10 practices for self-exploration

Discovering who you truly are is often a lifelong process, and isn’t always an easy road. Ultimately, it’s about identifying your purpose, beliefs, values and passions, and understanding what has shaped you into who you are today.

This process isn’t usually something that happens overnight. Many times it involves spending dedicated time with your authentic self, and exploring important questions. But the results of self-exploration can lead to greater clarity, fulfillment, confidence, and sometimes even enlightenment.

If you’re keen to learn more about your true self, then there are plenty of self-exploration practices that you can use to get started. We’ve come up with a list of some effective ones below, which should help you tune into your thoughts, find your purpose, and get greater insight into what makes you you.

1. Challenge your inner critic

You’d think that our own brain would be our biggest cheerleader, but sadly it’s often our biggest critic. This can sometimes knock our confidence or hold us back from going after certain things in life – which although totally normal, can be very frustrating. But in order to find our purpose in life, we need to start believing in ourselves and standing up to our inner critics. After all, if all anyone ever did was listen to their inner critic, we’d all be stuck in a constant standstill, and find it hard to properly progress anywhere or find true contentment.

Our inner critics come from fear of the unknown, of failure, and of the feeling of not being good enough. But once we realise that this fear doesn’t have to control us, we often feel liberated, and experience a boost of confidence. A way of confronting your inner critic is to explore any negative thoughts that crop up, and make an effort to understand where they stem from. For example, if there’s a job that you want to go after but your inner critic is telling you you’re not good enough, ask yourself whether this thought is based on fact (i.e. do you have the necessary qualifications needed for the role?), or is it simply an emotional reaction due to a lack of confidence?

Exploring your thoughts in this way can help you better understand your thought process and take a more rational approach to difficult situations. If you’re struggling with this, then you might find some useful guidance in our article How to learn the skill of optimism.

2. Embrace your imperfections

These days, we’re a society of perfectionism, and you only have to start browsing social media to see image after image of people’s seemingly perfect families, jobs, bodies, and relationships. Unfortunately, what’s often lost in translation is all of our imperfections, because as a society we’ve been trained to hide them. This can leave many people feeling self-conscious and fearful of revealing all of who they truly are.

But, at the very core of effective self-exploration is the ability to deal with your most authentic self, so hiding parts of yourself will only hinder the process. It’s important to remember that as humans we’re simply not meant to be perfect. So, instead of viewing them as a setback or something that you feel embarrassed about, try to embrace your imperfections, and see them as part of your unique makeup.

To start with this might be tricky, especially if your imperfections are something that you’ve felt self-conscious about for a while. However, taking a kinder approach to yourself, and speaking to yourself the way you would to a friend can really help.

Learning to appreciate your imperfections and being free to embrace who you truly are is not only extremely liberating, but it’ll likely have a domino effect on the people around you. By embracing your imperfections, people will often feel empowered to do the same. And after all, feeling accepted and comfortable in our own skin is something we all want from life.

3. Practice using self-affirmations

Negative thoughts can impact our self-esteem and confidence; so it’s important that we find ways to challenge them. One helpful way to do this is by practicing self-affirmations. Self-affirmations involve talking positively to yourself with the overall aim of translating the key message that: you’re doing well and are okay. For example, if you’re thinking, ‘I don’t like who I am’, you could replace this thought with something like, ‘There are parts of myself I struggle with, but I’m learning to accept them’.

Learning to use self-affirmations is a process, and it’s important to remember that saying something to yourself once isn’t going to immediately transform you. But when practiced enough, you can discover real power in self-affirmations as you begin to feel them, accept them as true, and embody them over time.

It’s best to use affirmations that really resonate with what you’re feeling, so a good place to start is by asking yourself questions like: What am I feeling right now? What do I want to feel? Who do I want to become? What can I change to become that?

Below are some examples self-affirmations:

“I am not perfect, but I’m not supposed to be.”

“I am strong, and I can do this.”

These are just a few examples, and you can personalise your affirmations depending on your experience, and what it is that you struggle with. You might also like to write your affirmations down and display them somewhere that you’ll see them everyday. By spending time focusing on areas where you struggle with confidence, and challenging negative thoughts head on with self-affirmations, you’ll be able to begin changing your mindset.

