Self-discovery is the process of asking oneself, “Who am I?” The desire to answer this question is one of the most powerful motivations for contemplative practice.
Despite its modern reputation as a physical and mental wellness tool, meditation is primarily a method of self-discovery. Health benefits can be a consequence of successful contemplation, but they do not need to be the goal.
What Is Self Discovery? — Exploring the Concept of Self
The definition of self-discovery depends on what type of self you want to find, as well as the lens through which you perceive the concept of self.
In non-spiritual, literal or capitalistic perspectives, the description is simple and objective. The self is our flesh and blood, the information on our identification cards and the materials we own.
As we depart from the purely physical, the concept of self becomes rich and complex. The “Who am I?” question branches into inquiries of purpose, role and responsibility.
Before you meditate on these aspects of self, consider which philosophical framework will best guide you on your path to self-discovery.
You may choose any view that satisfies you, or you may invent your own. Perhaps Aristotle’s pursuit of virtue is appealing, or maybe Buddhism will offer the most interesting idea of spiritual purpose.
Do not choose based on obligation or pressure. Only authentic choices will lead you to an authentic self. If you were raised in a religious community, you do not need to include those teachings in meditation.
Self-discovery should be a pleasant experience that provides both enjoyment and sustenance.
Making a living by doing what you love, for example, can be a reward from self-discovery. Another potential outcome is increased creativity. No matter the specific result, you’ll know you’ve arrived if you feel balance and harmony in your life.
There are also practical benefits to the pursuit of self-discovery. When people know their purpose, they are able to become more powerful and take control of their lives.
If you don’t define yourself and purpose, you will be vulnerable to oppressors. These people know their purpose. But, instead of employing their power in a magnanimous way, they target and subjugate people who are not interested in self-discovery.
If you discover your purpose through an enlightened path such as meditation, you will be able to lift up yourself and those around you.
This result will cause a ripple effect that inspires others to do the same.
7 Tips to Help you Embark on a Journey of Self-Discovery
Self-discovery must include a foundation of individual effort and introspection, but the journey can involve other people. You are reading this article because you want advice to fuel your individual effort, so we are here to help. Doing the meditations and exercises in our free meditation kit or tying even one of these seven tips should move you toward a sense of purpose.
1. Visualize Your Ideal Self
Some people start with their ideal self hidden in the dark. It’s there, but they can’t see it. These methods and questions are sparks that will gradually illuminate the complete image of the ideal self.
Who do you want to be? What does that person feel like? What is that person doing?
If envisioning the future does not cast any sparks, reminisce. Were there times when you felt like your ideal self? Were there experiences that made you feel like your ideal self? What were you doing then?
For an activity-based approach, try reading. There are millions of books that contain documented meditations from people who attempted self-discovery over the course of thousands of years. Their findings will catalyze your imagination.
2. Find Out What Makes Your Heart Sing
Throughout even the most mundane, routine day, there are dozens of little activities and tasks you engage in that trigger a range of emotions. Document them, and rate the feeling on a scale of energy from zero to 10. Practice this for many days, and eventually a pattern will emerge.
If you’re struggling with this exercise, here are some tips:
- Think about your five senses: touch/feeling, smell and taste, hearing and sight. What brings joy to these five senses?
- It’s OK if your answers are simple.
- If regularly documenting feels like too much work, start with a list.
3. Meditate on Other Questions
As we mentioned earlier, the “Who am I?” question is the center of a massive web with many curiosities. Each question leads to another thread, another crossroads with more questions. The more you ask and answer, the more you’ll move toward self-discovery.
Here’s an example:
What do I want to do for a living? How can I make a living doing that? Would I be willing to settle for something else? If I did settle, would I still have time for what I love?
4. Have a Critical View of Ambition, But Not Yourself
Self-discovery is an ambition, as well as a path that is paved with smaller subgoals.
When you map out your journey, be critical about whether the progress points and ultimate destination will be significant.
Are you thinking big, or are you trying to placate yourself with little moments of feeling victorious?
If your goal feels easy, it’s most likely small. Anyone can spend a few minutes a day taking deep breaths. This routine is a technique that should only be part of meditation, not a goal.
Overcoming a form of suffering, on the other hand, is an incredible motivator because it is often a difficult journey. You might need to solicit help from others and spend many years meditating.
Your sense of self, however, should not be a target of criticism. If you struggle during the pursuit of self-discovery, resist the urge to believe there is something wrong or missing in you.
Challenge whether the questions, motivations and methods are good enough, not whether you are good enough.
5. Write in a Gratitude Journal
Unfortunately, most of our natural thoughts are negative. Gratitude is an emotion, but also a practice that can correct our cynicism.
When achievements are significant and positive, use them to fortify your mind by writing in a gratitude journal. If you have privileges or instances of good luck, don’t feel guilty about them. Be grateful that there will be advantages to aid in your journey.
If you want more detailed instructions, try this exercise from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. It only takes 10 minutes a day.
Remember to be honest about what you are grateful for. Writing down what you feel you should be thankful for is different than having authentic emotions.
As you record these thoughts, you’ll see patterns and discover more about yourself. Do you tend to be grateful for relationships, activities, nature?
6. Indulge in New Experiences
Similar to reading, experiences are catalysts for imagination and self-reflection. Conversely, new experiences can help people get out of their heads during anxious times.
Set aside time to go out and do something new. Remember what we said earlier: self-discovery can be enjoyable!
Don’t have a lot of free time? Know that something as simple as a walk around the neighborhood can contain new, inspiring experiences. Here’s another recommended exercise from UC Berkeley.
As with all of our advice, approach this practice with balance and an honest view of what is healthy. Dedicating too much time to novelties can become a distraction from deeper issues.
We also recommend avoiding an excess of consumer goods and purchased experiences. It’s counterproductive to feel like self-discovery is something you can buy.
7. Try a Spiritual Life Coach
Imagine a limitless, interactive archive of these types of articles. That’s part of what our group coaching classes provide. If you follow our recommendation of having a big, difficult and ambitious goal for your self-discovery, you might need the support.
A class structure will also help you stay balanced and accountable as you meditate and learn about yourself. It’s pretty rare for a person to be born with that kind of discipline.