The title of this column, “Know Yourself. Live Better.” could easily be from a classic spiritual or philosophical piece of writing. After all, it was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Aristotle added, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” And in the Bible, in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, it says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” In fact, the phrase, “Know Thyself” is inscribed on the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Throughout history, wise teachers have certainly stressed the importance of self-knowledge.
“Know yourself, live better,” however, is not the saying of an ancient spiritual sage, but rather the slogan that appears on the package of a fitness tracking device that I received for Christmas.. Fitness tracking devices are quite popular these days. Some devices are worn on your wrist and some clip somewhere near your waist or on your shoe. They all do a good job of recording the total number of steps you take each day. In this way, they are simply high tech pedometers. The wrist band models do more than just count your steps though–they also keep track of how many hours of sleep you get each night. Each of these devices connects to your computer or smart phone, thus clearly revealing to you your daily fitness trends.
I like my fitness band because it does, in fact, help me to know myself better. Like many people, I have a pretty sedentary job and so it’s helpful to actually see how many steps I take and how many calories I burn each day. There is also the great incentive of seeing the clear results in both step count and burned calories that a good workout delivers. I’m happy to report that I’m doing pretty well with my daily step count, but I’m learning that I need to get more sleep. Most importantly, my new device is also already serving as a motivator for positive change. The other bonus of these fitness tracking devices is that through the app on your smartphone or a website on your computer you can share your daily step count with friends and family, thus creating a group of friends to both cheer you on and keep you accountable.
I do not mention the fitness device craze to encourage you to purchase a fitness tracking device, but rather, to emphasize the essential role that self-knowledge plays in making of better choices. There are indeed many other ways, other than using a fitness tracking device, for us to gain greater self-knowledge. Any of the following can assist us with knowing ourselves better:
- A regular practice of keeping a journal or diary.
- A regular practice of spiritual reading or study.
- Being part of a support or accountability group.
- Honest conversations with friends and love ones where honest feedback can be freely given and received.
- A regular practice of prayer or meditation.
- Meeting with a coach, pastor, spiritual director, or therapist.
Once we increase our self-awareness, then we still have to decide if we want to “live better.” I don’t know about you, but I know that when I gain greater self-knowledge, I am almost always motivated to make better choices based on that self-knowledge. Taking an honest look at our habits takes courage, but it is also the first step towards creating a more grace-filled, vital life.
High-tech gadgets come and go faster than the change of seasons, but the ancient spiritual wisdom of the importance of honest and accurate self-knowledge is as true today as it was three thousand years ago. How ever you choose to achieve greater self-knowledge, I encourage you to make it a regular practice, because better living, along with greater vitality, is almost always sure to follow.