Getting lost in the crowd, losing touch with oneself, not understanding what one is, or feeling like just another face in amongst all the others are feeling that unfortunately, a lot of us understand. The modern world is not just technologically advanced, but it is also increasingly built like a machine, where expression, creativity, hobbies, and self-development are often put on the back burner for the sake of money and success. While the latter two are also important, not focusing on yourself can lead to a significantly poorer quality of life. What would be the point of all the money in the world if you don’t even know who you are, or are in a constant state of anxiety all the time?
Focusing on the self is often understood as self-care, engaged in through spa days, mental health breaks, weekend vacations or simply catching up with friends. Of course, all of these are very important and productive ways of recovering from the hustle of the world. However, we often overlook one very important connection in all our endeavors – our connection with our own self.
Scientific focus on the self began only in the late 80s when psychologists began studying the concept in scientific terms; before that, the self had been the domain of only the philosophical and spiritual. Interestingly, however, even science has shown that many traditional ways of connecting with the self have positive benefits for human beings.
One important practice that is often recommended is meditation. In simple terms, meditation meaning focusing awareness, that is, entering a passive state of observation rather than experience, and taking thoughts and feelings as they come without reacting to them. Alongside therapy, meditation is often recommended for a host of problems ranging from physical pain to anger management issues – why?
The answer lies in meditation’s powers of helping the self enhance. Firstly, meditation simply makes people more aware of themselves. How often do you sit down and think about your own thoughts, feelings, and actions? The answer might surprise you. A lot of our motives and reasonings can be revealed if we take the time to sit and introspect ourselves. You may realize that you dislike your colleague not because of the fact that they promoted over you, but because they always disrespect you. You may realize that you are avoiding a significant other because you are afraid of committing. Of course, not all realizations may be significant or life-changing, but knowing more about oneself, even in the smaller matters, can help you make decisions and actions that are more appealing and productive for you.
Secondly, meditation helps in self-regulation, that is, your ability to control your own self. This self-regulation is both emotional and attentional, meaning that you can control the things you focus on and the reactions that you have towards certain circumstances. This ability to self-regulate is also seen over the lifespan, meaning that constantly practicing meditation can help you develop a better version of yourself, one that is in control of its life and actions.
Lastly, some research shows that meditation can also reduce anxiety. If practiced regularly, meditation can help individuals deal with the negative thoughts, worries, and panics that often accompany everyday life, by giving them time and space to focus on what troubles them or to leave these worries behind, or the opportunity to approach them in a detached manner and thus reduce their impact on the individual.
Another important path to understanding the self is through spirituality. People often consider religion and spirituality to be synonymous, but the two are quite different. While religion is focused around a god and emphasizes some rituals, social practices, and a community, spirituality is focused around a sense of peace and purpose and emphasizes individual practices and a sense of completeness. Indeed, meditation can be seen as a practice under spirituality.
Some consider spirituality to important to the self that they have created the notion of the spiritual self, a self that is a connection to the world, to the need for personal growth, and to the person’s understanding of their place in the great context of things. Thus, the spiritual self suggests that self expands beyond oneself (a notion often visible in the eastern concept of self), and includes one’s social relations and their sense of purpose too. As such, the spiritual self encourages individuals to develop meaningful connections, spend time in the service of others, and to ensure that their life has some personal and social goals that give them a sense of meaning and purpose. Thus, embracing a spiritual self can become the first step towards a more productive and positive life.
Another often-overlooked practice that can help you in living with a better self and a better life is gratitude. People all across the world, rich or poor, often find a lot of things to complain about. But when was the last time you were thankful for the big and small things in life? Gratitude makes you more appreciative of the life you have, prevents you from blowing the negative things out of proportion, and can also enhance both your self-esteem and life satisfaction. Thus, being thankful can pay off for you in terms of a better self and life, and at the same time, communicating your gratitude to those around you can help strengthen your social connections. As a bonus, your loved ones may also feel much better about themselves when you express to them your gratefulness for them being in your life.
Just like you cannot reach a destination unless you know the path to it, you cannot lead a full, healthy and productive life unless you understand yourself, your motivations, emotions and actions, and thus, your own self. When you know yourself, you are happier, are able to make decisions that are the best for you, and you are resistant to popular social fads or pressures. You will face less conflict inside yourself and with others, and would learn to control yourself for the best. Above all, you will be able to develop a sense of purpose and goals that are congruent to your desires, and thus lead a much better and meaningful life.