The ideas that Sigmund Freud proposed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are no longer valid when trying to explain human behavior, but there is some truth in them: in every person, there is a gap between what you want to do and what you say you want to do. Most of our mental life is secret, and the reasons that move us to perform all kinds of actions are to some extent hidden.

It is precisely for this reason that what we usually call self-discovery takes on a value . In this article we’ll look at what it is exactly and how it impacts our everyday lives.

What is self-discovery?

Self-discovery is a process by which we generate a realistic concept of ourselves that is close to reality , dispensing with biases that depend on our optimism (idealizing our self-concept) or our pessimism (creating an image of ourselves that is too negative because of sadness or a low mood). It is therefore a complex process, since to become involved in it we have to renounce those immediate and intuitive impressions that come to mind just at the moment when something happens that can appeal to our sense of identity.

Keys to a realistic self-concept

When it comes to knowing oneself, one must avoid easy and intuitive explanations about who we are. As a small guide, in the following lines you can find key ideas that you should take into account before launching yourself into self-discovery.

1. Truth is hidden in self-justification

If there is one thing we human beings are experts at, it is creating stories about who we are and what we do. These narrations can help us to create a concept of “I” that is coherent , consistent and easy to memorize, but at the cost of sacrificing part of the veracity of that self-concept.

Therefore, in order to bet strongly on self-discovery, it is worthwhile to focus our attention on thinking about those aspects about ourselves that we like the least and to look for explanations about what really moves us to act this way in this type of situation. In the end, in these cases what we have most at hand are the self-justifications and half-truths that we tell ourselves.

2. Self-discovery is not based on introspection

Many people believe that discovering oneself is basically resorting to introspection to find mental contents that had remained hidden until that moment. In other words, to achieve this you have to do something similar to staying in a quiet and isolated place, close your eyes and concentrate on analyzing your own flow of thoughts.

However, this view of the mind is an illusion, since it is influenced by a philosophical stance known as dualism. According to the dualism applied to psychology, the mind and the body are two different things, and that is why to develop self-discovery one must try to “annul” the body and focus only on the mental, which supposedly would have different layers of depth, since although it is not something physical, it emulates what it is and, although it is metaphorical, it has volume.

Thus, to undertake initiatives of self-discovery is not to concentrate on oneself and forget what is around . In any case, it is necessary to stop and analyse how we interact with our environment on a daily basis. We are what we do, not what we think.

3. The opinion of others counts too

It is not true that each one of us has a clearly privileged access to information about how we are.

In certain aspects of our lives it is clear that we know more than the rest, especially regarding those facets of our own day-to-day life that we prefer to keep hidden, but in terms of the overall conception of who we are, friends, family and in general people in our closest social circles know a lot about our identity and style of behaviour .

In fact, unlike us, because they don’t have to struggle to keep the most negative aspects of who we are out of their consciousness, they are often able to weigh in a more balanced way what are the strengths and imperfections that define us. But it is important not to let ourselves be labeled and to be clear that time and experience can change us.

4. New situations explain more about who we are

When undertaking the path of self-discovery, it is important to completely reject essentialism . What is essentialism? It is simply a philosophical position known to nourish the idea that things and people have a clear identity, different from the rest of the elements, that remains constant and resists the passage of time.

When someone says, for example, that an old acquaintance was born into a neighbourhood and will remain a neighbourhood regardless of what happens to him (e.g. winning the lottery), he is holding an essentialist perspective, even if he does not know it.

Essentialism is an obstacle to self-discovery, because it is not true that we are born one thing and die the same .

If our explanations of who we are are remain unchanged however much we continue to live new experiences that give us new information about our identity, something is wrong. We may still be clinging to those myths about ourselves through which we automatically construct a self-concept, regardless.