Knowing Yourself – The Deepest Journey
Perhaps the deepest journey of personal foresight gaining better knowledge of our traits, strengths, and weaknesses, and a more revealing record and understanding of our feeling, thinking and action. This kind of hindsight and insight is often seen better by others than ourselves, at least in the parts of our own personality that we tend to hide from ourselves. Mark Freeman’s Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (2009) offers a personal account of the use of hindsight to better understand our own true stories to date. Knowing ourselves also requires good insight, an understanding of our current traits, strengths, weaknesses, skills, and resources. In section two of this chapter we’ll look at some good assessments we can take in that regard.
When we approach personal foresight from the framework of the Eight Skills, recall that Learning is the first step of the Do loop. Learning, which is about better hindsight and insight, requires an investigative mindset, and a willingness to challenge our current assumptions and beliefs about our history and current status.
As one method to improve personal hindsight and insight, late psychologist Abraham Maslow, author of the hierarchy of needs, recommended peak experience summaries. These involve careful recollection and recording of brief examples of events or activities that have been peak insights and joys, and describing just what it was about each of those experiences that was so positive, for you. See Maslow’s The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971) for more on this method, and a retrospective on his other contributions. Hirokazu Koreeda’s film After Life (1998) in which individuals find themselves in a way station after death, having three days to sift through their life’s memories for the single one they are allowed to take with them to their next life, is a moving exploration of peak experiences. In creating the film, Koreeda interviewed five hundred ordinary Japanese with this question, and the diversity of experiences each character chooses is fascinating, and very personally revealing.
So here’s a lovely starter exercise in personal foresight. If you had to choose, right now, your Top Ten most important memories from your life to date, and write them down in this book, what would those be? This kind of thinking one of many powerful paths to self-understanding. Would any of these experiences be negative, or cautionary, or would all of them be positive? Which top experiences would turn out to be shared with your partner? Would they all be shared with others, or would any be yours alone? One way to build a current Top Ten is to review your mental memories, trying to recall at least one from each year of your life after three to five years of age. Another is to review your diaries and writings. Another is to look back through family photos. [Tip: If your photos aren’t yet digital, I would recommend mailing your favorite photos to an automated scanning site like ScanCafe (or scanning them ten a day yourself if on a tighter budget) after looking them over to choose your favorites, and then uploading them to a cloud organizing and sharing service, like Google Photos.]
In one study of peak educational experiences in the university, a time when such experiences are particularly common in life, psychologist Gad Yair found (Key educational experiences and self-discovery in higher education (2008) that those experiences happened most often when the student was being academically challenged and was encouraged to use their new learning to explore (discover, imagine, and strategize) potential new elements of their personal identity. Exploration in turn was encouraged when students believed they always have second chances, the ability to fail without penalty, and use new learning to reimagine and rehabilitate their identity. This critical perspective is called adopting a growth mindset (after Carol Dweck, Mindset, 2007), and we’ll discuss it later in this chapter.
The foresight method of appreciative inquiry is another tool for peak experience summarizing. It involves identifying and mentally reliving a series of positive past and current achievements and abilities. It is sometimes used in the learning step (self-discovery) in organizations, especially when teams have become jaded, fear-bound, or pessimistic with respect to their future. Used well, inquiring into all the things that are going right, can quickly remove negative mental limitations that have placed on ourselves, limitations that can often cause us to slip out of a growth and positive sum mindset and back into a fixed and zero sum mindset. That puts us in the best frame of mind for addressing what is going wrong. See Cooperrider and Whitney’s Appreciative Inquiry (2005) for a good introduction to the method.
Having a positive learning orientation to our personal histories is a good step, but we need more. As each of us are motivated by both pleasure and pain, we need to mentally review and better define our peak fears, anxieties, and displeasures as well, however unpleasant that may be. Friedmann Schaub’s The Fear and Anxiety Solution (2012) explores how to uncover and confront the hidden fears and anxieties that self-sabotage our personal growth. Carter and Sokol’s He’s Scared, She’s Scared (1995) explores the hidden fears that we bring to our relationships, and how they limit our options. Goulston and Goldberg’s Get Out of Your Own Way (1996) has more tips on how to manage our personal fears and anxieties, and grow daily in spite of them.
Honest regular learning reflection on the positive and negative motivators in our past and present will bring us a much better understanding of our current self, and it puts us in the best frame of mind for generating the most useful new goals. Perhaps even more than past achievements, reflection on failures presents us with the opportunity to learn and accept their unlearned lessons for our lives. We can then stop blaming our present self and others for our and their past actions, forgive, and move on. The sooner we get back on our horse after a fall, the sooner we can get back to leading our futures.
We’ll now offer you a set of success codes that you can use to be really effective at self-leadership.