understanding yourself

The journey of understanding yourself is a winding path, often shrouded in confusion and self-doubt. But take heart! Below, we will delve into practical tools and insightful practices to illuminate your emotions, decipher your values, and finally, meet the authentic YOU waiting to be discovered.

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What Does Understanding Yourself Mean?

Understanding yourself means having a vivid, accurate perception of who you are as an individual. It involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, actions, and motivations, plus how they impact your life and relationships.

Self-understanding is a continuous process that goes beyond knowing your favorite color or remembering your birthday. It’s about delving deeper into:

Your inner world:

  • Values & Beliefs: What defines your right from wrong? What fuels your passions? What gives your life meaning?
  • Emotions & Triggers: Recognizing what makes you happy, sad, angry, or scared, and the underlying reasons behind these feelings.
  • Thoughts & Patterns: Examining your self-talk, biases, and mental frameworks to discover how you interpret the world and yourself.
  • Strengths & Weaknesses: Identifying your abilities, talents, and areas for improvement, both personal and professional.

Your outer interactions:

  • Relationships: How do you connect with others? What dynamics do you tend to create? What roles do you play in different relationships?
  • Personality & Communication: Understanding your communication style, social preferences, and how you navigate different situations.
  • Life experiences: Analyzing how past experiences, both positive and negative, have shaped who you are today.
  • Goals & Aspirations: Knowing what you want out of life, what motivates you, and what kind of person you want to become.

The process requires ongoing introspection, self-reflection, and a willingness to be honest with yourself, even about the less flattering aspects. Being aware of yourself is the key to unlocking your potential and living a more harmonious life.

understanding yourself

Understanding yourself psychology

Signs of Understanding Yourself

Here are some of the common signs that one might be on the right track toward self-understanding:

Increased self-awareness:

  • Being able to recognize and name your emotions: You notice your inner state and understand what triggers particular feelings, and how they impact your behavior. As such, you become better equipped to manage yourself more effectively.
  • Identifying your needs and wants: You know what brings fulfillment and what drains you, setting healthy boundaries and priorities accordingly.
  • Understanding your thought patterns and biases: You recognize your internal narratives and challenge them if they’re unhelpful or inaccurate. When reflecting on previous experiences, you are able to analyze why you did something, what the consequences were, and what should be done differently next time.
  • Taking responsibility for your actions: You acknowledge your role in situations and choose your responses consciously.

Improved relationships:

  • More authentic communication: You express your needs and emotions clearly, listen actively to others, and value healthy communication.
  • Stronger, healthier relationships: You attract and nurture connections based on mutual respect and understanding.
  • Setting healthy boundaries: You know your limits and don’t hesitate to politely say no when something may compromise your well-being.
  • Feeling comfortable being yourself around others: You embrace your individuality and feel accepted for who you are.

Personal growth:

  • Making choices aligned with your values and goals: You pursue meaningful, realistic targets that contribute to your long-term vision.
  • Enhanced self-acceptance and confidence: You appreciate your strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to live more authentically. Instead of feeling insecure/ arrogant/ comparing yourself to others, you appreciate your own uniqueness and what needs to be worked on.
  • Being open to learning and growth: You embrace new experiences and opportunities for personal development. Feedback, criticism, and failure are deemed as success facilitators rather than obstacles.
  • A sense of purpose and direction in life: You understand your role and contribution to the world, living with a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

Additional signs:

  • You find yourself less easily swayed by external opinions and pressures.
  • You experience a greater sense of inner peace and calmness.
  • You feel more empowered and capable of navigating challenges.
  • You find it easier to forgive yourself and others.
  • You have a greater appreciation for the present moment.
  • etc.

Why is Understanding Yourself So Important?

