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Understanding Self: The Foundation of Success

If you understand others you are smart.
If you understand yourself you are illuminated.
If you overcome others you are powerful.
If you overcome yourself you have strength.
If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.
If you can act with vigor, you have a will.
If you don’t lose your objectives you can be long-lasting.
If you die without loss, you are eternal.

  • Lao Tzu

One of the keys to being successful in any aspect of life is understanding other people. How do we do that? We have to start by understanding ourselves. The better you understand yourself, the better you will be at everything you do, whether it’s working, being in a relationship, being a friend, being creative, running a business, making decisions, and the list goes on. Sound important? It should. Understanding self is critical to everything else! So, let’s get started. Open up a blank document, or grab a pen and paper, and let’s build a reflection of you.

Personality Traits

One of the best tools in our time is the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. If you haven’t already done it, go to and take the free assessment. Do yourself a favor and take it honestly. Don’t answer the questions the way you want other people to think you are, answer them truthfully. This isn’t a judgement of character, it’s a self-assessment tool.

When you know these things about yourself based on your personality, you can then determine if your job is right for you. You can assess opportunities and determine if they are a good fit for you. You can pinpoint the sources of stress in your life and understand why things are affecting you the way they are, and make changes accordingly. Finally, you can better understand your relationships with other people by understanding the differences in your personality traits. This will make you a better communicator, a better spouse, a better friend.

Exercise: Write out your personality type based on the assessment. What sticks out to you? What surprised you? What did you already know that got confirmed?

Peaks and Troughs

I went over this at length in my recent blog on Effective Time Management. You’ll want to read that too, if you haven’t already, but here’s the crux of it:

Everyone has highs and lows throughout the day. Some of us are morning people. My eyes pop open sometime between 4 am and 5 am every day. After a cup of coffee, I am at my best mental condition, primed up and ready to tackle the heavy thinking. This will wear off by lunch time, and I will only be operating and 40% – 60% capacity at best for the rest of the day. I have a crash around noon, then I get a second wind in the mid-afternoon, with another crash around 4 pm.

This is important for me to know, because it allows me to schedule my activities accordingly. If I’m going to write a blog, I want to be at 100%, so I know not to try to do that in the afternoon or evening. If I have errands to run, I don’t waste my prime brain time by doing them in the morning. Instead, I save them for the afternoon so I can make the best use of my time.

If you are the opposite of me, you’ll find my schedule to be ridiculous. After all, I’m ready to go to bed at 8 pm, and you might just be getting into your prime time. I might not do my best thinking at 10 pm, but it’s important for me to understand that others can be wired different than I am, and I shouldn’t base my expectations of them on the way I do things. Understanding this relieves me of the stress of unrealistic expectations of others.

Exercise: Under your personality type, write out the 24 hours of the day (1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm, etc). If you’re on your computer, color code the hours based on your operating capacity at that time. Black is for sleeping. Green is for Best, Blue is for Second Wind, Red is for Crash times. If you’re doing this in paper, draw lines to block the day into sections, and label each one accordingly.

Know Your Triggers

There is an acronym in the recovery community called HALT. That stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The idea is that if you realize that you are irritable or stressed, you do a quick HALT inventory. The source of the problem is often one of these 4 things.

Hungry: Being hungry is a huge thing for me. You know those Snickers commercials with guys turning into divas when they get hungry? That’s totally me. I didn’t know that for a long time, so I just ran around all morning in a bad mood, jonesing for lunchtime. Now I know that I should eat a protein bar at 10 am, and another one at 3 pm. If I don’t I’ll get hangry (hungry/angry). I have explained this to those around me, and they know to ask me if I need to eat if I’m being grumpy. Guess what? My life is way better.

Angry: Being angry about something can easily spiral into a nose dive for some people. If the source of your stress is being angry, identify what exactly you are angry about. If you can isolate it, then it’s easier to solve it, or at least keep it from spilling over to the rest of your day and those around you.

