10 Tools to Know Yourself Better with Skill



“The best mirror is an old friend.” — George Herbert

The more you know about yourself, the more you can skillfully motivate yourself, play to your strengths, limit your liabilities, and make the most of any situation.

Socrates taught us to “Know thyself” … but how?

What are some of the more effective ways we can learn about our patterns for thinking, feeling, and doing?

10 Tools to Know Yourself with Skill

Here are some of the tools, lenses, and techniques that I’ve found to be helpful for self-awareness:

1. Abstract, Concrete, Random, Sequential

Are you comfortable learning abstract concepts or do you prefer concrete examples?   Do you prefer to follow information sequentially or do you prefer a more random approach?   Dr. Anthony F. Gregorc identified 4 learning styles: Abstract Concrete, Abstract Sequential, Concrete Random, and Concrete Sequential.   Think about how you can use this for structuring your own learning approach or how you can tailor your approach when you interact with others.    See Links on Abstract/Random/Concrete/Sequential.

2. The 5 Thinking Styles

How do you make sense of the world?  Your thinking style can help explain why you think or act the way you do.  In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Richard Bramson identified five thinking styles: Synthesist, Idealist, Pragmatic Thinker, Analyst Thinker, Realist Thinker .  Synthesists are creative thinkers that thinks in terms of opposites. Idealists believe in lofty goals and high standards. Pragmatic thinkers are interested in practical, short-term results.  Analyst thinkers are methodical, and pay attention to accuracy and detail.  Realists thinkers are doers that base reality on whatever their senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch – tell them it is.

3. The Satir Categories

The Satir Categories explain how you use language.  Virginia Satir was one of the most effective family therapists ever and  NLP adopted the Satir Categories for improving communication effectiveness.  The Satir Categories are: Blamer, Placater, Computer, Distracter, and Leveler.  The Blamer blames other people.  The Placater wants to make everybody happy and avoids conflict.  The Distracter distracts people from the issue and uses generalizations instead of specifics.  The Leveler stays congruent and is focused on the facts.

4. The 7 NLP Meta-programs

Metaprograms are simply your default patterns in strategies or thinking styles  In Unlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins identifies 7 NLP Meta-programs: Towards or Away, External or Internal, Sorting By Self or Sorting by Others, Matcher or Mismatcher, Convincer Strategy, Possibility vs. Necessity, Independent, Cooperative and Proximity Working Styles.

5. The 6 Styles Under Stress

When you know your style under stress, you can recognize it and choose a more effective approach. In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, identify 6 styles under stress: Masking, Avoiding, Withdrawing, Controlling, Labeling, Attacking.  Masking is understating or selectively showing your true opinions.  Avoiding is shying away from sensitive topics.  Withdrawing is existing a conversation or exiting a room.  Controlling is coercing others to your opinion.  Labeling is putting a label on people or ideas so you can dismiss them as a stereotype or category.  Attacking is belittling or threatening.

6. The Lens of Human Understanding

Do you tend to focus more on task or people?  Do you tend to act more aggressively or passively?  In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner offer a simple model for understanding behavior: Task Focus, People Focus, Aggressive, and Passive.

7. The Johari Window

The Johari Window, created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is a model for knowing and sharing yourself with skill. It consists of four quadrants: Open Self, Blind Self, Hidden Self, Unknown Self.  The Open Self is what others know about you and you know too.  Blind Self is what others know about you, but you don’t.  Hidden Self is what others don’t know about you, but you do.  Unknown Self is what others don’t know about you, and you don’t either.

8. The 10 Types of Difficult People

What are some difficult behaviors that might cause others to think of you as a difficult person?  If you know what these patterns are you can change them or respond more effectively.  In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner identify 10 types of difficult people patterns: Tank, Sniper, Know-It-All, Think-They-Know-It-All, Grenade Person, Yes Person, Maybe Person, Nothing Person, No Person, Whiners.