Understanding yourself is arguably one of the most crucial journeys in life, offering a plethora of benefits that ripple through every aspect of your existence:

  • Key to success

Self-understanding means a lot more than academic qualifications. Being aware of your biases and thought patterns enables you to analyze situations more objectively, make sounder decisions, and extract valuable lessons from previous experiences. Additionally, you become more capable of regulating your feelings and remaining resilient – even in the face of uncertainties and societal expectations. This facilitates inner peace and the pursuit of things that align with your authentic self.

When you know your strengths, weaknesses, values, and passions, you are better equipped to set goals that are truly aligned with your authentic self – rather than resorting to impulsive choices. This focus and direction means a higher chance of achieving success in areas that matter most to you.

  • Effective communication & deeper connections

Understanding the needs of yours and others fosters deeper, more authentic connections with friends, family members, and colleagues. Knowing your limits and respecting those of others enables you to set and enforce healthy boundaries, preventing resentment and conflict. Not to mention, when you’re true to yourself, you attract people who appreciate your authentic self, resulting in more genuine and supportive interactions.

  • Improved well-being & fulfillment

Research by the Harvard Business Review has revealed a strong correlation between the level of understanding oneself and overall well-being. Being able to regulate your inner state brings tranquility and satisfaction, as well as helps cope with stress/ other negative emotions in work and life. On the other hand, it also facilitates self-acceptance – the ability to accept your flaws and all, be gentle with yourself, and navigate life’s imperfections with grace.

  • Better leadership performance

Self-understanding is a cornerstone of effective leadership – especially during times of crisis. According to a study by McKinsey, leaders who demonstrate high awareness of themselves (referred to as “centered leadership) are 4 times more capable of navigating change than those who do not.

  • Fueling self-discovery & continuous evolution

As you gain awareness of your thoughts, emotions, values, and motivations, you naturally embark on a lifelong quest to uncover more about yourself. This constant process of reflection and exploration leads to new insights and a deeper understanding of who you are at your core.

Understand yourself before understanding others

Understanding Yourself as a Leader

Leadership isn’t just about giving orders and telling people what to do. Rather, it’s about knowing yourself – strengths and weaknesses – and utilizing that knowledge to inspire, motivate, and guide others towards a shared goal. It’s like being the captain of a ship, navigating the choppy waters of challenges and uncertainties with a steady hand and a clear vision.

Why is self-understanding so crucial for leaders?

  • Self-awareness: Awareness of your own motivations, values, and triggers allows you to make conscious choices and stray away from impulsive decisions that could harm your team or organization.
  • Emotional intelligence: The ability to regulate your own emotions, as well as realize those of others, fosters empathy and builds trust with the team.
  • Effective communication: Knowing your communication style and how others perceive you is crucial to tailoring your message for maximum impact and preventing potential misunderstandings.
  • Confidence and resilience: Self-acceptance cultivates confidence in your abilities and resilience in the face of setbacks.
  • Authenticity: Leading with authenticity means being true to yourself and your values, which inspires trust and loyalty from the team.

Understanding yourself paves the way for success

The best leaders are not afraid to look inward and chart their own course

Types of Understanding the Self

  1. Introspective awareness

  • Thoughts and emotions: This involves examining your internal dialogue, recognizing your biases/ patterns, and naming the mental frameworks that trigger feelings. Think of it as shining a light on the inner workings of your mind.
  • Values and beliefs: What gives your life meaning? What principles guide your actions? Identifying your core values is like finding the compass that steers you in the right direction.
  • Strengths and weaknesses: Recognizing your talents and limitations is crucial for making informed choices and setting realistic goals. It’s about embracing your unique blend of light and shadow.
  • Life experiences: How have previous experiences shaped who you are today? Reflecting on the past reveals patterns and lessons that may be leveraged to make better choices in the future and grow as a person.
  • Goals and aspirations: What do you want out of life? What are you working towards? Connecting your individual aspirations to a larger sense of purpose brings direction and fulfillment into your life.
  1. Interpersonal awareness

