“Know thyself” is a beautiful aphorism that is often attributed to the ancient Greeks. One can also find early inscriptions with a similar phrase created by the Egyptians. Personally, I believe it is one of those universal concepts written on the souls of all humankind, so its origin is not really important. What is important is the sheer vastness of philosophy that can be crammed into these two little words. Volumes upon volumes have been and will continue to be written about our search for self, but I would like to zero in on one specific piece that might just be the key to unlocking some of what is holding you back from your greatest potential.
First a little background. Early Western concepts in psychology began with the idea of psychoanalysis, which is basically examining the conscious and unconscious roots of our thoughts and behaviors. The theory was that insight would produce change. One of the major criticisms of psychoanalysis is that insight alone does not actually cause transformation. This is pretty straight forward- I can be aware that running makes me healthy, aware of how to obtain the necessary gear and the proper technique for going on a run, and I can even be fully aware of all my excuses for staying on the couch, but if I don’t get up, all that insight is useless.
As the field of psychology evolved, behavioral models emerged, which are action oriented and approach pathology from a completely different perspective. Overtime, practitioners have developed hundreds of approaches with varying focus on thinking, feeling, and behaving. Technology and advances in neuro science have opened new doors to better understanding, but the field remains in conversation about how best to help humans function at higher levels. The funny truth is that the tool we choose to help us get better isn’t nearly as important as just grabbing one and getting to work!
In the world of personal development and performance psychology, one of the major theories that undergirds coaching is psycho-cybernetics. Developed by Maxwell Maltz in the 1960’s, this theory is all about changing self-image and examining the messages we replay over and over in our minds. There are dozens if not hundreds of excellent books out that were clearly influenced by Maltz and his school of thought. In fact, you probably apply some of his theories without even knowing it.
One major component that has come from Maltz’s work is confronting “self-limiting beliefs.” This is where knowing thyself comes back into play. The idea is to examine the beliefs we have about ourselves, our abilities, our value, etc. and then to change the negative tape or re-record a new message. There are many effective techniques for how to do this. One on one coaching or counseling is very useful in this process. Truthfully, you can do much of this work on your own without even knowing what you’re doing.
I would like to offer a word of caution before you jump in head first: many people might encourage you to go in guns blazing to wipe out the enemy. But, what I have found in my own journey and when working with clients is that the expression “we have met the enemy and he is us” holds true. While we are not our beliefs and what we believe about ourselves might indeed be inaccurate, there is a part of us holding on to that belief. Don’t let this part of you become collateral damage. Instead, approach with curiosity and compassion.
You can start a dialog with this part of yourself. For example, when she says to you, “you’re not good enough,” you might simply remind her of your innate value and state the reasons why you are lovable. If you merely beat this part of you down and shame it into submission, you will likely expend a tremendous amount of energy. Even worse, the shame will likely produce more inner distress and symptoms. I have found that when I treat my own inner bullies like I would treat an angry youth, I make more progress. That is, these parts are hurt and scared- not evil or even looking to harm me. They are working hard to protect my ego and keep me safe from the perceived threat of vulnerable relationships. Once I acknowledge their efforts and assure them that everything is going to be OK, they calm down and I can move on.
I will give you a real life example. For a long time public speaking has been tremendously uncomfortable for me. This is terrible news for someone called to preach and speak regularly. There is a part of me who remembers embarrassing public blunders. Every time I get ready to speak this part reminds me of previous mistakes. And I hear things to the effect of, “you’re a phony. You’re unoriginal. You don’t do this or that well enough. You don’t deserve an audience.” This part of me is simply trying to avoid embarrassment by talking me out of taking a risk. Instead of ignoring this voice, every time I get ready to speak I thank him for what he is trying to do. I also remind him that others have helped me up every single time I’ve slipped. After all, here I am. Standing. Then I remind him of the times things went great and the wonderful affirmations others have offered. It is only after this whole process that I move on to my visualizations and inner rehearsals. I always make peace with myself first. This is a win-win because even if I do bomb, I have shown compassion to myself and instead of an “I told you so,” I am given compassion in return.
Knowing thyself is some scary stuff. It takes tremendous courage and resolve to confront yourself, but it is liberating in indescribable ways. You will be more present, more at peace, and more effective. I hope you take the time to get to know you a little better. You’re pretty great.