4. Explore what you’re passionate about

Interests and hobbies bring meaning to our lives, and play a key role in fueling our sense of purpose. Everyone is different and there’s no ‘right’ thing to be passionate about; what interests one person might completely bore others! For example, some people might be passionate about animals and the environment, while others are thrilled by cars and electronics.

Finding what you’re passionate about can be key in your journey of self-exploration because it can help identify who you really are, what matters to you, and what the best way for you to express that is. For some people, their passions might feed into their career – for example, someone with a passion for helping others might have found a career in care, and someone who loves animals might decide to volunteer at an animal shelter.

However, it’s important to remember that passions don’t need to be complex or be related to your professional life. For instance, if you’ve got a passion for film you might like to spend time reviewing new releases, or if you love art you might enjoy creative activities like painting, calligraphy, or photography.

If you’re unsure what your passions are, then try asking yourself questions like: What excites me? What brings me joy? What matters to me? What would I love to learn more about?

If however you’re still feeling unsure and would like some further guidance, hopefully you’ll find some inspiration in our articles; 5 ways to find meaning and purpose in your life and 8 powerful questions to ask yourself when you arrive at a crossroads in life. Both cover key questions that’ll help you think about what’s important to you and where you want to go. And remember, it’s okay to take time – sometimes it’s simply a case of trial and error before uncovering your true passions in life.

5. Seek out different perspectives and discussions

Meeting new people can be a great way of initiating self-exploration because it exposes you to different ideas, values, and perspectives. Who we grow up with, live with and work with can have a huge impact on the people we become and the beliefs we hold. Therefore, it can be beneficial to take time to explore and consider alternative points of view which might stir questions inside of us. Not only will this allow you to become more open-minded but it’ll also encourage you to explore what you truly believe in and value as well.

If you’re struggling to meet people while we’re having to socially distance, then you might find some useful information in our article How to meet people in the current climate. From online forums and neighbourhood hubs, through to friendship apps and support groups, hopefully there’s something to suit everyone.

6. Acknowledge who you’re not

If you’re wanting to search for who you really are, it can be helpful to set aside what you know you’re not. Once you’ve spent time considering different perspectives, values, and passions, you can start to set aside what definitely isn’t you. Many of us will know that some ideas, passions, or beliefs immediately aren’t for us, but there will likely be some grey areas as well which might take some deeper consideration.

This process doesn’t mean disregarding the beliefs of anyone around you, because there’s great value in diversity of opinion, and it’s important to always remain respectful. Instead, it’s about figuring out your own unique opinions, values and goals as an individual. And remember, it’s okay to change your mind! Just because you liked something or believed in something once doesn’t mean you have to forever; this is all part of self-discovery and development.

Acknowledging what doesn’t align with you can help to arm you with a clearer vision of exploring what does. For example, if you don’t believe in a certain idea or concept, what is the counter argument to that concept – perhaps that resonates with you more?

7. Try journaling your thoughts

Journals offer a safe place to explore our innermost thoughts and feelings, and can be a great tool for self-exploration. With regular practice journaling can help you to recognise your thoughts and identify the ideas, patterns, and habits that shape who you are – for example what affects your mood, what you enjoy, what irritates you, and what leads you to success.

As you begin to grasp a better understanding of yourself, you can start to alter any ideas, patterns or hobbies you think are holding you back. Plus, journaling also has various health benefits including an improved sense of wellbeing, memory, and reduced symptoms of depression.

Self-exploration is a journey, so don’t feel like you have to start journaling everything immediately. If it’s new to you, you could start by simply recording your mood at the beginning and end of each day, before moving onto writing one thing that made you feel good that day, and another that made you feel worse.

If you’re new to journaling, then guided journals can be really useful. Instead of facing a blank page feeling unsure where to begin, guided journals will help prompt you with interesting thoughts and questions. There are plenty available to buy on Amazon, for example this Self-Exploration Journal by Meera Lee Patel, this Soul Therapy Journal by Positive Soul, or The 365 Self-Discovery Journal by 21 Exercises.