  • Relationship dynamics: How do you connect with others? What roles do you play in different relationships? Recognizing your patterns in social interactions is essential for cultivating stronger, healthier bonds – as well as for developing empathy and navigating social situations with greater ease.
  • How others perceive you: Seeking feedback from trusted friends and coaches/ mentors sheds light on how you come across to others – which is an invaluable tool for self-improvement.
  • Communication style: Being aware of how you interact with others lays the foundation for tailoring your messages for maximum impact.
  • Role in society: What is your contribution to society? How can you make a positive impact on the world?
  1. Physical awareness

  • Your body: This includes understanding your physical health, energy levels, and the body’s needs. Such awareness enables you to better take care of your physical well-being and refrain from unhealthy habits (e.g. overconsumption of snacks/ caffeine, etc.) – thereby enjoying improved health and happiness.
  • Your senses: How do you experience the world through your senses? Do you appreciate the beauty of the world around you?

Read more: Living in the Past – Why We Need to Stop Dwelling on What Was

Levels of Understanding Yourself

Level 1: The Superficial Self

  • Focus: External self – physical appearance, social media persona, superficial interests.
  • Metaphor: Looking in the mirror – you see your reflection but not the depths within.
  • Examples: “I’m a great cook,” “I love traveling,” “I’m the life of the party.”

Level 2: The Psychological Self

  • Focus: Internal thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
  • Metaphor: Exploring a house – you begin to understand the rooms and furniture, but the foundation and hidden chambers remain unknown.
  • Examples: “I get anxious when I speak in public,” “I love feeling challenged,” “I’m easily hurt by criticism.”

Level 3: The Relational Self

  • Focus: How you interact with others, the roles you play in relationships.
  • Metaphor: Building a city – you understand the streets and neighborhoods, but the larger ecosystem and interconnectedness are still being discovered.
  • Examples: “I’m a supportive friend,” “I’m a natural leader,” “I struggle with boundaries in relationships.”

Level 4: The Values-Driven Self

  • Focus: Core values, beliefs, and guiding principles.
  • Metaphor: Charting a course on a map – you identify your destination and plot the course, but unforeseen storms and detours may arise.
  • Examples: “I value honesty and integrity,” “My mission is to help others,” “I believe in environmental sustainability.”

Level 5: The Spiritual Self

  • Focus: Connection to something bigger than oneself, a sense of purpose.
  • Metaphor: Gazing at the stars – you contemplate the vastness of the universe and your place within it.
  • Examples: “I feel connected to nature,” “I believe in a higher power,” “My purpose is to leave the world a better place.”

understanding yourself

Why is Understanding Yourself So Hard?

Despite the various benefits mentioned above, many of us struggle with understanding who we really are as individuals – due to reasons such as:

Internal barriers:

  • Fear of the unknown: Our inner world is a vast and unexplored territory. Diving into it often proves to be scary, as we might uncover truths about ourselves that are uncomfortable or challenging.
  • Ego and defense mechanisms: Our ego often protects us from negative self-perception, creating blind spots and distorting our self-image. As such, we tend to resist examining aspects of ourselves that threaten our sense of self-worth.
  • Cognitive biases: Our brains are wired for efficiency and often take shortcuts in processing information. These biases lead us to misinterpret our experiences and draw inaccurate conclusions about ourselves.
  • Emotional discomfort: Self-reflection may bring up painful emotions or unresolved issues – which are difficult to endure and often trigger resistance.

External challenges:

  • Social conditioning: We are constantly bombarded with messages about who we should be, what we should achieve, and how we should behave. These external pressures – despite the intentions behind them – make it challenging for many of us to get connected with our authentic selves.
  • Limited self-awareness: Most of us are not taught how to effectively reflect on our thoughts, feelings, and motivations. No wonder why we often lack the skills necessary for self-understanding.
  • Cultural influences: Different cultures have different values and priorities, which partially shape how we see ourselves and interact with the world.
  • Constant change: We are constantly evolving and changing as individuals. What felt true about us yesterday may no longer apply today, making it difficult to hold onto a fixed sense of self.

