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The Millennial's Guide to Building Self-Awareness

"Self-Awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths." - Gary Vaynerchuck, 4-Time NYT Bestselling Author
How to build self awareness

    I, Ankurman Shrestha, am an honest, intelligent, and a goal-directed person. I've come with me organized, responsible, and committed.

    I'm a self-starter, optimistic, enthusiastic, decisive, focused, disciplined, punctual, and I have a tremendous positive mental energy and I'm going to keep moving forward despite all the obstacles in my way.

    In fact, I believe the obstacle is the way.

    To live inspired and live to inspire others is my purpose in life and I'm going to do that by connecting to the highest within myself more and more consistently, and live with a radiance sense of joy, hope, optimism, courage, creativity, strength, playfulness, diligence, patience, persistence, happiness, mojo, equanimity, and tranquility.

    I, Ankurman Shrestha, am an entrepreneur, an educator, a researcher, and a future NYT Bestselling author. I'm truly grateful for all the opportunities, obstacles, people, and events occurring in my life.

    I love and accept myself and I have a billionaire mind. And I'm fuckin unstoppable.

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    So this is the answer I designed for the question - "Who am I?", when I was going through one of the most challenging periods in my life. I'll write more about how I ended up with the above words in another essay.

    But for now, let's dig into self-awareness.

    If the word self-awareness doesn't ring a bell with you, then it means 2 things -

    1] You definitely are not well aware of Gary Vaynerchuck's work, and

    2] You're probably skeptic about the field of self-help and positive thinking but you're curious to learn more about yourself and thus you've been trying to uncover the answer to - Who am I?

    That's cool. I was in the same boat back in early 2013.

    My goal with this essay is not to try to convince you to get into self-help if that's not your thing.

    But since you're reading this, I guess you're curious to learn more about who you are.

    So let's begin.

    self-a·ware·ness
    self əˈwernəs/
    noun

    → conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

    "Who am I?" - This is a flawed question.

    Because you don't know who you are, which is the main reason why you're trying to get some answers. 

    So when you keep asking yourself that question, your brain just gets confused and goes - "WTF are you trying to figure out?"

    During the darkest period of my life, I learned the power of asking open-ended questions.

    Let me give you some examples.

    If you're seeking an answer to the question - "Who am I?"

    Try to ask yourself these questions instead -

    • "What are my strengths?"
    • "What are my core values that make me do what I do in life and business on a consistent basis?"
    • "What do I believe about life, relationships, work, health, spirituality, etc?"
    • "What are my goals in life?" or "What do I want to make happen over the next 1,2,3,5,10 years?"
    • "What belief systems will I have to have so as to make my goals come true?"
    • "What actions can I take this moment to get one step closer to making my goals a reality?"

    If you noticed something, all the questions begin with a - What.

    Asking open-ended questions is how you step out of your limbic system i.e. the emotional part of your brain and tap onto your pre-frontal cortex i.e. the rational part of your brain.

    So when you're on the journey of self-exploration, instead of beginning with the question "Who am I?", which is an easy one to mislead a young individual (I was one of them), replace this question with the questions from the above list.

    In fact, let's do it right now.

    What do you think is one of your strengths?

    If you always find yourself curious about new topics and like to read a lot, then curiosity and love of learning could be one of your top strengths.

    If you love, love, love the act of creating something from scratch, then creativity may be one of your strengths.

    Honesty, Hope, Perspective, Zest, Bravery, Perseverance, Judgement, Teamwork, etc - these are some of the basic character strengths that you and I both possess in different magnitudes. 

    By now, your brain must have given you some keywords which you believe are your strengths. Correct?

    Now we can do the same thing with your core values and beliefs too.

    Ask yourself - "What is that one core value that I must never break in this life time?"

    "What do I believe to be a truth about life/relationships/health  for myself?"

    This whole process of asking yourself open-ended questions that start with 'What' is the first step to uncovering the answer to your main question - Who am I?

    The funny and interesting thing is - this is the most important step in building self-awareness.

    And one does not have to quit their job and travel around the world to figure this out. Pun slightly intended because I've seen this trend becoming mainstream in today's world.

