Knowing ourselves…

In The Psychologist this month there is an article titled “Do you know yourself?” and I will try and summarise some of the main points here…it begins with the quote by Benjamin Franklin: “There are three things extremely hard:steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.” Yet if you google knowing yourself, it comes up with lots of images for Aristotle’s words about knowing yourself being wisdom…so obviously the lay perception is that people can know themselves well, but the evidence says otherwise!

Firstly most people think they are more intelligent than the average person, which is obviously impossible (and no surprises that erroneous presumption is higher for men than women!) Secondly people are often mistaken about some of their personality characteristics – we are quite good at knowing where we are on the introversion-extraversion continuum and also on the conscientiousness continuum, but we are poor at knowing how agreeable we are!

The reason we are poor at knowing ourselves is because of optimistic bias. And this in turn protects our mental health i.e. if we have high self -esteem (without being a narcissist) we will feel like we have a more satisfactory life. However optimistic bias is not so good for our physical health:- e.g. if we think that one more biscuit, cigarette/drink is not going to harm us we are often fooling ourselves…. Yet it is not all doom and gloom – we can become more self-aware through talking therapies or by practising meditation.

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