“Why is change so hard?” It may be the most common question I answer for clients. Change in general is easy – change is always happening. But directed change can be tough and this is what we’re really after in personal development – movement towards some goal. So why is directed change so hard? There are a number of reasons, but in this article I want to address the first stumbling block that most people run into – lack of self-knowledge.
You may have heard me say that “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” On a similar note, if you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s pretty difficult to get where you want. Even if you knew the exact latitude and longitude of the Eiffel Tower, that knowledge wouldn’t get you anywhere close to the monument if you didn’t know where on Earth you were located in the first place.
Reaching your goals for personal development is no different. It’s very important to have a clear picture of where you want your growth to take you and how it should take you there. But that picture won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t know yourself to begin with.
As odd as it may seem, many people just don’t know themselves. We tend to take self-knowledge for granted. It’s not uncommon for my clients to come in to their first appointment believing that they have a perfectly clear picture of who they are and why they behave as they do. The fact of the matter is that we human beings just don’t have perfectly transparent access to the inner workings of our minds. We have to learn about who we are, to make discoveries about ourselves.
This is why the great challenges of our lives often have such a profound effect on our development. Hardships reveal resources, strengths or weakness that we didn’t know we had. Meeting the love of your life can have a similar effect, making clear all sorts of habits, beliefs and attitudes that we didn’t know we had. However, you come to make these discoveries, the point is that we do have to find out who we are. With that in mind, any kind of real personal development requires a good deal of self-knowledge. Let me be clear about what I mean when I say “self-knowledge”. It isn’t just a matter of knowing your favorite colors, your habits, or the facts of your personal history. It’s much more profound than this. True self-knowledge means having a clear understanding of the why behind all of those habits, choices and beliefs.
For example, you may know very well that you have a fear of commitment and that this has prevented you from developing long lasting relationships. You may also want very much to move beyond that fear, but doing so might be very difficult without knowing the origins of that challenge. Perhaps somewhere in your past you placed your trust in someone that you later came to believe betrayed you and this wounded you. Whatever the origins, trying to move past this difficulty without the knowledge of its cause is like treating the symptoms of a disease without addressing the cause.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that you hold off entirely on working towards your goals for personal development. One of those goals may just be getting to know yourself better. That kind of deep knowledge alone can generate great internal growth. Your personal exploration can and should continue along side of all the work you’re putting into achieving your legacy. As long as you are responsive to what you learn and you are flexible about how you go about reaching those goals, you can allow your growing personal knowledge to shape your path towards personal development.
You don’t need to wait for the life-altering personal challenges I mentioned earlier to begin building your base of self-knowledge. Journaling is one way to do this. Just make sure that you aren’t just writing. Reviewing what you’ve written is crucial, as it will reveal patterns and connections you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if you aren’t a huge writer, you needn’t write a lot for this to be effective. A few sentences about the important events during the day and how you reacted to them can be enough to capture all the information you need.
Trying your hand at different kinds of art can also be revealing. Learning about yourself doesn’t have to be overly logical or cerebral. In fact, tapping in to the creative side of our brains can be just as revealing as any rational inquiry. Creating a Mandala, for example, can be a fantastic way to explore your creative side and to uncover parts of yourself that you never knew existed. There are a number of very good books on the subject that you can use as guides to help you start your own Mandala exploration – including Bailey Cunningham’s Mandala: Journey to the Center, and The Mandala Healing Kit: Using Sacred Symbols for Spiritual and Emotional Healing by Judith Cornell. You can also visit mandalaproject.org to learn more about Mandalas and how you can use them for self-exploration and healing.
Whether your path to self-knowledge runs through journaling, artwork, meditation or some other route, gaining that knowledge truly is a crucial step to personal development. It may be frightening at first, but the more you learn, the faster you’ll move towards your legacy and in the end, all of that exploration will be worth it. Enjoy the journey!