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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Grow Thyself

Updated: Apr 17

An ancient Greek inscription from at least 2600 years ago reads, “Know Thyself.” This notion captured the attention of many early Greek thinkers, including Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Galen, and it still demands our attention in contemporary psychology. Knowing ourselves turns out to be a difficult assignment.


 

Consider three ways we might know ourselves.

 

Way 1: Accuracy. We seek to know ourselves fully and objectively, understanding both our positive and negative qualities.

 

Way 2: Self-Enhancement. We want to know our best qualities while shielding ourselves from our worst attributes. If this means turning a blind eye to our weaknesses, then so be it.

 

Way 3: Self-Verification. We have certain preconceptions of who we are, so we attempt to verify and refine these views by getting feedback from others on both our positive and negative qualities.

 

I’m okay with either Way 1 or Way 3, but please no, don’t let it be Way 2.


The Inner Zoo

It's Way 2, isn't It?


Yep. Sigh... As one researcher concluded, "there is a self-zoo full of self-defense mechanisms."


There's probably no escaping the zoo, but maybe we can tame ourselves a bit. I'm writing a series of blog posts on The Quiet Ego, a notion developed by psychologists Heidi Wayment and Jack Bauer who describe the Quiet Ego as that part of ourselves that can learn to "counter the egotism of the noisy ego."


Quieting our egos involves 1) detached awareness, 2) interdependence, 3) compassion, and 4) developing growth-mindedness. This post is about growth.


Eyeing the Future

We see a lot these days about mindfulness and living in the present moment. This is important and good, but so is balancing the present with where we are heading in the future. Growth-mindedness considers what might become of us, and others, too.


Returning to Greek philosophers for a moment, they also distinguished between hedonia and eudaimonia. Hedonism tugs us toward feeling pleasure in the present moment whereas eudaimonia is about human flourishing, becoming our best selves.



Growth-mindedness is focused on eudaimonia, seeking "the good life," and not only for our individual selves but for our neighbors, our neighbors' neighbors, and humanity in general. Maybe even that's too small, as I'm sure my spouse would want to add that flourishing for our non-human companions is also important.


While an argument can be made for hedonia, it can also be a snare for authentic growth and sometimes leads to more misery than we might have ever imagined. This is what Dr. Russ Harris calls The Happiness Trap.


Learning, Changing, and Growing

Wayment and Bauer developed a scale to measure the Quiet Ego, and one of the items related to growth-mindedness is based on "learning, changing, and growth." I love this so much, and I wonder if these three may help us tame the inner zoo.


How much more do I understand myself, both strengths and weaknesses, than I did five years ago? How much more will I understand five years from now? And if I know myself better today than in the past, then what am I doing to grow into some better version of myself, honestly facing my struggles and weaknesses while feeling grateful for my strengths and abilities? And if I am growing into my best self, then what impact is that having on others around me?



It's so much easier to see problems in others than in myself because, well, Way 2 (self-enhancement) is our biological and spiritual default setting. We may never escape the self-zoo entirely, but we may at least eye the exit by considering how we grow through both our successes and failures.


It's likely grandiose and definitely cliche to say that we want to leave the world a better place than we found it, but maybe it's a useful way to ponder what it means to grow and become a self that promotes flourishing for those around us.


Or maybe it's enough just to remember Mr. Rogers. That guy had a quiet ego. I bet he shows up in my final blog post for this series.


 

 Previous Posts in this Series:



 

Note: This blog is not monetized, and I never anticipate it to be. My hope is just to bring a bit of positive psychology to one small corner of the world. Ha! As if the world has corners...








1 Comment


rnmuthiah
Apr 17

I keep thinking about asking my kids to follow your blog. I collected the 10 challenges you wrote about in response to the plague of meanness in our society (and ourselves) and linked them in a doc for my kids; I should just invite them to subscribe directly!

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