How To Find Yourself: 5 Steps To Finding Your True Self
Having a hard time being yourself? Learn how to accept yourself, know yourself, and express yourself with this science-backed set of strategies for "finding yourself".
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Finding our true selves can feel like a huge risk now that we live in a world where everyone is presenting themselves as perfect, attractive, and happy online. What if we don’t feel like we are any of these things? Will finding ourselves (and the being ourselves) scare people away?
In my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I talk a lot about why it's so much harder to find happiness now... in our screen obsessed world. Now that we have so much media and social media, our daily lives constantly involve thinking about what we should look like, what our romantic relationships should be like, and even who we should be.
We just want to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings… but we also want to be ourselves. So how do we stop focusing on all that and find out who we really are?
Here are some simple steps that might help:
Here's a quick motivational talk on finding yourself
1. Get clear on how why you feel lost in the first place
How do you see yourself? Often we don't really see ourselves at all. We don't even see ourselves through others' eyes. We see ourselves how we think other people see us. So no wonder we feel lost.
Let's unpack this a little bit to start getting clearer on who we really are. Ask yourself, "How do I think other people see me?" Do I seem fragile or strong? Smart or stupid? Hardworking or lazy? Broken or resilient?
Now ask yourself again: Am I genuinely the way that I think people see me? Who am I from my point of view? Who am I really? What aspects of myself feel authentic?
Spend sometime mentally mulling over how you got to do and be the person you are now, why this doesn't feel like you, and how you might change your perspective or actions to be in better alignment with your true self.
Here's a video about why it's so hard to find yourself
2. Figure out what you really want
Sometime we feel lost when we don't know what we want. Who are we really when we don't know where we're going or why? That's why when trying to get know ourselves we need to get clear on what we really want?
Do we want love? Freedom? Mastery?
Spend a moment thinking about what you really want. Do you already have it? What is it about what you want that feels true to you? Perhaps you want success not for the money or prestige but for the security, competence, or purpose it gives you. Just dig deeper and see if you can uncover what is genuinely you.
Here's a video with an interesting take on finding yourself and what you want:
3. Accept yourself to find yourself
Media (and social media) can make us feel unattractive. Everyone has selfied and photoshopped their pictures to perfection, often making us feel unattractive in comparison.
Unfortunately, the more media we consume with attractive people in it, the worse we feel about ourselves. But because we don’t want to give up our media, we don’t quit.
So we hear, a hundred times per day that we’re not good enough, we don't have enough, and we should always strive to be something we're not.
So no matter how hard we try to improve ourselves, we always feel like we're falling short.
Here's a Ted talk about how to find yourself
4. Identify negative self-talk to find yourself
One of the ways we can better accept ourselves is by identifying and challenging negative self-talk.
We have these inner monologues that chirp away at us, telling us that it's not okay to be our true authentic selves.
For example, we might think, "I’m ugly"or "My life sucks," when we watch TV shows or look at our social media. Or we might think, "He hates me," if a friend posts a picture of a fun time that we weren’t invited to.
We have to stop the negative self-talk, or else we'll never have the courage to accept ourselves for who we truly are.
5. Celebrate your strengths to find yourself
Another way to find ourselves is to celebrate our strengths. Everyone sucks at things. In fact, we all suck at most things. But who cares?! We'll never be able to find ourselves if we're always focusing on the ways we suck instead of focusing on what we’re good at.
For example, I sometimes put myself down because I’m not great at maintaining friendships long-term. It’s true. I’m an introvert. I often feel shy about building friendships. But if we get down on ourselves regularly for the things we’re not good at, it’s going to be hard to like ourselves as much as we could.
So, in addition to working to improve our weaknesses, we have to remind ourselves about what we are good at. Hey, maybe our weird, one-of-a-kind self is pretty awesome after all.
6. Express yourself to find yourself
What else stops us from being ourselves?
Often, it’s our fear of what other people might think about the real us. For example, maybe our friends all have the same opinion about a political topic, so we decide not to share our different point of view. Maybe people like a particular type of music, so we decide not to talk about the kinds of music we like. Or maybe our others enjoy dining at fancy restaurants, so we decide not to invite them to our house for the cozy dinner we'd really prefer.
We often hold back because we are afraid of the possible consequences. As social beings, we all have to navigate the challenge of balancing self-expression with social harmony in our face-to-face interactions.
But now, in the technology age, we are having to navigate this challenge in a whole new environment — on the Internet, through text, images, or video. And we have no model to follow, so we do what everybody else does. We show only a sliver of who we really are — the best sliver of ourselves.
Where we get into trouble is when our self-expression becomes a performance designed to evoke some kind of response in others. The result? Few of the people in our lives know who we really are deep down, and we might even start to forget who we really are deep down.
So how do we know whether we are just presenting for an audience rather than being who we really are?
Well, we might start to wonder: Who is that person we pretend to be on social media — the one with the perfect clothes, photoshopped body, with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen? And if that starts to happen, then we really need to start rethinking our relationship with social media, and technology in general.
Here's a video on how to express yourself
7. Show your vulnerability to find yourself
Another important step to finding ourselves is showing our vulnerability.
Most of us, myself included, don’t really want to show the parts of us that we don’t like. We worry — What if others change their opinion of us, reject us, or abandon us?
It’s scary to be so openly authentic and vulnerable. But to fully be ourselves we have to be our full selves. We can’t just pick and choose the parts that we like; we can’t just show the manicured, photoshopped version of ourselves. So we have to be vulnerable from time to time.
To start, we could practice being more vulnerable on social media. For example, some people I know posted about having herpes and IBS. Another person I know posts when she’s feeling sad and wants to connect. And tons of women (and some men) have now posted their personal stories about sexual harassment with the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags.
All of these are examples of people sharing stories about themselves that aren’t exactly fun to share — their emotions and their stories make them vulnerable. But they do it anyway as an expression of who they truly are.
Whether you share your personal stories with everyone or just a few people we feel close to is up to us, the goal is to be able to be all of yourself, at least some of the time.
To learn more about how to create a better relationship with technology, check out my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.