    Heck, I was one of the guys who was trying to uncovering my personality by being a vagabond. 

    Not that I regret any of the travel parts. But the fact that one has to quit their job and backpack through Central America while battling with mild to chronic depression so as to uncover more about themselves - this story that has been floating around in the social space is absolutely BS! Of course, I'm saying this based on my experience.

    But anyway, is the whole self-awareness thing making some sense now?

    If you said Yes, then here are...

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    5 Tools You Can Use To Build Self-Awareness

    Gary Varynerchuck is a big proponent of self-awareness. He sounds super passionate in his videos.

    But one thing that I have noticed is that he does not do a good job of sharing the systems that one can use to become more self-aware. It just ends up being anecdotal.

    I wrote this essay to give you those systems and have tried to back it with science as much as possible.

    So are you ready? 

    Let's begin.

    1. VIA Institute of Character's Strengths Assessment

    The VIA Survey is a free, online scientific survey of character strengths in the world that was born out of the research of Dr. Martin Seligman in the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of the pioneers of the field of Positive Psychology. 

    "But why do I need to know my Character strengths?"

    If that's your question, then here's the answer from their website, which is backed by research. I'm talking peer reviewed journals in publications where research work are highly scrutinized by experts before being published.

    Because knowing your character strengths isn't just interesting information. When you apply it skillfully, your character strengths can actually have a significant positive impact on your life.

    Research shows that using your character strengths can help you:

    → Buffer against, manage and overcome problems

    → Improve your relationships

    → Enhance and overall well-being

    Would you like to have these results in your own life? 

    I know that I would.

    If you believe in science, then take the VIA character strength assessment. It's a short 120 questions quiz that will rank your 24 strengths in order of highest to lowest.

    The lowest strength doesn't mean you lack them completely. It just means that your top strengths come naturally to you while for your lower ranked strengths, you'd have to make conscious efforts to get its benefits.

    → To take this test, go to this link - https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Science-Of-Character and click on the 'Take The FREE VIA Survey' button.

    They also have paid, detailed quizzes but the free assessment is more than enough to give you a great head start on your journey to uncovering more about yourself. 

    Below is my latest result of the Character Strengths Quiz that I took on Jan 27th.

    As you can see, my top 5 strengths are -

    1. Honesty, Authenticity, and Genuineness
    2. Hope, Optimism, and Vision
    3. Perspective and Wisdom
    4. Zest, Enthusiasm, and Passion
    5. Forgiveness

    This makes total sense to me based on where I am in my life right now. 

    The 'forgiveness' as among the top strengths was a bit surprising to me but I now get it as I had a breakthrough moment back in September 2016. That's when I started to stop beating myself over some past experiences and habits I had developed.

    Also, there were a couple of folks whom I still held some grudge against. So my hypothesis is that forgiveness became a strength since I've been using it consistently during the last quarter.

    Now let's look at my lower ranked strengths.

    #24 Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence - I get this. Back in October of last year, Joey and I were in California for a week for ConCon by theHustle. While Joey, for whom, this is a top strength, he would get all excited and mesmerized by looking at the sea waves on the Pacific during our drive along the US Highway route 101.

    I was like - Meh!

    #23 Humor - I have put in some efforts to laugh. I currently giving myself regular doses of Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Conan O' Brien, John Oliver and Louis CK to get my humor meter up.

    #22 Spirituality - I've been over the whole "What is my purpose in life?", "Who am I" phase. So today I practice spirituality with the help of the 5-minute journal and a simple morning prayer. That depression thing I'm done with for the good.

    #21 Love - Not one of my strengths either as I have to put in some effort in order to love others and even myself. I've got all these crazy thoughts and ideas on how to leverage technology to get humanity together that I tend to be too hard of myself.

    Knowing your strength is the first step to building self-awareness.

    I keep this as the #1 step because the VIA assessment is free and it feels good to know that you have some characters that are your strong points.

    Now what should you do after you know your character strengths?

    This is what I do - 

    I play offense with my top strengths and then based on the situation, I work on strengthening my lower ranked strengths through new leanings.

