Self-discovery, creativity, motivation, and answering the question “What do I want?”
This article is one in a series of articles about self-discovery, creativity, motivation, and answering the question “What do I want?”
If you missed it, the previous article in the series was about understanding “What are your deepest dreams for your life and relationships?” You can read it here: surface vs. deep goals.
Today I’m going to explain how to do a simple self discovery activity I particularly like.
Why this activity is best done when you’re in a positive mood.
This task should ideally be done when you’re in a positive mood. Positive emotions enhance creativity and the ability to think broadly and flexibly, whereas when people are in a negative, bored, depressed, or anxious mood, their thinking tends to narrow.
Doing this task when you’re in positive mood will give you options and a sense of direction when you’re in a bored/negative mood and can’t think of something to do to lift yourself out of your mood funk.
The activity is to write a list of … (don’t freak out yet…)
100 Things You Want to Learn (“Learn” = broadly defined, not necessarily in the accomplishing a project sense).
It’s best to start with the assumption that there are at least 100 things you want to learn and this activity is just a matter of tapping into these and collecting your ideas all in one place.
Aiming for 100 is far more important than getting to 100. The idea of aiming for 100 is to encourage you to think very broadly, scrape the bottom of the barrel of your imagination (you never know what you’ll come up with), write everything you can think of on the list, and not evaluate or self-censor.
The goal is to generate ideas for learning activities you would enjoy – things that would be both pleasurable and give you a sense that you’re moving in valued life directions. “Value life directions” is a way of saying deep goals (e.g. One type of deep goal is to have more fun and spontaneity in your life. Read more about deep goals.).
Your List of 100 Things You Want To Learn
How to use the Macro setting on your camera.
How to juggle
How to build a tree house
How to add your own video to youtube.
How to make a favorite desert your Mum used to make when you were a child.
Find what your favorite style of painting is. Or, find a painter whose work you love.
Find what flowers you like the smell of the most.
Find a new author whose books you love.
How to change a tire.
Find out how the concept of your favorite TV show was developed. Where did the idea come from?
Write anything that comes into your mind on your list. You can evaluate whether you really want to do it later. Right now, you’re just stretching your thinking muscles.
You’ll start to notice categories emerging. For example, things you want to learn related to technology. Once you identify a category, try to think of more things in that category.
You won’t get to 100 in one sitting so fold the list up into your purse or wallet, carry it around with you for a few days, and add items whenever you think of them.
Why the focus on Learning Activities?
Activities that are pleasurable, have a meaningful purpose (including being emotionally meaningful), and a moderate degree of challenge, tend to have more psychological and mood benefits than activities that are merely pleasurable.
Thinking about what you want to learn is also important from the perspective of Self-Expansion Theory. The idea behind Self Expansion Theory is that people having a pre-programed tendency to feel good when they’re growing psychologically and building psychological resources (like knowledge).
Variation: Make a List of 100 Conversations You Want to Have.
A variation of the first type of list is to instead write a list of 100 Conversations you want to have. There might be some overlap between the two types of lists e.g. you might want to ask your mother to show you how to make that favorite desert she used to make. If you already did the first list, ask yourself which of the things you want to learn you would like to learn through conversation with others? Who could you ask?
Other avenues to explore:
Who in the world would you like to speak to? If you got a chance to speak that person, what would you want to talk about? Even if you don’t ever get to have a conversation with a particular person, asking yourself what you’d want to talk to them about can be enlightening. There might be other people you can ask the same questions.
What personal values and deep goals do you have that are hidden from the world? What’s important to you that you don’t get to talk about? How could you find appropriate ways to talk about these deep goals so your deep goals become more integrated into your life, and you give people the opportunity to get to know you at a deep level.
Do you have interests you don’t tend to talk about very often with your existing friends? Online is a great place to start looking for other people who are talking and writing about the topics you’re passionate about, but local communities can be too.
Once you’ve made your List of 100 (or whatever number you got to), try out something on the list when you feel like you need a mood or energy boost.
Or, if you know you have a time period coming up in which you might expect to be bored, lonely etc. plan what you need to try something from the list during that period.
Start with the low commitment things on your list – the things you can do with little investment of time, money, or energy.
I created this self discovery activity by adapting the basic concept of Lists of 100 which I first read about this book “Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth. Chapter 12: Lists.” (Amazon link)