It never ceases to amaze me how much you can learn from movies, books and music, even if it’s completely fictional. Take Harry Potter, for example. No matter how many times I watch it, read it, or think about it, I always find something new that’s interesting. Here’s what I learned from it this week:
In every trio there is a thinker, a watcher and a doer. Take our three aspiring magicians, for example.
Who’s who is obvious:
- Ron’s the doer. He charges right ahead and he doesn’t know what he’s doing most of the time.
- Harry’s the watcher. He observes everything and tries to process it. If you’ve ever wondered why he spends so much time of the saga on the sidelines, either incapable of acting or reluctant in deciding, that’s why.
- Hermione’s the thinker. She doesn’t just observe things, but deliberately takes time to think about them before she gets more information. That’s what makes her so brilliant.
When you try to identify these types for the people in your life, you’ll see the thinkers are the ones who seem to have it the easiest while the doers are frustrated a lot. That’s because this categorization corresponds to different levels of self-awareness: the thinkers know themselves best.
This is not to say one is better than the other. In fact, we have to carry all of these types within us. It’s just that the thinkers tend to know best when to take on which role. At the same time, it’s the capacity most of us have developed the least.
Whatever mode you spend the majority if your time in, there are certain things you can practice to get to the next level. Today, I’d like to show you three self-awareness exercises to achieve just that.
Self-Awareness Exercise #1 – For Doers: Apologize
Since he does first and thinks later, Ron is often wrong. That’s why he’s making a fair share of apologies. Apologies to Harry, apologies to Hermione, apologies to his family.
As a doer, that’s one of the best things he can do. You can’t apologize without acknowledging you’ve made a mistake. This acknowledgement is where self-awareness comes from.
Exercise: The next time you feel embarrassed because you know you just made a mistake, don’t brush off that feeling. Take it as a chance to quickly turn this obstacle around by apologizing.
I used to hate apologies. Especially as a teenager. Over the years I’ve come to see that not only is the transparency and vulnerability of it liberating, but it actually helps you see the kinks in your armor – and how could you iron out what you can’t see?
We hate admitting mistakes more than making them, but when you do, you won’t turn into a hypocrite and can reflect on how you can do better next time.
Apologize fast, apologize often.
Self-Awareness Exercise #2 – For Watchers: Journal
When you observe so much, it’s hard to keep track of everything without writing it down. And write a lot Harry does. He writes letters to everyone, he writes in detention and he even had a diary that one time…
This is a good idea for watchers in general. There’s a saying by Confucius:
“You cannot open a book without learning something.” – Confucius
Well, you also can’t write a sentence without learning something. The simplest form of journaling I know is the 1-sentence journal.
Exercise: Take a thought-provoking question and answer it in one sentence, but answer differently each day.
There are endless possibilities to design this exercise and you can change the question from each week or month to the next.
- Why did you get up this morning?
- What made you go “huh?” yesterday?
- Were you content before you fell asleep?
You can also gear your questions towards when in the day you’re answering them. For example, here are some ideas for good questions to ask yourself in the morning:
- Do you feel ready to tackle the day? Why? Why not?
- What was the first thing you thought of after waking up?
- What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
- What’s the most important thing you want to achieve today?
- Did you sleep enough?
- What are you most excited about today?
Then again, you might want to journal before bed. In that case, you could answer an evening question. Here are some examples:
- Why did you get out of bed this morning?
- What’s the best thing that happened today?
- When did you feel happy or content today?
- Which hour of the day was your favorite?
- What did you learn today?
- Did you do your best today?
- How could you make tomorrow an even better day than today?
- What thing are you most excited about for tomorrow?
If I had to guess, I’d say most of us are watchers. We idle and idle until it hurts. Even in this tiny format, journaling helps your brain structure the things you observe and get better at filtering what matters. That way you can take action in a more targeted way and have to apologize less.
If you want to grow this habit over time and slowly spend some more time each day, there are a lot of pre-structured journals out there too. Here are a few some of my coaching clients and I have used:
You could also journal online, using an app like Day One or Penzu, but there’s something visceral to writing by hand, which I prefer.
If you’re a watcher, you’re great at watching life. Might as well remember what’s important. Journaling helps you do just that.
Self-Awareness Exercise #3 – For Thinkers: Read
When you generally have a good sense of what’s going on, which events are most important and where action’s required, it’s up to you to now extend this knowledge at the right ends. That’s why Hermione’s favorite place is the library.
Thinkers transform their good contributions to great contributions through selective and well-timed reading. Reading the right thing at the right time allows your neurons to find the best connections between the pictures in your mind.
Exercise: Read at least one page a day.
Wittgenstein prompted us to read many books to expand our language. You can only know if you’re an ambivalent person when you know what that means. But you don’t have to overdose either. Thinkers usually have a fairly ingrained reading habit as is, but here are some resources that have helped make mine better:
- Time 2 Read. A free, 14-day email course I made to get your reading habit off the ground when you’ve fallen off the wagon.
- The Complete Guide To Remembering What You Read. A post I wrote to help you retain more.
- A Kindle. Easy access to books on the go. It removes the friction of having to carry books around.
- Books first, rent second. Ryan Holiday never worries about money spent on books. I try to do the same.
- Four Minute Books. A stash of 400+ short non-fiction book summaries with three lessons each.
- The Daily Stoic. A great philosophy book by Ryan Holiday, which is literally set up to read one page day.
- Blinkist. An app that provides you with 15-minute summaries of non-fiction books.
The extension of knowledge we get from reading always comes with a side of self-awareness: are you the kind of person who can put it to good use? Being able to tell what you need to learn next and where you can find it is one of the highest forms of self-awareness.
A page a day goes a long way.
Think, Watch, Do – The Path To Knowing Oneself
Only the best of us carry multiple characters around in our chest that we can draw on at will. We all begin one way or another. Start looking around. You’ll find this 3-type pattern in all famous trios. Them…
…even those guys:
Doers must learn to watch. Watchers must learn to think. Thinkers must learn to think better. The way you do that is by practicing.
- If you’re a doer, apologize when you screw up.
- In case you’re a watcher, journal about the things you notice.
- If you’re a thinker, master your reading habit.
The question is:
Which one are you and what do you need to find out about yourself to get to the next level?
PS: I’ve listed 24 more self-awareness activities here.