9. The 16 Myers-Briggs Type Indicators

The Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) is a lens for understanding your behavior based on four pairs of preferences:  extraversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judgment vs. perception.  Extraversion and introversion are where you draw energy from.  Sensing and intuition are how you gather and perceive information.  Thinking and feeling are how you make decisions.  Judging and perception are how you relate to the outside world.

10. Discover your “Why”

Why do you do what you do?   When you know your purpose, you know when you’re on path or when you’re off and it’s easier for you to summon your inner strength and live your values.  It’s also a way to keep your thinking, feeling, and doing congruent.  See Discover Your Why.

Photo by Tina Keller.


  1. Thanks for this — I particularly like the point about discovering your “why” — stepping back and taking that 30,000-foot view of why you’re doing what you’re doing, in my experience, can make even something really mundane-seeming like organizing your folders feel meaningful.

  2. That is quite the list! I found it interesting how my concrete-loving mind was so happy towards the last part of numbers 3 and 5 especially, when the examples kicked in — I felt like yay! I could actually feel the shift to relief in my body. Proving how I like real things I can see in my mind. I find I write my song lyrics very much in ways that paint scenes, thus the show tune quality of some of my songs. And I do tend to be sequentially oriented.
    And in agreement with Chris on the “why,” sometimes in life the why of our actions leads us to all we need to know.

    Happy new year!! I know you’ll make it a great one , J.D.!

  3. I’ve recently taken (after many years) again – the Myers Briggs test. This time the results have really stayed with me, and more than that – it has really helped me to think about how I interact with other people – as I start to see life a bit more through their eyes, and how I can best communicate with them based upon this. Really great stuff!! As are all these thoughts here today!

  4. #8 – 10 types of difficult people seems a perfect feet for me – thank you for sharing. I wasn’t at my best lately. I believe i can learn tons from the book

  5. Hi JD,

    Great list! The one that really resonated with me was the last one about discovering why we do what we do. I think it is so vital to be aware of what motivates us. We do things for reasons and once we know the reasons, we can either change course or stick with what feels comfortable. We are responsible for our choices.

    Hope all is awesome and Happy New Year!

  6. We all seem to be looking for ourselves all the time! or is it just me?

    I was trying to go see the movie Invictus today with my friend – no show, so I have found all the blog posts with the most links and just read and read to my hearts content. I do so love to find myself reading!

    I have now spent 97 minutes clicking and reading your links…and re-reading some of your best posts…thank you and nice review giving me knowledgeable glasses to gaze towards the morrow!

  7. @ Chris

    It’s a great reminder that we’re our best meaning makers and organizing your folders is a great example. It is pretty mundane and yet organizing my folders is organizing my life.

    @ Jannie

    You’re a great painter of scenes and that’s what I like about your songs. Bones is a classic.

    Happy New Year to you, too!

    @ Lance

    The powers of reflection are strong in you.

    I used to dismiss the Myers Brigg when I thought it was a way of labeling people. When I realized it’s a lens you can use to identify preferences, then it took on a whole new meaning.

    @ Alik

    It’s a great book and fun to read. I’ve had it forever and it’s been one of my best lenses for understanding how people work.

    @ Nadia

    Thank you!

    I agree — it’s a totally different experience to be on your path and making stuff happen, driven by your purpose. Choice is one of our best slider bars in life.

    Happy New Year to you, too!

    @ Patricia

    I’m behind on movies, but catching up fast.

    It sounds like you’re soaking up all sorts of learning! Investing in yourself is always one of your best investments. Self-awareness is the key to pushing your own buttons effectively.

  8. Hi JD

    This is really useful. Thank you.

    I once looked at the visual, auditory, kinesthetic and digital ways of making sense of the world (also NLP). Where your language use indicates your preference. That is quite useful too as you can see what mediums will be best for you when it comes to learning, how to interact with others of different preferences etc.


  9. Hi
    ‘re Good. I’m writing a research project on thinking styles. Please could you take this stuff way to send e-mail.

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