    I hope this is making some sense now. 

    If you said yes, then block some time on your calendar for this weekend to take the VIA Character Strength Quiz.

    I prefer early mornings or before going to bed because you want to take all self-awareness tests when you are in a proactive mode instead of in a reactive mode when your brain is just reacting to the triggers in your environment.

    → Here's the link again - https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Science-Of-Character

    So go ahead and schedule this quiz. Once you've done that, here's the next one...

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    2. Strengths Finder 2.0

    This one costs 10 or 15 bucks but I recommend it because it helps to see any similarities by the different strength test methodologies.

    According to the Strength's Finder assessment, these are my top 5 signature strengths - 

    1. Intellection

    2. Learner

    3. Input

    4. Achiever

    5. Discipline

    If you were to match these with my VIA Character Strengths, you can see that my #3 Perspective and #6 Love of Learning resembles the Intellection and Learner themes according to this test.

    #4 Zest connects with my Achiever signature theme at the current moment in life.

    Of course, you don't want to get too caught up doing the reflection as one can continue to draw multiple conclusions. But it's actions that produce results.

    I'm confident that you'll see some patterns in your true strengths after doing these 2 tests.

    A general rule of thumb that I practice - 

    PLAY OFFENSE WITH YOUR TOP STRENGTHS AND THEN WORK ON YOUR LOWER STRENGTHS BASED ON HOW THE SITUATION DEMANDS IT.

    I'm not using the word 'Weaknesses' because it doesn't feel good when I say to myself that I suck at some qualities.

    Rather, I see it as something I must continue investing my time and energy to get the desired results.

    → To take this test, go to this link - https://goo.gl/YkuDkg and select the 'Top 5 Strengths Access' (costs $15 but it's worth the awareness).

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    3. The GRIT Assessment

    Here's the science of GRIT:

    Grit did not relate positively to IQ but was highly correlated with Big Five Conscientiousness. Grit nonetheless demonstrated incremental predictive validity of success measures over and beyond IQ and conscientiousness. Collectively, these findings suggest that the achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time.

    In the Longevity Project, which is one of the famous studies in psychology to answer who lives longest - and why, this is what researchers found.

    The secret to living a longer life had nothing to do with happiness, a lack of stress, avoiding hard work, or a lack of worry. In fact, if you’re one of the don’t-worry-be-happy folks, this research reveals that people in your tribe died the earliest from accidents and preventable illnesses. 

    The secret to living a longer life was - 

    Living conscientiously and using forethought, planning, and perseverance in all aspects of one's life.

    How do you define conscientious?

    con·sci·en·tious
    kän(t)SHēˈen(t)SHəs/
    adjective

    → (of a person) wishing to do what is right, especially to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly

    Since the measurement of Grit correlates with how long you'll live on earth, I think that this piece of information is something we want to pay attention - especially organizations who want to hire stellar team members.

    Yes, you can say that - correlation doesn't mean cause and effect. I love that you're coming with your skepticism. That's cool with me.

    I'd just say - build awareness and experiment with it for a certain period and then draw your conclusions whether it works for you or not.

    Ankurman GRIT Score

    That's where I'm at with my Grit at the current moment. So I've still got room for improvement.

    → To take the GRIT test, go to this link - http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/ 

    Now let's move to the 4th one which is the...

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    4. Myers Briggs Test

    This is a common one. If I were to guess, you took this test once upon a time and may still remember or might have forgotten what was your type.

    See, here's the thing with self-awareness tests. Finding out what is your personality type is just the first step.

    To get the results that you want in life, you'll have to leverage these pieces of information about yourselves to design and plan your next actions.

    The 16 Personalities types in this test is beyond the scope of this article but I'll share the system I use to make sense of my results. 

    Tim Ferriss, Elon Musk are 2 folks I know and look up to, who share the same type as me - INTJ. I could be all happy about this coincidence. But I ain't going to get apples if I don't take actions.

    The most important thing you must realize that all self-awareness tests are just resources that will help you to take more informed actions so that you can reach your target quicker instead of making blind guesses like most people do when they hop from job to job, relationships to relationships.