You can also read more about the benefits of journaling in our article The power of journaling as a life habit.

8. Find comfort and creativity in spending time alone

In our busy and often chaotic lives, sometimes it can be good to just unplug and spend some time alone for a bit of self-exploration. These days we’ve been led to believe that solitude is bad; perhaps because we often confuse being alone with being lonely. But for the purposes of self-exploration, spending time alone can be invaluable. Even ten minutes of alone time a week can make a big difference.

As human beings, we’re surrounded by the expectations and needs of other people, which can often influence how we act or our decisions. But to find out who you truly are, it’s important to be honest with what you feel. Spending time alone allows you the space to do some inward reflection, and let your thoughts and imagination flow freely without the need to impress or conform to others around you. Here it’s just you, so really try and tune into any thoughts or ideas that might have got lost or buried in the busyness of life.

If your life feels very busy or your house is usually quite loud, you might find that stepping outside and spending time with nature is a good way to spend your time alone. Not only is it great for refocusing your mind, but getting some fresh air and being amongst nature is also incredibly calming and can boost mental wellbeing.

If you’re still finding it hard to focus and tune in with your thoughts, then you might like to consider trying meditation, or mindfulness, which we’ll cover next. If you’re interested in getting started with meditation or mindfulness then you might like to check out this list of 15 of the best meditation apps.

9. Have a go at practicing mindfulness

If you struggle to spend time alone with your thoughts without getting distracted then you might find mindfulness useful. Mindfulness is a practice that can be used to help refocus your brain on the present moment: specifically on what you’re thinking and feeling. This can be extremely empowering and transformative as it allows you to embrace what’s happening now.

Studies have shown that the use of mindfulness in self-exploration can lead to greater self-compassion, awareness and acceptance; all of which can result in an improved knowledge and understanding of who we are. Not only that, mindfulness also has many physical and mental health benefits including stress reduction, and improved sleeping patterns – plus it can also be used to manage chronic pain.

If you’re interested in giving mindfulness a go but aren’t sure how to get started, you might like to have a read of our article An introduction to mindfulness. There we explain everything from how mindfulness works, who it’s for, through to the health benefits as well as some useful pointers on how to get going.

10. Ask yourself deep and thought provoking questions

Once you feel comfortable expressing yourself authentically – whether that’s alone or with others – having questions to think about can help you take your thoughts to the next level and explore some of your deeper values, beliefs, and behaviours. These questions can range from anything like exploring your strengths or any regrets you have, through to how you handle situations and what your personal boundaries are.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed at these types of questions, but instead of taking it all on at once you could start by tackling a question a week over the next year, or maybe select a few to think about each month. Remember, some questions might stir up emotions in you that can be difficult to face, but that’s okay. Try taking some deep breaths, recognising your emotions, and accepting that they are valid.

As you cover more questions, you’ll hopefully start to see that the way you respond can start to highlight different aspects of your personality. For example, if you’re frequently reacting to questions with guilt, it could be a sign that you have past regrets that you need to forgive yourself for, or maybe there’s an aspect of your life you’d like to change. The most important thing is to be kind and honest with yourself during this process; take it at your own pace and don’t push yourself too hard.

If you’d like to get started with some questions, you might find this list of 44 self-discovery questions useful.

Final thoughts...

Self-exploration can be a long, challenging, and sometimes emotional process; but in getting to know who you really are, what matters to you, and what you want to achieve in life, it can also be the most rewarding. Amidst the busyness of life and pressures of expectations, it can be easy to lose sight of who we are, or to want to hide certain parts of ourselves. But by learning to find confidence and purpose in our authentic selves, the more likely we are to be able to lead a fulfilled life dictated by our own goals, core values and beliefs.

Remember, self-exploration is completely personal and different practices will work for different people; the key is to put the time in and keep going. Even if you feel like you’re taking baby steps, you’ll still be making progress because really, there’s no experience that won’t teach you something about yourself, even if that something seems small.

Have you been on a journey of self discovery? Or are looking to explore who you really are? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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