It’s safe to say that money can’t buy happiness. Everyone can think of someone rich & miserable. Fame, too, doesn’t guarantee a high quality life – just consider the list of famous people who committed suicide or became addicts. Feeling lost and disconnected with your life & experiences is a terrible way to live.
Winning the game of life means figuring out your purpose and passion. Wouldn’t that be great? But where do you start? If you want traction on the journey to find yourself, you’ll need to start on solid ground. Only then can you pull yourself forwards. But so far, nothing has excited you. There’s no grip and you’ve got no grit. How can you figure out who you are when you’re clueless? This week’s post introduces a clever method of self-discovery!
This week’s journal topic: Finding yourself.
Have you ever played the game called 20 Questions? In the game, there is a thinker, someone who imagines an object or person, and the questioner, someone who must guess the object or person. In order to gain hints about what the thinker is thinking of, the questioner asks questions. The catch is that the questions must be answerable by Yes or No only.
The game works as long as the existence of the object or person is known to both the thinker and the questioner. (If the questioner has never seen or heard of a tiger, the Questioner will never guess the “Tiger” that the thinker is imagining.) Whether or not the questioner guesses accurately after 20 Yes or No Questions depends on her critical thinking skills and imagination.
The critical thinking involved is called deductive reasoning. In deductive reasoning, you have a sentence or series of sentences, and then you draw conclusions from those sentences. In 20 Questions, the Yes answer helps to narrow the scope of possibility for what the object might be:
Question: Is it found on Earth? Answer: Yes
Sentence for deductive reasoning: It is something that could be found on Earth.
Knowing this, the questioner can focus on objects located on Earth. She has eliminated the possibility that the thinker was imagining the moon or the milky way, or any other space objects.
Sometimes the deductive reasoning sentences are formed using negation (adding a NOT), like so:
Question: Is it alive? Answer: No.
Sentence we would use in deductive reasoning: It is NOT alive.
As the game progresses, the questioner accumulates a list of these sentences. For example, It is NOT alive. It is found on earth. It is NOT bigger than the palm of my hand. It is NOT furry… etc. The questioner “wins” the game by choosing her questions very carefully and logically, in order to eliminate the greatest number of possibilities with each answer. The greater her deductive skills and imagination, the more likely she’ll guess accurately.
20 Questions & You
By now you’re probably wondering why I took 300 words to describe a game you’re already familiar with. The reason: If you take the time to understand the method used in 20 Questions, you can use it to figure out who you are. The key is this:
If you are floating through life, feeling lost, with no idea who you are, then you must approach each day as if you are the questioner in 20 Questions. Even when you do not know who you are, each day can provide you an answer – either the sentence or the negation – that eliminates many possibilities about who you are NOT.
Ask yourself questions about your experience – Do I like this? Is this an experience I want to repeat? Do I have other choices than the one I made? When you become aware of your own likes and dislikes and sensitive to what feels right and what doesn’t, you will slowly begin to define yourself. Over time, you will “win” the game of life. Merely by knowing who you are NOT, you can use deductive reasoning to hone in on a definition of who you are.
The trick is to keep asking questions. What does that mean, to turn every day into a self-reflective question? It means to experiment with new skills, have new experiences, and sometimes explicitly ask yourself questions. For example:
Not sure if you’d enjoy acting? Why not “ask a question” by taking an acting class. Pay attention to the answer by taking time to reflect – did this experience feel good and would I do it again? If the answer is No, then maybe try a different kind of acting (e.g. improv) until you know the answer to the question: Am I an actor? Nah, that ain’t me.
Never painted? Paint. You might discover a talent. If you’re NOT a painter, give it up and try something else!
Never chatted up someone in the coffee line-up? Never smiled at the barista? Try it. Was it awkward but excited something inside you? Hmm… maybe I’m an extrovert and I didn’t realize it!
There is nothing at stake, no risk of failure, if you can learn something about yourself from every experience.
The deductive path to an Authentic You
The 20 Questions process of defining yourself can take weeks, months, years, or decades (who knows!). But the important thing to remember is that it works, provided that you do your best to connect with yourself, i.e. your thoughts and emotions. This means that you don’t answer the “questions” according to what other people say or what other people value. You do not let others tell you what to try or avoid. If you let others decide, this method will not help you find your authentic self. In fact, it will make your mental picture more murky.
Your parents want you to get married. Your friends want you to join a gym with them. By all means, go ahead and ask the question again (meaning, try the experience again). But if you’ve already gotten the answers, Right now I prefer being single, or I’d rather do walking than workout, then don’t flog the dead question. Have the courage to listen to your own answers. Ask new questions that will eliminate more possibilities. Remember: you have more than 20 Questions, but a limited amount of time in which to ask.
- What memory do you have of playing 20 Questions? (If you haven’t, try it out.)
- Do you have a clear mental image of who you are and are NOT?
- Define yourself as best you can in positive sentences. Try writing about your values, who you are related to, what makes you excited, and what bores you, etc.
- Define yourself with NOT statements. (I am NOT…, I dislike…, etc.)
- Look at your answers to questions 3 and 4. Does viewing both who you are and who you are NOT help to create a mental picture of yourself?
- What is one great question (experiment) you can ask yourself tomorrow? What could this new experience tell you about yourself?
- The point of 20 Questions is to get better at asking the right questions and use imagination, in order to win the game. In life, winning the game is figuring out your purpose and passion. How can the 20 Questions strategy in life help you to eventually find your purpose or passion?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
By the way, the questions for my Know Thyself 2019 project are designed to help you define your thought patterns and opinions. Doing all 365 questions will help you learn to ask yourself questions.
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