My Favorite Self-Discovery Tools

Know Thyself – Explore who you are; Learn what you love to do.

As part of my retirement transition, I needed to figure out who I was without work as my primary element. I also needed to learn what I loved to do, when work did not take up 60+ hours of my weekly mind-space.   Looking back, these are my Top 10 Self-Discovery Tools:

  1. Possibilities List. It’s not really a bucket list. I’ve heard it called a “never be bored” list or a “maybe” list. It probably has some bucket list stuff on it and some Honey-do projects. But it also has 150+ things you might want to do, be, or experience. Everything from learn to play chess to visiting Machu Picchu to have a piece of clothing designed and hand-made for you. Yup, all items from my list!
  2. Jolts of Joy. A list of things that bring you little moments of joy. I’ve done them as list of 31, one for each day of the month.   I’ve also done them as A to Z, which stimulates word play creativity. I’ve then used the list to bring more joy into my daily life, either through planning (I always write with fine tip blue pens now) or though serendipity (recognizing the moments as they occur – like seeing an osprey in flight at the beach).
  3. Who Am I Profile. Whether it’s an Archetype profile, an Enneagram profile, your Spiritual Strengths, or even an old Myers-Brigs profile…I love these on-line tools to get a better sense of myself. Most provide both the positive traits and the watch-outs. The analytical Sage in me loves to acquire, organize, & share knowledge, but can get bogged down in the data and fail to act or come across as an arrogant know-it-all.
  4. Values Articulation.   There are many, many values that everyone recognizes, but getting a solid understanding of what you authentically value, versus what society says you should value, is helpful in crafting a more satisfying life. Society tells us that Family should be the most important thing, as well as giving to the Community and Protecting the Environment. But perhaps for you, a higher value is Being an Individual or Personal Achievement.   Knowing yourself in this way can help define what you truly want to do with your life.
  5. Emotional Awareness. This tool is more a daily tool to connect with how you are feeling.   Emotions are often hard to articulate (I’m angry), but by clarifying how I am feeling with a more precise articulation, I can make sense of how to better deal with a negative emotion.
  6. Vision Board. I’ve blogged about creating vision boards and have found them helpful in “seeing” the year ahead.
  7. Life Short Stories. Everyone can tell a story. This tool is creating (very) short stories based five years in the future & looking back, telling how you got to that place… a typical story of first I did this and then I did that.   I’ve done them on 5 different aspects of my life vision and will be posting about them in a future blog, now that it’s 3-4 years later!
  8. Love Language. How do you express appreciation and love for another person? And how do you recognize when someone is expressing love and appreciation for you? Is it words, touch, time spent, gift giving, or acts of service? I have a friend who’s #1 is gift giving, which is my least likely way so I regularly think about buying her something small to express my appreciation for her. Vice versa, she will give me a hug once in awhile (touch is high for me, low for her).
  9. 5 Things to Try Now. Create a list of 5 things you would like to try from your Possibilities list. Now pick one and do it for one month. I picked yoga and became a fan. Then I tried mediation and wasn’t thrilled. I’m not sure what my next pick will be!
  10. Morning Journal. Completely stolen from Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way morning pages, my morning journal has become my daily moment of personal discovery.  How am I feeling today? (emotional assessment) What was the most important thing that happened yesterday? What are my frustrations, my wishes, my worries, and my desires today? How will I be making today the best day ever?  How will I SOAR (my word of the year) today?

Perhaps one of these tools could help you do some self-discovery, too.

Picture Credit: Pixabay

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38 thoughts on “My Favorite Self-Discovery Tools

  1. This is a fabulous post and so relevant to me right now! I’m going through a lot of changes in my life and probably need to ask myself a lot of these questions to prioritise what I want out of life from herein. Thanks for joining us on #LovinLifeLinky

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    1. Kathy, I love when something falls into my awareness that is “needed”. These tools definitely helped me figure out who I wanted to be (the real me) and what I wanted this next stage of my life to be…hopefully some of them are helpful for you as well. Use the ones that feel right for you.

