Knowing ourself as a fundamental condition for planning and applying an effective personal Strategy – Part A’
We all are, more or less, familiar with the concept of self-knowledge. Surely at some point we read a book or article about what self-knowledge is on an existential, philosophical or psychological level, and how it can help us feel happier (or at least satisfied) with what we are and what we have. In this brief presentation we do not focus on how self-knowledge can contribute to augmenting or improving personal happiness (as everyone understands and embraces this concept), but how self-knowledge is linked to the potential to design and implement a functional personal strategy.
As a condition we have to accept that an absolute knowledge of the self is not a realistic pursuit, the same way we can expect an absolute knowledge of the rest of the physical reality that surrounds and permeates us. We constantly learn something more, a new detail about ourselves; whether it is within our direct scope or not. Correspondingly, there is no basis in reality to talk about complete and utter absence of self-awareness (even in severe forms of mental retardation).
What does self-knowledge is? Concisely and succinctly focusing our response on a subject that has been at the epicenter of the human thought and literature for thousands of years, we can say that the “knowledge of one’s self” encompasses a set of factors, some of which are common to all and others are related to each person’s personality and temperament. But also those factors that can be considered common vary in intensity from one person to another. In any case, the fundamental facets of self-knowledge are constant and common for every person.
Let us now proceed on connecting the dots between the degree of self-awareness and the chances of fruitfully addressing the challenges that arise in our course. Self-knowledge encompasses the following aspects:
- Knowledge of those elements and situations that make us feel good, satisfy us, and – conversely – those elements and situations that make us uncomfortable, which for many reasons are incompatible with us
- Perception of our personal fears, acceptance of fear as a general manifestation of the self-protection of living organisms, and the separation of our personal fears from our phobias
- Perception of our skills and abilities (that is, the areas of activity where we are able to achieve a satisfactory result without having to make every effort to exhaust our strengths and weaken us.
- Finding out our strengths and identity under real pressure
A strategy is designed to achieve, to accomplish a goal or set of goals. Therefore, in order to have a well-organized plan of action, a goal is de facto required. The goal, in turn, reflects a personal pursuit, a desire. The content of our pursuits is chosen in the light of the satisfaction, the fulfillment is expected to offer us.
The clearer our perception of what provides us with more satisfaction in relation to other things (it may be the desired form of a personal, social or professional relationship, the way we work, the type of occupation that makes us feel better about ourselves instead of counting the minutes or hours to get home, etc.), the more focused the strategy we will design in order to achieve our goal.
In that direction, the clearer the picture we maintain on the fields we perform better, which is to say our skills, the more effective our implementation of our strategy in practice. Even if we set the goal of developing a dexterity we do not have a lot to show for at the time being, being adequately aware of those skills reduces the effort (and sometimes the time) required to achieve the desired result.
Let us proceed to the third aspect, namely the acknowledgment of our fears and phobias. First of all, it should be noted that accepting fear as an innate response of living organisms and as a fundamental means of self-protection is a non-negotiable prerequisite for realistic conception and realization of any objective. A sense of shame towards the notion of fear results in smothering the person in guilt as well as compelling it to move to the opposite direction indicated by fear, thus exposing ourselves to perilous conditions we could have eschewed otherwise.
Both of the above motives distort our perception of the reality we are called upon to act and react, clouding our judgment, and consequently we not only increase our chances of failing our goals (either medium or long term), but also compromising our physical – and sometimes mental – integrity.
Before we move on, let’s first mention the distinguishing feature between fear and phobia. While fear relates to mobilizing the body against a stimulus that can actually have an unpleasant impact, phobia is associated with sensitizing to a stimulus that either does not impose really a threat or the person’s reaction is of a disproportionately greater scale than the danger calls for.
For instance, we are afraid of moving out in the open country during a summer thunderstorm, where the frequency of lightning strikes is particularly high. Fear is a reaction to a real threat. Suppose we must cross the countryside under a thunderstorm while driving. We manage to respond, but already in a state of contained paralysis while still going and collapsing in tremble and exhaustion the moment we finally reach our destination. Although the danger was real and we should anyway do our best to minimize the probabilities, our reaction was disproportionately greater than the likelihood of the thunderbolt striking at the exact place we were at any given second. Hypersensitivity due to the loud thunder sound is an additional phobia permutation.
To begin with, the relation of this aspect, of fear, to the effective planning or implementation of a personal strategy presents a more complex pattern in comparison to the other two aspects presented so far. This is because the degree we realize our fears affects the quality of our coping with the challenges in two distinct ways.
Let’s have a brief look at the first case. Suppose we aim at showing and proving to the woman or man we are with how much we love her/him and how much we would like to continue being with her/him. The years go by and after a while we begin realizing that what we primarily pursued was not an affirmative goal, but rather to get away from something we were afraid of. In this case, the main motivation was not “love” from the beginning, but the fear of “failing” again, of being alone again, considering that the chances of finding a partner would be by then limited.
[Parenthetically, it is mentioned that the fear of loneliness is a quite misunderstood incentive nowadays. In fact, we are critical and on the fence to forebode the dour end of a relationship, in which the fear of being left alone is one of the reasons keeping the involved members in it. And yet the fear of loneliness in a social being such as the human is an expected reaction and factor that influences his/her decisions. The crucial point is not this fear growing into the dominant motivation for staying in a relationship. However, we will separately touch this matter in a future analysis].
Our strategy was indeed a successful one, but not for a purpose intended right from the start (if we had a conscious understanding of the phobic stimulus that ultimately defined our priorities). In any case, though, its design and implementation have been successful, regardless of whether the objective has proved to be a derogation from the wishful path.
In reference to the latter way, an adequate grasp of the nature of our personal fears works in our favor against the chance of those fears being exploited by our competitors / adversaries. The more we recognize and acknowledge those elements that tune us out or even paralyze us, the less the odds (completely eliminate the odds is a rather unrealistic scenario) of being caught unprepared by either a person or the situation itself.
For example, we associate heat with unpleasant reactions that occur in our body (dizziness, fainting, difficulty in breathing). We therefore avoid exposure to public places at temperatures above 30 C, although we have not been diagnosed with some type of cardiovascular-respiratory dysfunction.
It becomes clear that the involvement of another person is by no means an indispensable premise for undermining our self. This may also occur if we find ourselves in an environment of relative warmth (not physically or chemically justifying the difficulty of breathing or feeling of exhaustion), where we are called upon to give a presentation or participate in an open dialogue or attend a meeting or a social event.