Regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 19th century, Oliver Wendell Holmes was also considered one of the wisest people of his time. His sagacity and profundity can be found in many of his works but few illustrate better what we can learn from his writings than the following quote:
A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience.
Why do I think this to be such a valuable statement?
Because as someone who’s worked as a psychologist and coach for approximately two decades now I’ve come to learn that if there were a common factor to be found in those who’re happier and more successful in life, it’s the ability to “know oneself”.
Knowing oneself (sometimes known as “psychological mindedness” or “insight”) allows one to accurately assess where one is and what one needs to do to get to where one wants to get to (i.e. achieve meaningful goals). Knowing oneself is also at the heart of what in recent years has been referred to as “emotional intelligence”; and it’s well known that emotional intelligence is a key indicator of success in almost every area of life. Knowing oneself involves looking inwards and reflecting, not in the self-defeating, melancholy way of depressives but rather, in a constructive way that drives positive action (something I’ll write more about in my next post).
So how, then, does one develop insight and self-knowledge?
Well, I’m glad you asked and I happily proffer the following suggestions for you to try out and tailor to suit your own style and personality:
- Set up some form of a reminder system whereby you stop, several times each day, and just pay attention (without judgment) to your thoughts and feelings
- Start keeping a thought diary (or journal) in which you write down, each and every day, how you felt and what you were thinking in different situations
- Become more aware of your strengths (and weaknesses) by asking a few people who you know well and trust, to honestly summarise you at your best and your worst
Ultimately, the way we think about ourselves and the world directly determines how we feel and how we perform. Being more aware of your inner thoughts and beliefs, therefore, is a crucial first step to gaining more control of yourself and your life!
Dr. Timothy Sharp is a clinical and coaching psychologist who’s sometimes known as Dr. Happy! He’s the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of The Happiness Institute and you can find him regularly tweeting at @drhappy.