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  2. I love all of these. I’m a morning journaller too – but love the 5 ideas & the short story idea. Thanks so much for linking up with #lovinlife today. #teamlovinlife

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  3. Oh wow, I LOVE all of these though am not so sure about the Love Language and whether I see that as a romantic thing (when I know it doesn’t have to be) could be a factor….

    I might just steal some of these to work on.

    (Also love the possibilities list rather than a bucket list. The latter one can feel as if they’ve failed if they don’t tick it off, but a possibilities list sounds far more aspirational!)

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    1. Deborah – steal away!! I’ve stolen most of them myself. I always believe in steal & reply at work… who needs to reinvent something. But also feel free to modify anything for yourself as well. I am always adding things to the possibility list – I just added Big Bend National Park because its supposed to be one of the best for seeing birds. Sounded interesting!

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  4. The “Who Am I” is one that has always intrigued me. I have taken Myers-Briggs several times and have finally homed in on my true type which is ENFP. However, there are an enormous number of these kinds of tests out there such as learning style, adaptor-innovator, strengths finder, etc., etc. One idea I had was using a battery of maybe 10-20 of these standardized tests to try to identify serial innovators a priori. Ray Price and Bruce Vojack (U of Illinois at the time) had a similar idea, but I don’t know if they carried it out. Price is retired now, but I have meant to connect with Bruce and see if that line of thinking ever went anywhere.

    I view it in a fashion similar to Biochemical Individuality as outlined in Roger Williams book. We are far more biochemically unique than we think we are. I believe this is true intellectually as well. I think, by using a wide range of orthogonal tests, one could “map” one’s intellect and have a far better idea of why we act the way we do, for example and how we can address blind spots in our critical thinking.

    I have also thought that this would be a great thing to do for freshman and sophomores in high school. Administer a standardized battery of tests that would help them to know themselves and understand what careers they might like and be good at. There is a sort of pathetic effort made to do that in some schools, but it is not at all robust in my opinion. I have always felt that a huge proportion of the workforce is in jobs that they hate because they don’t fit their “type” and until a better effort is made to match individuals with their ideal path in life, that sad state of affairs will continue.

    Maybe I have found another thing to do in “retirement”…………

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    1. Bob, just what you need….something else to do. 🙂 I’ve found the self-discovery tools extremely helpful ….if you are honest with yourself and not giving the answers you think you “should” give.

      The one I’ve found fascinating, although I’m not a fan of the title, is Dr Johnson’s Spiritual Strengths. It follows a bit your thinking of defining how you think…from beliefs and perceptions through thought processing and feelings to decisions and actions. 6 steps and in each you have your dominent way (he lists 5 options at each step)… so every individual will have a very unique profile. (I didn’t do the math to see how many combinations that could mean. My guess is you would!) There is also a too high/too low at each point as well so it gets complicated quickly, but I found my profile enlightening. (and not inconsistent with others ones I’ve done). I’m not sure it helps me figure out what to do next (or what career I should have had), but it does help me articulate who I am and what aspects of my “personality”I need to without for. (Every trait brings with it watch-outs.)

      A friend of mine is now totally into the NeuroColor profile. Similar to Myers Brigs with 4 elements, but more “color” based. I’m blue/red. I nice shade of purple perhaps. 🙂 Means systems thinking and structured. Are you surprised?

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  5. I use or have used so many of the tools you mention and yet, here I am floundering around almost 4 years into retirement. Ugh. Enjoying reading (very slowly) Cameron’s book and going to start Morning Journaling tomorrow. Have used a dream board or vision board and positive affirmations and Myers-Brigs and love languages to get to know myself better at this stage of life. But now that I know all of this stuff…now what? Ugh. Ugh.

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    1. I’m also 4 years into retirement – today, in fact. What I’ve done is just create a 3 month “plan” for things I want to try. And then another 3 month “plan”. My plan this quarter focuses on being (more) active and more “out & about” mini-adventures. Both are great summer focus areas. I’m not going to save the world, but it’s helping me to live fully every day.

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  6. These are all intriguing tools, Pat. Some of them I’ve tried like Jolts of Joy, vision boards, and online personality profiles. I like the idea of the life short stories and creating a master possibilities list from which I could draw for my seasonal bucket lists. Thanks for the new ideas.

