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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 to.

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."

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