It is called the greatest sporting event of the 20th century. Rumble in the jungle. The boxing match between heavyweight champion George Foreman and his challenger Muhammad Ali in 1974. Before the fight, Foreman was favoured to win 4-1. But underdog Ali surprised everyone and knocked out Foreman in the 8th round!
It was George Foreman’s first ever defeat in the boxing ring. Three years later, not being able to get a rematch with Ali, Foreman retired.
But Foreman was forced to make a comeback 10 years later. Not because he loved boxing so much. But because he had lost his boxing fortune in real estate. He was on the verge of being homeless!
Haven’t we seen this so often? People who have done tremendously well in one field lose it all in another? So many billionaires go bankrupt when they speculate on another business line. So many athletes lose the millions they’ve earned after retirement.
People regularly think their skills from one field will transfer to another. But they often misjudge their abilities.
As our favourite quantum physicist Richard Feynman says: “The first principle is you must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.”
It’s essential to know your own self. Because only by knowing yourself well enough can you know what you are capable of. Only by understanding your emotions can you know why you do (or don’t do) the things that you do.
Really: how often have you broken your resolutions? How many times have you tried to build a habit but failed? Why is it that a process will work successfully for someone else but not for you?
Only if you know yourself well enough can you adapt and improve your situation. Knowing yourself means less inner conflict and better decision making. More happiness. You won’t face the same problems again and again if you know your patterns.
The problem to getting to know yourself
Most people swim at the shallow end of self knowledge. No one thinks that they don’t know themselves well enough. And so they don’t fix their self discovery process.
Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil are two Yale psychologists who conducted a research experiment once. They asked all the participants: on a scale of 1 to 7, how well do you understand the flush lavatory that you use everyday?
The average rating was 4 out of 7.
But when they were asked a follow up question to write down their explanation and even use diagrams if they wanted, the participants were stuck. Their average understanding was now rated as 2/7.
Because you’re with yourself all the time, you think you know yourself well. The illusion breaks only when you dig deep introspectively or when you fail at a task.
How do you know you know yourself well enough?
Jean Guerrettaz of Ohio University gives us a nifty little idea to audit if we know ourselves well enough. Read Barnum statements. These are statements used in horoscope or fortune cookies that are general enough to apply to anyone. If you can see through the Barnum statements as humbug, you know yourself with higher precision.
Research conducted by Guerrettaz showed that people with high self concept and self clarity rated Barnum statements as less accurate.
So how can you get to know yourself?
By journaling. All great introspective personalities from Socrates to Mark Twain to Leonardo Da Vinci to Charles Darwin to Napoleon maintained their journals. Journaling is a great medium of self discovery.
Journaling allows you to examine your thoughts and feelings. It gives you clarity. It allows you to reflect on your experiences.
Gary Pisano and his colleagues from Harvard Business School conducted a research experiment with the help of Wipro – a business processes company. New employees that joined the Wipro call center were divided into two groups. One group was asked to journal at the end of the day and write their thoughts and experiences down. The other group was the control.
The group who journaled performed 25% better than the control group!
How to journal effectively?
Psychologist Meg Selig lists down 6 key elements of self knowledge. She provides a simple acronym to remember them: Vitals.
- Temperament and emotions.
- Around the clock activities
- Life mission and goals
Focus on these elements while journaling and you’ll learn a lot more about what makes you tick. Questions that can help you:
- What do you believe in? What will never change for you? What are your guiding principles?
- What do you pay attention to? What are you curious about?
- What are you feelings during a specific moment or experience?
- What are your fears and anxieties?
- What are your goals? What are you looking forward to? What is on your task list?
- Keep track of your tasks or habits.
- End of the day review of what all you achieved in the day and what did you fail to achieve. And your thoughts on it.
Shortcut to self discovery
All of the above are analytical left brained ways of self discovery. Is there a creative right brained way? Roy H. Williams gives us a clue by quoting Maggie Tufu: “Show me what a person admires, and I will tell you everything about them that matters.”
Williams suggests that to know yourself better, you should make a list of your:
- 2 favorite visual artists
- 3 favorite poems
- 4 favorite stories
- 5 favorite movies
- 6 favorite songs
And then try and find the common element that ties those things together.
George Foreman’s second innings
In the end, things turned out well for George Foreman. Because he had to return to boxing, he ended up being the oldest heavyweight boxing champion when he won a fight against 27 year old Michael Moorer. Foreman was 45 years old.
But that’s not where the story ends. Because Foreman zeroed in on the person he admired. Foreman heard a speech given by Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics. The speech hit Foreman like no punch ever had: “My father told me when I was young that if you learn to sell, you will never starve.”
That message resonated so well with Foreman that he started seeing himself as a sales person. He started cultivating a likeable personality because his goal was to be the world’s greatest salesman.
Foreman endorsed everything from McDonalds to Doritos to a local car care company. But one deal of his changed everything. A kitchen equipment company called Salton, Inc approached him to help sell their portable cooking grill. But because they could not pay anything upfront, they agreed to give Foreman 40% of profits.
Imagine a boxing champion helping sell cooking grills! But it worked. Foreman wearing a blue apron and asking folks to buy his grill in TV ads worked insanely well. The George Foreman grill has sold over a 100 million units since inception. And it’s estimated that George Foreman earned over $200 million because of it – a lot more than what boxing earned him!
- Know yourself and you’ll be able to adapt to situations a lot better.
- Start a journal. It’s a great way to track your thoughts and habits and introspect.
- Find out the common denominator in all the heroes, movies, quotes that you admire. What resonates strongly with you? That’ll give you a clue as to who you are at the core.