“So many people don’t know themselves at all.”
The moment I heard her say this, I immediately tried to decide whether or not it was true. Yes, I decided. So many people don’t know themselves is probably right. Having answered the initial question, I discovered a larger one remained…”how does a person really get to know themselves?”
The mindfulness teacher on this year’s self-care retreat suggested that we really get to know ourselves by listening to ourselves. But what does that even mean?
In the few weeks since the retreat, I have been a much better student of mindfulness than ever before, and I have been reaping the benefits: feeling more peaceful, not sweating the small stuff, and letting people close to me just be who they are in each moment. It’s been awesome. For all of us.
A huge part of mindfulness is listening to yourself – paying attention to that inner voice, rather than trying to shut it out. Staying with your thoughts for just long enough to notice them, but not long enough to get lost in them. It’s a tall order, to be sure. But with practice, you will find listening to yourself becomes easier, and in turn, you will get to know yourself better than ever before.
Is there any real benefit to knowing yourself better? Heck yes there is.
When you really know yourself, you are less likely to blindly stick to a schedule or rigid routine that doesn’t actually serve you. You’re more likely to go with the flow, doing what feels right in each moment as each moment arrives.
When you know yourself well, you are much better equipped to consider whether adding something to your to-do list or schedule actually feels like it will serve you, rather than accepting a commitment out of obligation or guilt. Knowing yourself allows choices to feel like less of a burden; decisions no longer have the ability to imprison you. In short, knowing yourself increases your peace. If any of this sounds good to you, I invite you to…
From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, listen to yourself. Here are a few examples of what it might look like to listen to yourself throughout the day:
If you happen to wake up before your alarm clock, instead of bemoaning the fact that you could have slept a bit longer, ask yourself whether you would prefer to lay in bed or try to fall back asleep, or get up and enjoy a few quiet moments before the day begins?
Practice mindful eating throughout your day. Before you eat, consider whether or not you are actually hungry. Consider what actually sounds good to you, rather than eating the same old things out of habit. Unless those same old things sound good to you, and then by all means, go with that.
Scan your planner or calendar at the beginning of the day so you know what commitments you have, and then put it away for the remainder of the day. When you find yourself with unstructured downtime, don’t rush to fill it before you ask yourself: “what do I want to do right now? What feels light and easy to me right now?” Then do that.
While you’re scanning your calendar, consider if there are any prior commitments you made that no longer feel like they will be good for you. For example, you may have planned a coffee date with a friend weeks ago, but now you realize if you don’t get to the grocery store today, there will be no dinner tonight. Rather than stressing and frantically running from one thing to the next, consider calling your friend and saying “I’m so sorry but this day has turned out to be crazier than I thought and I’m actually not able to make it today…can we schedule a rain check?” Does that make you a bad person or a bad friend? Nope. It makes you human – and a healthy one.
Proceed through your day in an almost constant conversation with yourself, allowing yourself space to be curious about what is best for you at each moment. You may find your day looks much different by the end than what you thought it would at its outset. Is that ok with you? Be willing to let it be ok.
Many people are so preoccupied with future plans and decisions that they fail to see the choices they need to make today. Without any conscious awareness, they make their habitual responses. People who live this way find a dullness creeping into their lives. They sleepwalk through their days, following well-worn paths of routine. – Sarah Young
Inevitably, some people may read this and think: “Ok, but if I only ever do what I want to do, then when will the toilets ever get cleaned?” Or: “Isn’t this a super selfish way to live? Shouldn’t I be thinking ‘what can I be doing for others right now,’ instead of merely thinking about myself?”
Friends, the point of this experiment (which will hopefully become more of an ongoing experience, rather than a one-time thing), isn’t to be as selfish as possible, never thinking about other people. Nor it is about elevating yourself to a place above everyone else in your life. On the contrary, it is about tuning into and understanding your thoughts and needs, so that you can show up authentically to the rest of your life – in your relationships, in your must-do tasks, in your downtime.
Essentially, this exercise will help you increase your awareness so that you show up to each part of your day (and ultimately, your life) consciously – awake and ready to respond to your gut instinct, acknowledging that it’s there for a reason. The more you practice this, the less decision fatigue will overtake you. Instead of thinking in terms of “what should I do” (a question riddled with guilt), you will begin to think of what will actually benefit you most, moment to moment.
Let me know if you have questions about this – I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I do know that the more I apply these principles to my life, the more I want to keep on applying them. Day by day, I’m realizing the things that I used to stress about simply aren’t that important. And that lesson alone has made this experiment worth its weight in gold.
Much love to you, today and always!