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    1. Obviously I like all of them since they are on my favorites list. 🙂 The life stories one is fun for writers and I’m doing a post on it – maybe this/next week. A possibilities list is really helpful as you enter retirement…it gives you a place to put all those “maybe” ideas that you don’t have time to try but want to keep in your head – they will be there when you have more time to look into them. If I don’t write things down anymore, I forget about them until the next time same thing pops that inspired the idea! The book I borrowed this tool from recommended 100+ idea…my list has over 150, but some have been checked off now.

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  7. Hi Pat! As a huge fan of self-awareness, you have to know I LOVE your tools for self-discovery. I haven’t done the “possibility list” but I can see where that would be wonderfully helpful. And I love all the self-awareness tests that you mention. How can they not be interesting? 😉 I think the main one that I do religiously is Morning Pages. I think I might have mentioned that I have been doing them for at least 25 years and definitely credit my writing AND my sense of Self to doing those pages. It’s not just a habit for me, but a way of life. And while I don’t do a Jolt Of Joy list or many of the others you suggest, but I think nearly all of them find their way to my pages. I think I’m a better writer, a better person, a better me because of them. Obviously, I strongly recommend them to everyone! ~Kathy

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    1. Kathy, I’m a covert to Morning Pages as well. Not for 25 years…but heading into year 3 on it! I’m not sure it makes me a better writer, but it definitely helps me be a better “me”!

      The possibility list is especially useful to have in place as you have more discretionary time. Instead of trying to recall what you thought you might be interested in, it’s already on paper. I continue to add to mine whenever something sounds interesting… I just added “Visiting Big Bend National Park” because it’s supposed to be best NP for bird watching. It’s different to me than a bucket list, and so I’ll put things that are just mildly interesting on there… you never know what opportunity will arise.

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  8. While I utilize several of these self-discovery tools already… I am pinning to my #MLSTL board for future reference. I love the idea of Jolts of Joy and plan to implement that one soon (perhaps in August when I am preparing to go back to the school) 🙂

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    1. Jolts of Joy is a huge favorite of mine and I’ve played with it many different ways. I did one for the Winter/Holiday season to help me find more joy in the holidays (versus family stress, which was becoming the norm). And I did one for our beach cottage, to make sure I built joy into that space. Back to school would be interesting…. will you focus on school or non-school or half and half?

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  9. Hi Pat and thank you so much for such an creative and inspiring post to start my morning. I intend to copy you with all of your suggestions in my quest for my ‘what’s next’ transition. I love the short story idea you wrote in your reply to Karen. I am surrounded by such beautiful, wise and wonderful women. I am so blessed. Thanks for sharing and linking up at #MLSTL. I will be sharing on Social Media and definitely revisiting often. 🙂

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    1. Hey Sue, this was a fun post to write, and I’m glad so many folks are enjoying it. I’m hoping to do the short-stories again this summer (and a post on what happened with first set)… or the memoir thing… or both. So many fun things to explore.

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  10. I like #7 Pat! ‘Life Short Stories’ I read a great technique in Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird”. She started with memories about grade school lunches, beginning with only what you can see in a One-Inch Picture Frame. It works! I started there, setting at the long lunch table and writing what I saw as I remembered it. Wow! So much came back. Excellent list and I’ll be sharing on my social media for #MLSTL
    http://www.meinthemiddlewrites.com

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    1. Mary Lou, interesting idea as I’m thinking of doing the memoir exercise from Julia Cameron and wondered how I might recall the past. That exercise is the core framework in 2 of her books – The Artist Way for Retirement is the one I read. I might try it with a picture from the various time blocks as inspiration. Thanks for that idea.

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  11. 4,5 and 8 are ones I really like. 4 because I am not sure I have ever given my true values thought. 5 because my emotions are all over the chart right now and I am not sure what I feel. 8 because I have read this book a number of times and pick up something every time. I am not sure what my love language is I know it isn’t gifts. lol

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    1. Victoria, I’m not a “gift-girl” either. My top 3 are time spent together, touch, and words. But words and touch are hubby’s last 2… so I need to not rely on those to know he’s expressing love. Luckily spending time is in his top 2!

      IM me direct of you’d like my emotions list to help you articulate your emotions better.