Despite these challenges, the journey of self-understanding is still within our reach – and ultimately rewarding. The key is to never stop exploring and learning.

The art of understanding yourself in life

Factors that Contribute to Understanding Yourself

  • Personality: Your inherent traits, temperament, and preferences play a major role in shaping your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Through tests, reflection, and feedback, you may have the chance to gain invaluable insights into your unique approach to life.
  • Values and beliefs: These form the foundation of your moral compass and guide your decisions.
  • Thoughts and cognitive biases: Our internal narratives and mental frameworks shape our perception of the world and ourselves.
  • Relationships: The people you surround yourself with often pose a significant impact on your self-perception and self-development. Healthy, supportive relationships encourage self-reflection and personal growth, while toxic ones produce opposite results.
  • Culture and social environment: Cultural norms, societal expectations, and social roles shape your identity and influence your behavior.
  • Upbringing and family dynamics: Your childhood experiences and family dynamics contribute to your emotional patterns, self-beliefs, and communication styles. Examining these influences is crucial to knowing your emotional triggers and making conscious choices in the present life.
  • Learning and education: Continuous learning, challenging yourself with new experiences, and engaging in introspective activities like journaling or therapy all contribute to accelerating the self-discovery process.

Tips to Understanding Yourself Better

I am who I am.

There’s no single recipe for truly understanding yourself, as it’s a lifelong journey with unique paths for each individual. However, here are some practical tips and resources to guide you on your self-discovery adventure:

Internal exploration

  • Engage in self-reflection: Practice journaling, meditation, or spend time in introspection to ponder your thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Ask yourself questions like: “What are my values?”, “What brings me joy?”, “What fears hold me back?”.
  • Challenge your assumptions: Don’t take your self-image at face value. Question ingrained beliefs and examine biases that might be distorting your perception.
  • Embrace vulnerability: Explore both your strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledge your shadows. Accepting your whole self, flaws and all, is crucial for authentic self-knowledge.
  • Connect with your emotions: Develop emotional intelligence by recognizing your feelings, understanding their triggers, and learning healthy coping mechanisms. This will enable you to regulate emotions effectively and nurture stronger relationships.
  • Pay attention to your body: Your physical sensations and energetic states may provide a glimpse into your inner world. As such, it is recommended that we practice mindfulness or body scan exercises to connect with our bodily signals.

External interactions

  • Solicit feedback: Ask trusted friends, family, or mentors for honest feedback on your strengths, weaknesses, and how you come across to others. Their input may yield unique perspectives you might not have considered before.
  • Engage in diverse experiences: Step outside your comfort zone and try new things. Explore different cultures, hobbies, and social settings. The more new experiences you are exposed to, the easier it is to realize hidden talents, challenge your existing perspectives, and lead to greater self-understanding.
  • Build supportive relationships: Surround yourself with people who encourage your self-exploration and celebrate your individuality. Healthy relationships provide a safe space for vulnerability and honest feedback.
  • Seek professional guidance: Consider therapy or coaching if you’re facing specific challenges or want deeper insights into your inner world. A trained professional should be able to provide expert guidance and support in your self-discovery journey.

Additional resources

  • Personality tests: Tools like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC, Jordan Peterson, or the Leonard Personality Inventory (LPI) offer amazing insights into your personality traits and preferences. Though they are not definitive, all provide a great starting point for self-exploration.
  • Journaling prompts: Find prompts that encourage deeper reflection on specific aspects of yourself, such as your values, relationships, or past experiences.
  • Books and articles: Explore self-help books, articles, and online resources on self-discovery and personal growth. With these, you should be able to find inspiration and practical advice from others who have walked similar paths.
  • Creative outlets: Express your inner world through artistic endeavors like writing, painting, music, or dance. Exploring your creativity may unlock hidden aspects of yourself and reveal unique perspectives on your emotions/ experiences.