    People in this boat are not self-aware of their strengths, values, and beliefs. They may think that the next job will create more work-life balance but that's just a more-time taking way to approach the topic of finding what gives meaning to one's life.

    Now as long as you have the patience and persistence, you'll do just fine. But if you really want to hack the system, then start with becoming self-aware and then take your next step - whether it's in your career or in your romantic relationships. 

    Here's how I make sense of my INTJ type -

    Introvert

    Naturally, I'm an introvert. Now if I have to make a meaningful connection with someone whom I haven't met yet, I often have to take the first step and step out of my comfort zone.

    So what did I do?

    It was after this information that I started to learn how to communicate and build rapport with people with the help of the work of Robert Cialdini, Andrew Carnegie, and Chris Voss.

    Intuition

    Intuitors process data more deeply than sensors and are happy to trust their subconscious and 'sixth sense', gut feel, intuition or whatever you call it. They are good at spotting patterns and taking a high-level view, as opposed to digging into the detail.

    They like ideas and inspiration and tend to have a focus on the future, where they will plan to change the world rather than continue to live in the imperfect present.

    At work, they like to acquire new skills and working at the strategic level.

    So now how do I use this piece of information about myself?

    I can now acknowledge the reasons behind the ideas in my head and my focus on creating a better future for humanity i.e. my inner passion for changing the world comes from my Intuitive side.

    Thinking

    This one has been very helpful. Since I'm naturally inclined to get my head too wrapped up in putting the pieces of the puzzle together; today I'm working on building the habit where I don't end up pondering too much upon things that are not going to empower me or help me get the results I want to get.

    Judging

    Judgers approach life in a structured way, creating plans and organizing their world to achieve their goals and desired results in a predictable way.

    This tells me my fascination with journaling. But sometimes all planning can lead to no action. So I tend to be aware that I must also take actions when it comes to life decisions.

    They get their sense of control by taking charge of their environment and making choices early.

    I try to automate routines by building habits as much as possible. And whenever I have to live or work in a new environment, I tend to spend some time into designing that environment so as to help me create and sustain high energy levels.

    At work, they decide quickly and clearly, and work to get the job done.

    For one of my startup ideas 'Storied Crafts', I literally flew in to Mexico with a DSLR in my hand to hustle and document the real stories of the artisans who make handicrafts. This happened 2 weeks into the ideation phase. But I ended up shutting down the startup after 7 months when I became self-aware that I was just moving further away from my core values. 

    So today, I take a balanced approach when working on multiple projects by focusing on getting daily progress for each, compared to going full-on in one and neglecting the other.

    But really, INTJ’s vision, creativity, and competence in executing their plans make them viable in just about any career that requires them to think about what they’re doing. While some careers, such as low-level sales and human resources, clearly do not play to their strengths, Architects are able to build a niche into just about any institution, including their own, that they put their minds to.

    Now as I'm embarking on the job market, I'm paying heed to the responsibilities and making sure that it requires me to tap on to my analytical thinker and researcher side, and also gives room to be creative and execute at the same time. 

    INTJs have a strict code of conduct when it comes to their work, and if they see coworkers valuing social activities and “good enough” workmanship over absolute excellence, it will be a turbulent environment. For this reason, INTJs tend to prefer to work in tight, like-minded groups – a group of one, if necessary.

    I dislike doing social hangouts - whether it's at work or with friends. I used to get a bit uptight about that. But this awareness has helped me to plan some fun time with my friends thereby strengthening our relationships, and also connect with like-minded people in person rather than just me being lost in my own world of thoughts or books.

    → To take the Myers Briggs test, go to this link - 16personalities.com/free-personality-test

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    5. Core Values Assessment

    Strengths are great to be aware of. But what I found was that even when we are playing offense on our strengths, we can still have inner conflict if our actions are not aligned with our values. 

    I personally experienced this during 2 of my (now closed) businesses when even though I was doing work that I was excited about, I still felt at a gut level that something was off.

    Taking inspiration from Simon Sinek's 'Start With Why', I designed my own Core Values Assessment that has served me well. 

    This is how it works. 

