What tools do you use to understand yourself?

The study of the human mind is fascinating. One of the reasons is because it’s studied through so many different lenses – we look at the mind’s capabilities, what it will do in a business setting, how it impacts relationships, its health, its propensity to violence or addiction. People study broad trends and try to extract meaningful information about individuals from those averages.

What factors make someone a great leader? Prone to crime? A supportive spouse or awesome parent? Good at baseball? Terrible at appreciating art? A mathematical genius? An angry loner?

No one can know you as well as you know you, but there are two problems with considering yourself an expert on yourself:

  1. You’re the closest to the subject matter, sure, but that’s not always good. There’s a lot to be said for clinical detachment when it comes to honestly evaluating something.
  2. Just because you have the most intimate exposure to the subject matter, doesn’t mean you have the tools to evaluate what you should.

I can say “I know myself better than any psychiatrist!” but that’s obviously hubris. There are a million terms, trends, tools and techniques I’m completely ignorant about that would peel away layers of uncertainty.

So I look for tools I can use. I like personality tests, self-assessments, things like that. It might be dangerous to put too much stock in any one, but using many can give broad trends that smooth out the spikes. Anything to look “under the hood,” so to speak.

Just because you drive the car every day doesn’t mean you know how the engine works, but at the same time you do have information a mechanic can’t have; you know all the subtleties of exactly when the weird noise happens or under what conditions the gear slips. You know the symptoms better, even if you don’t possess the tools needed to diagnose the actual problem.

It’s worth seeking out those tools, but don’t ever forget that you’re driving. The best approach is a blended one – evaluate yourself as carefully and critically as you can, and seek outside tools and expertise when you reach the limit of your own evaluation. How else can you improve?

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