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  12. I can see a whole AtoZ series for your Jolts of Joy Pat – you could be going down the April rabbit hole with that next year! I find Love Languages really interesting – how we speak them differently and learning to speak in someone else’s – definitely an area I need to keep working on. I have also heard a lot about Morning Pages but I think I’ll leave that for retirement – when my mornings won’t be rushed. I really enjoyed your list and will be keeping it in mind for the years ahead.

    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL – I’ll be sharing this on my SM xx

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    1. Leanne, I swore I would not do an April A to Z…. it was too grueling. I had a hard enough time reading and commenting on my blogging buddies without needing to post and comment on my own! But I’m sure you and Sue and Karen will keep at me…. wearing away at the stone.

      The Love Languages is insightful. My mom and husband are both “do something for someone” (acts of service) and it’s hard when they fight over who is going to do the dishes after dinner! Acts of service is not mine…. so I have to think about it to express appreciation in their language.

      I’m hooked on morning pages, but totally get not being able to do it while still working. Most of this list is post-work for me. The ones I had done while still working were Jolts of Joy, Love Languages (a work friend shared it with me), and Profiles. We did profiles for work events – lots of different ones over the years as various things trended.

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  13. This is a great, comprehensive list Pat – thanks! I can’t say I’ve done any of these specifically as you lay them out – but in my younger days I did a great deal of self-awareness type exercises like this. Perhaps it is time to revisit them. #1, 2, and #9 sound appealing right now.

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    1. Janet, it’s interesting to see which ones people lean towards. Obviously I like them all, but Jolts of Joy is a great one. As I’ve mentioned below to Janis, it’s an easy one to then bring into daily life. Self-discovery was critical for me as I moved into retirement and lost a big portion of my identity which was (unfortunately) heavily linked to working. (Besides these things give great blog post topic fodder!)

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      1. Totally get it – trying to discover who we are after we lose some big part of our identity can be tough. I had my first ‘mid-life’ crisis when I left the convent after 13 years when I was 31! I’m partial to the concept of ‘joy’ — part of my Chinese name and am currently working on Bits-of-Joy in July for my blog with a quote about joy each day.

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  14. I love the way your mind works, Pat. All of these steps you’ve taken are so well thought out and helpful. I may not get on board with morning pages (just thinking about it makes my wrists hurt) but Jolts of Joy, Possibilities Lists, and several others make a lot of sense. I know me well enough that if I don’t create a plan… in writing… I will tend to muddle my way through my day. Comfortable, sure, but not very satisfying in the long run.

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    1. Janis, I am such a planner. And a list maker. I think I’ve said before I have checklists of check lists! Jolts of Joy is such a fun one because after it’s done, you can think about bringing them into your daily life. One woman I talked to realized she adores pink champagne, so now she keeps a bottle in her fridge and opens it spontaneously when she wants a boost – usually a few times month. I now use fine-tip blue pens to write with because I love them. Little things that just bring smiles into every day living!

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  15. Hi Pat,
    A good and comprehensive (no surprise) list. From your list, I’ve done profiles (love them and have done a zillion of them), values articulation (a requirement when I worked with a coach before retiring and very helpful), vision boards aplenty, emotional awareness (using a really good book called Living Like You Mean It by Ronald Frederick), Morning Journal, and I’ve done the love languages profile after you wrote the post about it for my site.
    I will give Jolts of Joy and Life Short Stories a try. I found the jolts of joy info online, but can’t find Life Short Stories. Can you point me towards a source that has more info? I’m looking forward to reading yours in a future post!
    Thanks, Pat.

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    1. Karen, I can’t recall where I read about the short story idea. It’s pretty simple – pick 5 possible elements of your future life (5 years from now) and then tell the story of how it happened. It could be something you experienced, something you created, something you accomplished/became. Kinda – How did you become a writer, a painter, a potter, a marathoner, or a master gardener? How did you create a healthy daily lifestyle? How did you come to be living here? Mine from 4 years ago included one on foodiness, a new home, and blogging. My stories were really only long paragraphs, but they were detailed. For you, some ideas could be How did you come to publish your next book? Or how did you end up meet in person 5 blogging buddies? As with all scenario work, you need to assume it happened. Does that help?

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