The Power of Self Knowledge
Power comes from knowing yourself. Just as you can more effectively
use a computer when you know more about it, you can more effectively
use your own brainpower, mind and body when you understand them
better. However, one stumbling block to gaining true self knowledge
is our tendency to rationalize. Consider the following true story.
Mark was hypnotized by his therapist, and given the post-hypnotic
instruction to get up and put on his coat whenever the doctor
touched his nose. When he was out of the trance, he and the doctor
talked. At some point during the conversation, the doctor scratched
his nose, and Mark immediately stood up and put on his coat.
When the doctor asked him why, Mark said "Oh, I thought
we were finished," and he took off the coat. A couple minutes
later, the doctor touched his nose again, and Mark again immediately
stood up and put on his coat. "It's getting cold in here,"
he quickly explained. By the third time, it was getting more
difficult for Mark to explain his behavior, yet he still tried
Is this scenario really unique to hypnosis? Aren't we often
just assuming that we are aware of all that goes into our decisions
and actions? Just like poor Mark, we feel compelled to explain
ourselves - and to believe our own explanations. This isn't self
knowledge, but self explanation, or rationalization, and it is
one of our strongest human habits.
Not Self Explanation
Suppose a child throws a book at his brother, and his mother
demands "Why would you do that!?" What usually happens?
The child says, "I don't know," which is true, but
not acceptable. Given just five seconds, the best psychologists
couldn't understand the child's action with certainty, yet a
six-year-old is expected to do just that.
While he may not understand, he learns quickly to explain
himself. Given this pressure to explain, it is no wonder that
by adulthood, it is rare for any of us to say "I don't know"
when asked about our behavior. Instead, we create an explanation.
However, isn't this a problem? How can we learn the true causes
of our behavior if we already have our explanations?
The process begins with self
awareness, and continues with self
observation. What else?
Self Knowledge Means Accepting Our Ignorance
Another approach is to get in the habit of saying "I
don't know." It may help to follow it with "Maybe it's
because of..." and let the explanations spill out, but don't
be too quick to accept any of them. Just understand that it isn't
always necessary to explain.
Suppose, for example, you are avoiding a certain person. Even
if you never know why, isn't it better to leave the question
open than to accept a false explanation based on a habit of self-justification
and rationalization? Just leave questions unanswered, and you
may someday have a better understanding. A quick answer means
a quick stop in your thinking, and less self knowledge.
Self-explanation usually just gets in the way of knowing yourself.
Why not learn to accept your ignorance, and to keep observing
yourself. Just say, "I don't know."