How self-knowledge can make you happier.
In my past columns, I’ve talked about three routes to happiness. You can strive for a happy life, a meaningful life, or a rich life (one that’s filled with variety and experiences that change your perspective). These pathways are mostly based on what you do. There’s another, more internally focused route to greater happiness that deserves attention: self-knowledge. Here’s why. 1. Self-knowledge leads to better performance. In my new book, Stress-Free Productivity, I help readers learn how they work best. When you understand this, you can devise strategies based on your self-knowledge. For example, if you procrastinate doing tasks that bore you, your strategy might be different than if you procrastinate tasks that make you anxious. If you resent a task or it bores you, then you might need to find meaning in it. For instance, helping your technologically-challenged spouse might be a pain, but if you reframe the task as being about deep trust and mutual support, it’s less boring. If you’re avoiding a task because it makes you anxious, you can start with the parts of it that are least overwhelming, and work up. Strategies are more effective if they get to the root of why you want to put off your task. 2. Self-knowledge reduces shame. Writing my first book, The Anxiety Toolkit, helped resolve my anxiety shame. Writing my new one resolved my productivity shame. I used my own techniques to learn how to be the best version of myself, and recognise how my whole self (not just the socially desirable bits) could help me reach my goals. There are a lot of myths and stereotypes in our culture about what makes for a successful person: you must be very disciplined, have lots of energy, and be popular, hard-working, and ambitious. If you don’t fit this stereotype, you may believe you’re destined to never succeed. With deep self-knowledge, you’ll be able to see how even your “flaws” can contribute to your successes. For example, someone who is lazy might rally against inefficient or meaningless things they’re expected to do, and change processes because of this. There are upsides to every personality type. We usually only feel shame about who we are if we believe it will impede our goals. When you can see the benefits of your nature, and have skills to help you navigate the pitfalls, you’ll feel less shame. 3. Self-knowledge can help you manage your thinking and emotions. We don’t self-sabotage in a thousand different ways, we do it in the same few ways over and over. For example, some people excessively blame others for not getting what they want. Others have the reverse style, and take too much responsibility for everyone else’s behaviour. Humans have thinking biases, but we’re also equipped with metacognition: the ability to think about our thinking. When you know your biases, you can correct them. You don’t need to be flawless to succeed, and there’s no one way to do it. Self-knowledge can help you know when you need to find your own way to achieve an important goal. When you learn to work with your natural personality, rather than conforming to stereotypes, you’ll feel more selfaccepting and happier. For more than five years now, I’ve been honoured to be a contributing columnist for Good magazine, and after nearly 18 years travelling, teaching and assisting people to be healthier, I’m stepping back from some duties in my life to spend more time with my family and to just generally “be” more, rather than “do”. So, this will be my last column for Good. Before I impart some leaving advice around health and nutrition, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, the reader, for your attention over these years. I’ve always enjoyed meeting many of you and it always made me smile when you mentioned something I’d written in this magazine. I would also like to thank Carolyn, the editor of Good, for taking me on over five years ago and entrusting the nutrition advice of the readership to me. There’s a wise proverb that says it’s not the destination of a journey that matters, nor the journey itself, but the people you travel with. You couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion than Carolyn – of course, you see this come through in the magazine in every issue! So, my final advice... I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’d like to offer you three pieces of advice. Firstly, do what you love and be around people you love. I’ve been lucky in my life. Since the age of 18 I’ve been able to make a living doing what I loved, playing cards (I was a croupier in a casino), playing golf (I was a professional golf coach) and of course, teaching nutrition. Having worked with thousands of clients, let me tell you, it’s very difficult to eat well when you are predominately unhappy with your job or people around you. Food is so intrinsincally tied to how we feel, that for many of us, we support our mood by eating high-sugar, high-fat and processed (high-sodium) foods. Why? Because it releases neurotransmitters in our brain that make us feel better. While we are majorly unhappy, we will often struggle to stick to a healthy eating plan. Secondly, eat natural wholefoods that make you feel full (and energised) the longest. For many years now, I’ve believed that there’s not one perfect diet and that most likely we all have different macronutrient requirements. It’s a simple practice of making a mental note of what you ate and then correlating it with how full and energised you remain after eating. Often you may notice after certain foods, like a muffin, you actually experience a dip in energy. I refer to this as the “white bread wipeout”, but as with most learning, it’s best for you to experience it yourself! Finally, take a high quality multivitamin. I know I’ve mentioned this a lot before, and for some of you, you might think “he just says that because he owns a supplement company”. But I say it because it’s incredibly difficult to get everything you need from your diet. Most days people seek my advice about their current health issue and I see direct relationships between micronutrient deficiencies and their issue and end up recommending taking a high-quality micronutrient supplement anyway! But prevention is much easier. From years of clinical experience and supported by a huge body of research, I honestly believe that we can significantly support our health as we age by ensuring optimal amounts of micronutrients. Wishing you a wonderful year, in health and happiness, Ben Warren