understanding yourself

How to get a deeper understanding of thyself

Understanding Yourself Quiz & Questions

A mini self-awareness quiz

Answer these questions honestly to gain some insights into your current level of self-awareness:

  • How often do you take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and motivations?
  • Do you find it easy to identify your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can you name your core values and how they guide your decisions?
  • Are you comfortable expressing your authentic self around others?
  • Do you struggle with negative self-talk or limiting beliefs?
  • When faced with challenges, do you tend to blame yourself or external factors?
  • Do you seek feedback from others and consider it thoughtfully?
  • Are you open to new experiences and personal growth opportunities?

By considering your answers, you may realize areas where you feel confident in your self-awareness and areas where you might want to focus your self-understanding efforts.

Deepening self-discovery questions

Go beyond the surface with these prompts to dig deeper into your internal world:

  • What brings you the most joy in life?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What are your biggest fears or anxieties?
  • What motivates you to get out of bed each morning?
  • Who are your role models and why?
  • What legacy do you want to leave behind?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What does “success” mean to you?
  • What is your purpose in life?

These questions may not have immediate answers, but pondering them over time should result in profound realizations about who you are.

Books about Understanding Yourself

  • Insight by Tasha Eurich: This book explores the concept of self-awareness and how it helps improve your performance, relationships, and happiness. It also introduces practical tips and tools on how to increase your self-awareness and how to deal with the blind spots and biases that affect your self-perception.
  • Understanding Yourself and Others – An Introduction to the Personality Type Code by Dario Nardi and Linda Berens: This book introduces the theory of psychological types, based on the work of Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers. It helps you to identify your personality type, as well as the types of others, and how they affect your communication, relationships, and career.
  • Understanding Yourself and Others – An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments by Linda Berens: Within her work, Berens discusses the theory of temperaments, which is helpful for recognizing one’s temperament (plus their impact on our values, needs, and motivations).
  • The Power of Understanding Yourself by Dave Mitchell: Mitchell’s publication revolves around discovering one’s unique personality style based on the DISC model of behavior. It enables you to understand your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and blind spots, and how they affect your performance, relationships, and happiness.

Understanding Yourself Quotes

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.


Understanding yourself is power. Loving yourself is freedom. Forgiving yourself is peace. Being yourself is bliss. 


To find yourself, think for yourself.


The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.


Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.

Carl Jung

The journey into self-love and self-acceptance must begin with self-examination… until you take the journey of self-reflection, it is almost impossible to grow or learn in life.

Iyanla Vanzant

The one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.

Proverbs 19:8

Understanding Yourself and Others Course

Do you ever wonder what makes you tick, or why the people around you act the way they do? If you’re on a quest for deeper self-understanding and a smoother ride in your relationships, then look no further than ITD World’s EQ training course. Delivered by our prestigious EQ training expert, the course sheds light on the power of emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and to empathize with and connect with others on a deeper level.

Here’s what you may expect to gain from the course:

  • A clearer understanding of oneself – including emotional triggers, strengths and weaknesses, and core values.
  • Better communication skills – how to express oneself clearly and effectively, and how to listen with empathy and understanding.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety.
  • Greater confidence and resilience.
  • Better performance as a leader.

Khóa học Trí tuệ cảm xúc EQ for Innovative Leadership

Emotional Excellence at the Workplace Program – facilitated by Prof Dr. Leonard Yong at Menara Public Bank

Emotional Excellence at the Workplace by Prof Dr. Leonard Yong

But that’s not all. At ITD World, we also offer a variety of coaching courses tailored to specific needs, whether you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, boost your career, or navigate challenging relationships.

Lộ trình học coaching ITD World

Don’t miss out on this chance to upscale your self-understanding and professional performance. Contact us for a FREE consultation now!

Other resources you might be interested in:

ITD Vietnam is part of ITD World – a top ranked provider of Talent & Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Corporate Training & Consulting services.

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