    Step 1: 

    → Write one of the experiences each from your personal and business/professional life when things were going perfect - exactly the way you had envisioned (preferably over the last 18-24 months)

    Personal Experience

    Professional Experience

    Step 2: 

    → Now from the list below, bold 10 values that you believe you were being guided by or subconsciously using to take actions towards those events.

    Honesty, Authenticity, Genuineness

    Achievement, Success

    Fun and Adventure

    Authority, Power, Influence

    Balance and Stability

    Love and Connection

    Boldness and Courage

    Compassion, Peace and Inner Harmony

    Challenge and Competency

    Wealth, Security

    Citizenship and Community

    Contribution, Giving and Service

    Creativity, Novelty and Ideas

    Curiosity, Knowledge, Learning

    Faith and Religion

    Determination, Enthusiasm, and Passion

    Fame, Popularity and Status

    Humor and Pleasure

    Self-Respect

    Justice, Kindness and Fairness

    Wisdom and Perspective

    Friendships and Happiness

    Leadership, Recognition, and Reputation

    Growth and Spirituality

    Hope, Optimism and Vision

    Loyalty and Respect

    Meaning, Clarity in 'Why'

    Responsibility and Trustworthiness

    Step 3: 

    → Answer the questions below about your personal and professional event.

    Personal Experience

    1. What did you accomplish?

    2. What inspired you to take actions towards it?

    3. What did you do differently this time than your normal day to day activities and tasks?

    4. How did it make you feel after the event was over?

    Professional Experience

    1. What was your feat?

    2. Other than what was required by your job, what motivated you to achieve that feat?

    3. What did you do differently this time than you usually do for your projects?

    4. How did it make you feel after the event was over?

    Step 4: 

    → Enter your Top 5 Strengths from the VIA Character Strength Assessment

    Strength #1

    Strength #2

    Strength #3

    Strength #4

    Strength #5

    Step 5: 

    → Go through the above 10 values you selected and your top 5 strengths. You may see some overlap.

    → Now eliminate 5/10 of the selected values which you feel you were not being guided by 100%.

    → This will leave you with your top 5 core values. Again, you evolve as a person every day.

    → These values are to make you more self-aware of who you are and how you have been living till date and thus use them to guide your next steps in life and business.

    The main reason behind distilling down your values to 5 is so that you can have clarity in your core values which enables you to guide your life with laser-like focus.

    Honesty, Authenticity, Genuineness

    Achievement, Success

    Fun and Adventure

    Authority, Power, Influence

    Balance and Stability

    Love and Connection

    Boldness and Courage

    Compassion, Peace and Inner Harmony

    Challenge and Competency

    Wealth, Security

    Citizenship and Community

    Contribution, Giving and Service

    Creativity, Novelty and Ideas

    Curiosity, Knowledge and Learning

    Faith and Religion

    Determination, Enthusiasm and Passion

    Fame, Popularity and Status

    Humor and Pleasure

    Self-Respect

    Justice, Kindness and Fairness

    Wisdom and Perspective

    Friendships and Happiness

    Leadership, Recognition, and Reputation

    Growth and Spirituality

    Hope, Optimism and Vision

    Loyalty and Respect

    Meaning, Clarity in 'Why'

    Responsibility and Trustworthiness

    The one's in bold and colored are my top 5 core values that resonate with my true self. Today that's what I use to guide my future actions and behaviors and take decisions during any moment of inner conflict.

    The first step to creating lasting changes is to build self-awareness. The above 5 assessments will give you a great reference to help you understand yourself. 

    Give it a shot and let me know if you found any of these quizzes helpful or if you're still skeptic about this process.

    - Ankurman Shrestha

    P.S. You can access the Google sheet of the above core values exercise in this link - https://goo.gl/ZHjJ6x

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    Oh hey! Since you read all the way till the end, I think you'll also like the following posts.

    Ultimate Influence: The Millennial's Guide to Solve Inner Conflict

    Master Your Inner Psychology: The Habit that will Turn Your Life Around for the Best

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    BTW I'm always open to new thoughts and ideas. So if you've got something you'd like me to think about or add to this essay, then please comment below.