary: self-discovery is an inward journey that allows us to discover how we truly function and how we interact with the world, so that we can find tailored solutions that really work for us.
Through observation, curiosity and the use of tools, we discover patterns that explain why what happens to us happens to us. And the better we know ourselves, the more we understand, and the less we judge ourselves. We no longer beat ourselves up for tripping over the same stone again, because now we understand how that happens, and we can acquire resources to manage it better.
Each person is different, and self-discovery helps us at multiple levels, from solving specific everyday problems to enjoying more freedom and happiness in our life, as we begin to live more in line with our own nature and suffer a lot less.
So, now what? Now, the choice is yours, do you want to keep searching for generic solutions to your problems, and blame others when they don't work, or do you want to find what really suits you?
Warning: the path of self-discovery is not always easy, you have to be brave enough to dare to look inward. Some of the things you'll find along the way will be a little painful, they'll sting a little, and you won't be able to use any excuses! At certain times you may even feel that your world is becoming a bit wobbly: that's a sign that you're growing and evolving, the deepest layers of your iceberg are readjusting.
What I can assure you is that it's a most interesting journey that lasts a lifetime, it never ends. It's like a videogame: every time you learn something new and overcome a certain level, life puts the next level in front of you, so that you continue to earn points in wisdom and freedom 🙂
And that's today's article, thanks for reading until the end. Are you curious now? Do you dare to embark on this fascinating journey toward the depths of your iceberg?