Self-Discovery
Photo by Yan L on Unsplash

Have you ever stopped to consider exactly what you want from life? Maybe you’ve taken this first step toward self-discovery, but haven’t uncovered a path toward achieving your main goals.

Dreams, personal values, talents, even your personality traits may not always seem to matter much in the rush of daily life. But awareness of these characteristics can give you plenty of insight into your inner self.

Day-to-day priorities are important, certainly. But a life that’s nothing more than a series of going through the same motions usually doesn’t provide much enjoyment.

If you’ve reached a point in life where you find yourself asking, “Who am I, really?” some self-discovery can help you get to know yourself a little better.

Self-discovery might sound like a big, intimidating concept, but it’s really just a process of:

  • examining your life
  • figuring out what’s missing
  • taking steps toward fulfillment

There’s no better time for self-exploration than the present, so here are some tips to get you started.

Start by visualizing your ideal self

Maybe your life has gone pretty smoothly according to guidelines parents, teachers, friends, and others have recommended. If that’s the case, you might not have given your true self much thought.

Many people end up defining themselves by their relationships with others or the things they’ve always done, never considering the possibility of anything different.

Without a clear idea of the things that matter to you or the person you hope to become, though, you’ll continue living for other people instead of yourself.

You don’t need to begin with a complete picture — after all, your journey is all about discovering what the full picture is.

But try asking yourself things like:

  • What do I want from life?
  • Where do I see myself in 5 years? 10?
  • What do I regret?
  • What makes me proud of myself?

The answers to these questions can give you a starting place. If you get stuck, it can help to think back to a time when you felt fulfilled and happy and consider what contributed.

Explore your passions

Passions help give life purpose and make it rich and meaningful.

Maybe a passion for helping others guided you to the field of medicine, but your current position in medical billing doesn’t quite fulfill your urge to provide compassionate care.

Living out your passion might involve identifying the job you really want and researching the steps necessary for a career change. Or, maybe it’s exploring ways to volunteer with your skills as a street medic.

Keep in mind that passions don’t always have to be complex or relate to professional interests. Think about what you spend your free time doing on a day-to-day basis. What excites you and brings joy to your life?

Even interests like movies and music can offer insight. Taking some time to consider what you enjoy and look forward to most can help you discover ways to enrich your life.

Try new things

Maybe you can’t name many passions. That’s OK! If you haven’t done much for yourself in a long time, you might not remember what you used to enjoy.

One good way to begin figuring this out? Do something new and totally different. You won’t know what you enjoy until you give it a shot, right?

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Maybe you’ve always had an interest in artistic pursuits but never attempted anything after a college ceramics class. Check your local library or other community centers for free or low-cost adult learning classes.

If you can’t get to a class in person, try online tutorials. They might not be quite the same, but they can often teach you enough to know whether you’d like to continue pursuing the hobby.

Exploring new hobbies, especially ones you’ve never tried before, can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, especially if you go for the more adventurous options.

If you feel nervous, try to think of how proud and accomplished you’ll feel afterward. Beyond teaching you more about yourself, taking safe risks may boost your self-esteem.

Evaluate your skills

Most people have a particular knack for something or other — crafting, home improvement, cooking, or any number of other skills. As part of the self-discovery process, you might consider taking some time to consider your unique abilities and how you might use them.

Maybe your friends always ask you to plan their parties or your neighbors regularly ask you for gardening tips. If these skills are something you can picture yourself developing, why not put them into practice?

Using your skills hones them, which can increase your confidence. Greater self-confidence, in turn, can encourage you to keep exploring these talents, along with any others you may not have noticed before.

Identify what you value about yourself

Your personal values, or the specific qualities you view as most important and meaningful, can tell you a lot about your nature. These values can help illustrate the life you want to live as well as the behavior you expect from others.

Values might include:

  • honesty
  • compassion
  • loyalty
  • creativity
  • courage
  • intelligence

Clarifying these values can help you make certain you’re living them out. If you’ve never taken the time to explore what principles you find most valuable, making this part of your self-discovery process can have a lot of benefit.

Ask yourself questions

When you want answers, start with a few questions.

  • Why do I do the things I do?
  • What drives me?
  • What am I missing?
  • What kind of impact do my choices have on the life I want?

Then, apply these questions to all areas of your life.

Don’t feel like you need to come up with answers immediately, though. Self-discovery takes time, and it’s most helpful to carefully consider your responses instead of grabbing at the first thing that comes to mind.

Above all, be honest with yourself. If you can’t come up with a good answer, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. But it does suggest that some change might help.

Learn something new

Learning works best when it’s treated as a lifelong process.

If you’ve always wanted to learn more about something in particular, take the time to study it. Books, manuals, or online tools can teach you quite a bit, especially if you’d like to develop technical skills or study historical or scientific concepts.

Apps can help you get started learning anything from meditation to foreign languages, so if you have an interest, look it up — chances are good there’s an app or free website dedicated to it.

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In the end, whether you choose to take a class, learn from someone in the community, or teach yourself a new skill, expanding your knowledge is always a wise move.

Keep a journal

If you kept a journal in adolescence, you might remember how it helped you explore your dreams and emotions. Picking up the habit of journaling (or blogging) again can help you get back in touch with yourself and learn more about the person you’ve become.

A journal can help with self-reflection, but it can also serve a more practical purpose. You can use your journal to ask yourself questions and answer them, or explore any of the above tips more deeply.

Journaling can also help you keep track of any patterns that keep coming up in your life. Learning more about unhelpful patterns can play an essential part in the self-discovery process. When you know what doesn’t work, you can begin repairing it.

Writing isn’t your strong point? That’s just fine. Simply jotting down whatever comes to mind can have benefit.

If you’re more artistically inclined, a sketch diary or other type of art journal can also help you explore your emotions and goals. Simply set pen to paper, envision your ideal future, and see what comes forth.

You may also want to try the “tombstone exercise,” a technique used in psychotherapy. It involves writing down what’s most important to you and what you stand for — and, essentially, what you want to appear on your tombstone.

Talk to a therapist

When the process of self-discovery seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, therapy can provide a safe space to get some compassionate guidance.

You don’t need to experience mental health symptoms to benefit from professional support. Therapists help people sort through a range of issues, including goals clarification, career changes, and identity issues.

Wanting to learn more about yourself may not seem like a matter significant enough for therapy, but if you feel distressed or uncertain, therapy can absolutely have benefit.

Here’s how to get started.

The bottom line

The process of self-discovery looks different for everyone, but it’s generally not something that happens overnight. You do have somewhat of a jump start since you already know at least a little bit about yourself. But it still takes time and patience, just like getting to know someone else.

You’re in charge of the journey, but don’t feel afraid to meander off the main path. The more ground you cover through self-exploration, the more you’ll discover about yourself.

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