Lonely: For extroverts, too much isolation is a bad thing. If you are an extrovert, and you get your energy from being around people, then having a job where you are by yourself all the time can be stressful. On the opposite side of that, if you are an introvert, then being around people too much can be stressful. Whichever side you’re on, you can quickly recognize if you need to either get a few minutes of alone time, or go find someone else for a quick people break.

Tired: Being tired is a very common source of irritability. If you determine that this is the problem, take a nap. If a nap isn’t an option, then often a 5 minute brisk walk around can help. If you have the opportunity to just close your eyes for ten minutes (set an alarm!), it can help you out tremendously.

Exercise: What are your triggers? What can you do to solve them as quickly as possible? What do you need to have with you to manage your triggers? Do you have a trigger that’s not on this list? How can you manage it?

Putting The Big Picture Together

Knowing your personality type will help you understand your tendencies, and the way you are wired. This is useful beyond measure. Add in your daily peaks and troughs, your triggers, and your solutions, and you have a blueprint for making great decisions and being prepared to handle life. Once you have been doing this for a while, and read up on other personality traits, you will start to understand the people around you better, and that will lead to a better relationship with them.

Here’s an example of some of the things I learned about myself from this process:

I am an INFJ-T.

I am an introvert. I can function around other people, but I need alone time to recharge, and this is very important. I do best when I am alone more than I am around groups of people. (I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t know this most of my life. I just knew that I was way more comfortable in social situations if I was drinking.)

I am very idealistic, I emotionally invest in everything I do, I’m sensitive to stress and criticism, I’m organized and decisive, and I have very high standards and expectations of myself and others. (I knew most of this, but seeing it in writing has really made me realize that my job needs to matter. If what I’m doing all day is meaningless, then I’m never going to be happy doing it for long, no matter how well it pays. I also need the people I work with to have a high investment in what they are doing. If I’m the only one putting in 100% effort, I’ll go crazy.)

I don’t respond well to Authoritarian or Command-and-Control leaders. (This is a huge big deal for me to know about myself. I spent 10 years of my life working either in the Army or for the Army as a civilian, and both were 100% C-a-C environments, and I was miserable. Knowing this will help me make better decisions about where I work.

Weaknesses that I need to be aware of and work on:

Very sensitive, get my feelings hurt easily, take everything personally

Prone to burn-out: need to pace myself

I tend to be dismissive of other people’s ideas. – work on listening, and realize that just because someone has a better idea than me doesn’t mean that I failed.

Peaks and Troughs

I have my Time Optimizer Template below, which tells me what time I should do each task. Green is my best time, blue is okay time, red is my worst time.

5 am          1 pm

6 am          2 pm

7 am          3 pm

8 am          4 pm

9 am          5 pm

10 am         6 pm

11 am         7 pm

12 pm         8 pm

9 pm – 4 am – sleeping

HALT Inventory

I need to always have protein bars or crackers with me, everywhere I go. I also need a quiet, isolated spot to get away from people when I need a break (5 minutes alone can do a lot for me). I should set an alarm and take a ten-minute power nap after lunch. If I don’t set the alarm, I’ll sleep for 2 hours, and I’ll be a wreck the rest of the day.


Hopefully your sheet looks something like this, although a bit longer (mine’s short since it’s just an example). The more extensive it is, the better. Refer back to it a lot until you know it by heart. It’s a living document, and it should change as you change, so refine it and update it when necessary.

Use these insights in every aspect of your life. You will find that the better you understand yourself, the more you will be able to build a lifestyle that brings you satisfaction and joy. Your relationship with yourself will improve, and your relationships with everyone else in your life will improve as a result of that. Self-discovery is at the center of everything.

Foundation of success


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J. Boyd Long is an author, blogger, website developer, and the CFO of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. In his spare time (ha!) he likes to paint, read, canoe, and hike in the wilderness. You can subscribe to this blog in the blue block, and future blogs will be delivered to your email. Warning: Subscribing may increase your awesomeness quotient. Please feel free to comment, and share this blog on your favorite social media page! To learn more, please visit

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