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Knowing Who You (Really) Are will Hugely Improve Your Life

Take the Self-Knowledge 101 Test here…

Karen Nimmo
5 min readApr 1, 2019


A newly-separated woman had tentatively started dating: what do you like to do? asked the man she had known for less than an hour.

It was a valid question, but she froze. “I couldn’t answer him,” she said later. “It shook me…how scary is it that I don’t even know what I like to do?”

She began to suggest she’d lost her identity during her eight-year relationship, but then she paused. “But I might be kidding myself. Perhaps I’ve never gotten to know myself at all.”

It’s a surprisingly common story. Even when we’re aware self-knowledge is the key to Greatness or even just a Good Enough life, we’re not (really) sure if we’ve got it nailed.

I mean, babies don’t show up with high levels of personal insight, they can’t tell you that crying and burping are their dominant coping strategies, even though they are. And as we grow up, there’s no owner’s manual to follow. So we take the DIY approach: we frame ourselves through the eyes of others: parents or early caregivers, then teachers, peers and partners.

And if one of more of those key influencers is erratic, or battling their own demons, it can be extremely difficult to form a sound and accurate view of Who You (Really) Are.

Who is that Person in the Mirror?

People’s eyes light up when they hear that the first step to making change is to get to know themselves better. Why not: we all want to think and talk about ourselves and therapy offers the best possible excuse.

But it still surprises me how little people know about themselves. They can tell you the superficial stuff: their favourite colour, food and movie. They can tell you what’s going down at work or in their relationships and what they think of their body.

But drill deeper and people often get lost. That’s because in the craziness of life we haven’t devoted enough time to self-discovery, or we’ve been spun off track by others in our world. We haven’t had the time, energy or expertise to ask the big questions of ourselves.

So here’s a place to start. This is not a therapy session so don’t wind yourself up over it, and don’t worry if you can’t answer some of them. It’s just Self Knowledge 101 based on this insightful quote:

“You are not one person but three — the one you think you are, the one other people think you are and the person you really are.” — from the Writer’s Digest Guide to Successful Living, 1957

The Self-Knowledge 101 Test

Write down your answers if you want to ponder them at length — or don’t. The School of Life has no grades :)

1. The person YOU see:

  • What one word best describes me? (the first word that jumps to mind).
  • What one word sums up my childhood (up to 10 years)? Teens?
  • What one word best describes my life NOW?
  • Who was the most influential person in my early years and what did I learn from them about myself? About life?
  • Who has been the most negative influence in my life (and how did they see me)? Are they still in my life (and should they be)?
  • What is my biggest fear? Vulnerability?
  • What is my favourite (positive) piece of feedback I’ve had from the world?

2. The person OTHERS see:

  • What three words would my close friends use to describe me?
  • What three words would a partner use to describe me?
  • What word best describes what I’m like to live with?
  • What word best sums up what I’m like to work (or study) with? How would my manager/staff describe me?
  • How would someone I’ve just met at a party describe me? What would they say after talking to me?
  • Who do I present myself as on social media? What would my followers say about that person and the life he/she lives?

3. The person YOU (REALLY) ARE:

  • What do I like to do with my free time when I’m on my own? Do I make enough time for it?
  • What do I most like to wear when no-one’s watching or judging? Do I wear it out in the world?
  • What do I most like to read, listen to, talk or think about? Do I indulge in it?
  • What’s my first reaction to conflict? What’s my second? (Are these strategies acceptable to me?)
  • How do I react to high stress? (Am I happy with this reaction?)
  • Who do I like to spend time with? Do I create opportunities for this?
  • Who do I not like to spend time with? Am I taking steps to reduce this?
  • Do I listen more to my head, heart or emotions? Am I okay with this balance?
  • What is my biggest strength (and my second and third)? Do I use them all in all aspects of my life?
  • What is the best advice I’ve ever given to a struggling friend? Do I follow it myself?
  • What do I long for? Am I on track to getting it or being it? How could I do this better?


Knowing who you are — having insight into your thoughts, emotions and behaviour — can make a huge different to your life (and your stress levels!) Obviously there are no definitive answers, nor should any judgment be attached to them. You don’t have to be one of these people at the expense of the others — we’re not one-dimensional beings; each of us is a unique combination of all three.

These questions are just intended to promote your own self-understanding and highlight the areas you might want to fill out and what you might want to change.

But give yourself a pat, or hug, for fronting the test: getting to know yourself is fun and can be life-changing — but it also takes courage.

Thanks for reading! Drop me a comment below or message me on Facebook, tweet me, or visit

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Karen Nimmo

Clinical psychologist, author of 4 books. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for health and happiness.