You’re out to lunch with friends you haven’t seen in a while and you can’t help but think to yourself, “Man, they just seem to really know who they are. And they’re comfortable with it! I feel like I have no sense of self. How do I get that back?”
I want you to know that you’re not alone. Many of us have the same realization and often we realize that it’s actually been years since we’ve really felt like we know who we are.
I remember feeling this hard after having my first child. I spent my days working and my evenings taking care of him, and at the end of the day, there was no room left for any sense of, well, me. And after months of that, I felt like I was a new person (which is fine, becoming a parent will do that to you) but I had no idea who this new person even was!
In this blog, I want to walk through some of the practices that have helped me and others reclaim their sense of self. I’d love for you to give them a try for yourself and let me know in the comments below if they helped and what you would add!
Get comfortable being alone
This is hard for a lot of us. We’re extremely conditioned to always either have someone around—or—if we’re physically alone, we’re conditioned to never be alone with our thoughts.
For some of us, being alone with our thoughts is a scary thing! We’re afraid we’ll remember hard moments that we don’t like to dwell on. We’re also just conditioned to not be bored—ever.
If that’s you, here’s what I want you to try. Go on a walk, alone. Yes, you can have your phone for security purposes, but don’t listen to anything. Intentionally walk in silence. I’ve found that as much as I hate when I forget my ear buds when I walk or run, I actually don’t hate being alone with my thoughts nearly as much as I thought I would.
Being alone with your thoughts will give you the rare chance to think. You can process memories, old and recent. Figure out your opinion about some nuanced thing in one of your relationships. You might even feel inspired to try something new.
I also suggest being alone on a walk (as long as you feel safe to do so) because walking helps clear the mind. I often found when writing my books, if I was stuck on a particular chapter, I could often work through the block relatively easily while on a walk.
Set aside time for hobbies you enjoy
This can be extremely hard because we are all busy—especially parents! Not only that, but I think many of us were taught not to be “lazy” growing up and spending too much time on hobbies rather than cleaning the house or working was a waste of time.
If you have a spouse, it can also sometimes be easy to join into the hobies they enjoy, while leaving yours on the backburner. While I think it’s grear to make time to spend with your spouses and even take the time to invest in their hobbies as a way to show love and bond, there needs to be some room left for the things you enjoy as well.
If you, like many people I know, don’t know what hobbies you want to spend your time investing in, that’s ok! My suggestion would simply be to try something new. If you have paints laying around the house, try watching a tutorial and taking a shot at it. If you enjoy cooking or baking, make a brand new fun recipe.
Remember, we’re not doing this to show off, please others, and we’re definitely not trying to be the best at it. This is for enjoyment only. So take any pressure you feel and kick it to the curb.
Pick one thing you’d like to learn or improve
Sometimes our lack of sense of self comes from this feeling of being stuck. Nothing in our lives has moved in quite a while and we may even feel like our friends our passing us by.
It can be a huge sense of accomplishment to learn a new skill or simply take a step towards improving an area of your life.
I recently learned how to make sourdough bread and while it’s such a small thing in the grand scheme of life, I’ve really enjoyed challenging myself to learn something new and I think it’s a great life skill to master (not that I’m a master at all but give me a few years and check back).
For some of you, improving might be working on your self-discipline which could touch many areas of your life like eating and drinking habits, screen time, spending, etc. Or it might look like learning a new language or picking up a brand new hobby.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s something you desire for yourself and not something you feel like you have to do to be accepted by (or to keep up with) others.
Listen to music you enjoy
Listening to music or creating a playlist of your favorite songs can be a powerful tool to reclaim your sense of self. Music has a unique ability to awaken emotions and transport us back to different moments in our lives. By revisiting the music we enjoyed when we were young, we can tap into a lot of memories and reconnect with aspects of ourselves that may have been forgotten.
When creating a playlist, try to choose music that resonates with you personally rather than what you know others like. This is your chance to create a collection of songs that really speak to you specifically. Whether it’s catchy pop tunes from high school or nostalgic ballads that remind you of a special time, let the music guide you back to the things you once loved.
Remember, this playlist is supposed to be personal to you. Sure, you can share it if you want. But don’t create with the intention to impress others or make others happy. Instead, use this exercise as a reminder of the things you like, your personal tastes, your memories and nostalgia, and the experiences that have shaped you.
Read a book just for fun
I love self-help books. In fact, I’ve written a couple of them myself. I’m always on a journey to learn something new or try to improve. One of the beautiful things about being autonomous humans is that we can learn and grow whenever we want!
But—that doesn’t mean that every second of free time needs to be spent on self-improvement (looking at you, high achievers!).
Instead, if you’re not already in the habit of it, try picking out a book to read just for the fun of it. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a fiction novel if that’s not your thing. If you enjoy historical biographies, have at it!
