Self-Knowledge: How to Get to Know Yourself

Knowing yourself is an extraordinarily ambitious goal yet, at the same time, liberating. Carl Rogers said "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, I can change". In this article, we propose some reflections to help you get to know yourself.
Self-Knowledge: How to Get to Know Yourself
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 08 March, 2023

The search for self-knowledge is as old as humanity. In Ancient Greece, more specifically on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus, there was an ancient sculpture of Homer, near the Oracle of Delphi. On it, the Greeks inscribed up to seven great mandates. One of them was ‘Know yourself’. It was attributed to Heraclitus.

However, what does knowing yourself mean? In fact, it’s a question that’s as broad as it’s long. So, let’s define the term in a way that’s easy to understand. Self-knowledge is the information you possess about yourself. In effect, what you believe in, what you want, and what you perceive.

“Self-knowledge, as mysterious and ambiguous as the oracle’s advice, is the foundation of the very possibility of self-help.”

-Jose Burgos-

Woman looking in the mirror
Knowing yourself comes from observation.

Self-knowledge: the art of knowing yourself better

Some authors (Ryle, 1949) claim that knowing yourself means being aware of your actions, your way of reacting to certain situations, and your thoughts and feelings. It implies knowing how you perceive and behave in the different scenarios of life. For this, language is extremely important, since you’re predisposed, as a human being, to describe your life in a narrative way.

Self-knowledge is born from observation. For example, consider what coping strategies you usually put into place when you identify a problem. Do you tend to ask for help, try to find a solution independently, or ignore it until you have no choice but to opt for another strategy?

The information you possess about yourself, about the way you think, experience your emotions, or react to situations is dynamic. In other words, it changes as time goes by and you’re enriched by life experiences. In fact, unlike other types of knowledge, this kind is based on your beliefs. Indeed, for José Burgos (2003) “to believe is to know”.

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.”

-Benjamin Franklin-

Reflections for promoting self-knowledge

The task of ‘looking inside yourself’ can become more productive if you help yourself by asking yourself some questions. Through introspection, you can reach conclusions about yourself that you might not have noticed before.

Moreover, by getting to know yourself, you might find innovative ways for dealing with overwhelming life events in a more adapted way. In addition, you’ll enjoy more of the everyday things that provide well-being.

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”


1. All your problems have disappeared

Imagine that all the things that cause you discomfort have disappeared. That, after pressing an imaginary button, all your problems related to your finances, children, partner, friendships, and work have vanished. What would you do? Would you feel better?

The answer to this question is far from simple. That’s because problems are part of life. However, the way you react to unpleasant events says a lot about yourself. So, do you face or avoid them? Active coping is related to a greater perception of self-efficacy. In other words, you feel more capable of facing life’s challenges.

By detaching yourself from the problems that beset you (by pressing an imaginary button), you can adopt a different perspective. In effect, you can observe how you’re reacting to what’s causing you discomfort. Are you happy with the way you do it?  If the answer’s no, you can change it.

“If you want different results, do not do the same things.”

-Albert Einstein-

2. Look at the good in you

As a human being, you’re potentially aware of many of your flaws. This fact can be understood by way of a simple metaphor. Your flaws are like big black blobs on an immense white wall. Moreover, perhaps they’ve become so big that the wall is no longer white.

If this is the case, your faults will be illuminated. It’s as if they’re in the path of the headlights of a car. This can make you stop taking notice of your strengths or the things you like most about yourself. So, how about trying to dedicate a part of your day to describing yourself in positive terms? To do this, think about how your favorite person would describe you.

In reality, your language permeates your thoughts and emotions. Consequently, seeing the bad in yourself more often than the good can cloud the way you look at life.

Would you be willing to put on some kinder spectacles for viewing your own reality? It’s not self-deception. The exercise simply consists of self-remembering the positive characteristics that you know you harbor within you.

“The essential is invisible to the eyes.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-

Woman thinking
Reflecting on your positive aspects is essential if you want to know yourself.

3. How happy are you?

What do you like? What makes you feel good? What’s important to you? Happiness is a complex subject. For this reason, extensive and prolific debates exist on the concept of happiness. In fact, there are as many definitions of happiness as there are human beings experiencing it. But we want to focus on the last question: what’s important to you?

Happiness can be understood as a temporary state. You experience it when faced with events that are important to you, as an individual. For example, a firefighter might feel happy at the end of their working day because they saved two people’s lives. On the other hand, someone else might experience happiness for the simple fact of having breakfast every day with their family.

What fuels your happiness? Where do you get the energy to propel you forward? What do you like? If you can answer these questions, you can set yourself goals. In this sense, happiness could be understood as the subjective capacity to enjoy life, both when pursuing a goal and when fulfilling it (Veenhoven, 2001).

The attainment of self-knowledge

To attain self-knowledge requires reflection. To do this, we recommend you find a quiet place that gives you peace.

Try and dedicate a few minutes each day to reflect on what you’re doing, how you are, what you feel, where you want to go, and what you’ve achieved so far. This is a really useful way of self-regulation and getting to know yourself better.

“We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own path, and we will never be happy if we live someone else’s idea of life.”

-James Van Praagh-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Peralbo Uzquiano, M., & Sánchez Pernas, J. M. (1990). Reflexiones sobre autoconocimiento y educación. Revista de educación.
  • Burgos, J. E. (2003). Algunas reflexiones sobre el autoconocimiento. Analogías del Comportamiento, (6).
  • Prieto Galindo, F. H. (2018). El pensamiento crítico y autoconocimiento. Revista de filosofía, 74, 173-191.
  • Piergiovanni, L. F., & Depaula, P. D. (2018). Estudio descriptivo de la autoeficacia y las estrategias de afrontamiento al estrés en estudiantes universitarios argentinos. Revista mexicana de investigación educativa, 23(77), 413-432.
  • Veenhoven, R. (2001). Calidad de vida y felicidad: No es exactamento lo mismo.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.