This is to help you get a sense of what you—yourself—like. Many people who feel like they’ve lost their sense of self feel that way because they’ve spent years chasing something external, whether that’s their desired career path, higher education, a relationship. Sometimes it’s simply being a parent and you’ve found—after a long time—that you don’t even remember what you like anymore.
So next time you’re in Barnes and Noble (or searching through Audible) pick out a book that won’t do anything for you—other than make you smile.
Practice having a unique opinion or point of view
This is something that took me years to become comfortable with and I think it’s going to be an ongoing project. Many of us struggle with the anxiety of feeling like we’re putting others out. We don’t want to say anything that will ruffle feathers, cause conflict, or especially hurt someone’s feelings. And because this is often top of mind, we can tend to be wary of sharing our thoughts and opinions, at least until we get a read on the room and know where everyone else stands first.
I want to invite you to practice sharing your opinion, even if you don’t think it’s shared by others. Now, this doesn’t have to be done in a brash way or a way that puts people out. As a natural-born people pleaser and peace-maker, I’ve found that I’m most comfortable sharing my opinion and then over-explaining my reasoning.
Sometimes I’ll start by saying, “Now I’m ok with being wrong, so tell me if you disagree, but I think _____ because _____ and _____.” I always make sure that I offer a reason (or two!) behind my opinion because it makes me more comfortable knowing that others know how I got there. I also like them to know that I’m still comfortable hearing other’s contrasting opinions. I find that often sets a great tone for open dialogue rather than “group think.”
Get a good night’s rest
It’s amazing to me (and not in a good way) how long Josh and I kept staying up til 1 in the morning, even with two kids! And the next morning we would wonder why we were so tired. I think we did this because we felt like it gave us more time to ourselves after the kids went to bed.
What we didn’t realize, however, was that, because we were only getting 6ish hours of sleep each night, we had only a fraction of the energy we really needed for the next day. This led us to take more naps, not having the motivation to do much of anything in the morning and gave us less energy to spend on our kids.
Once our kids started going to school, we hung up the towel and said, “That’s it. We’re going to bed earlier.” And let me tell you—we have never looked back. There’s nothing like going to bed knowing you’re going to get a good 8 hours of sleep in. And the next day? You have energy! You want to find things to do. You might think about picking up your hobby again. Heck, you might even exercise.
Not to mention, getting a good night’s sleep is so important when it comes to your hormones and your immune health. Face it—you’re not a superhero. If you have a cold or your hormones are out of whack, you’re not going to have the energy—mental or physical—to work on improving your sense of self.
Keep a journal
Journaling is one of my favorite ways to quickly feel like I’m screwing my head back on tight. The great thing is, it doesn’t have to be this drawn-out ritual. Sure, journaling could be several pages of word vomit in an effort to get every thought swarming your brain out on paper. Or, it could simply be a few lines of bullet points about how you felt that day and why. Nothing fancy.
The important thing about journaling is to make sure it serves you. Maybe it helps clear your brain to talk to text into a note on your phone. Maybe, almost like a food journal, you like to look back and remember what emotions you were processing a few weeks ago. Whatever the case, when you’re done journaling, you should feel like you were able to either make a little bit of sense of how you were feeling or feel a small sense of relief that you were able to unload some of your thoughts on paper (whether physical or digital).
Practice “owning” your seat at the table
This practice can take many forms depending on your lifestyle and commitments. For me, I had to learn to work through my imposter syndrome when it came to work. Eventually, I was able to realize that I was hired for a reason and I’m more helpful when I speak up to offer my opinion, expertise, and ask thoughtful questions than when I sit back waiting to be told what to do.
For others, this may look like simply feeling comfortable with yourself when you’re at a social event. Instead of trying to match someone else’s energy or doing whatever you can to be easily liked, try to take a step back and get comfortable in your own skin. Remember that you often like people not despite their quirks, but because of their quirks. So don’t feel like you need to conform to the majority to be accepted.
If you feel like taking this lesson to the next level, try to even get comfortable with not being accepted at all. Not everyone is your crowd or your “people,” and that’s ok! They don’t have to be. Don’t let the fear of rejection make you turn your personality into silly putty so you can mold yourself and become all things to all people. That’s a track to lose your sense of personal identity—quick.
Take care of your body
Taking care of your body is such an effective way to feel like you’re really taking ownership of yourself. And while fitness is a big part of that, there are many other ways to take care of yourself as well.
Washing your hair more often because it makes you feel clean and put together could be a really small change that really changes how you feel about yourself. Maybe going on a walk each day, not only for your physical health but for your mental clarity as well.
Also being mindful of the foods you put in your body is very important when it comes to taking care of your body and being in control of your health. Be thoughtful about the foods you choose to eat, understanding that every food has an effect, either positive or negative. Some foods work to nourish, while others drain our body of energy. It can be very challenging to change eating or fitness habits, but the positive effects trickle into many other areas of life!