Know Thyself

Know Thyself
Socrates "Know Thyself"
Socrates hassled people at the shops asking them impertinent questions so they might “Know Thyself.” Photo by Szilas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We have been exhorted since ancient times to “know thyself”, mainly because you come to know the gods by knowing yourself. Though some ancients felt this was just a way to find out how ignorant and stupid you are. But, knowing yourself offers the opportunity to achieve a level of happiness by choosing careers, partners and so on that make you happy. It can also help you choose and achieve goals that satisfy your needs for a worthwhile life.

Know Thyself

So, how do you get to know thyself?

Another common aphorism is “travel broadens the mind.” It does this by exposing you to new ways of thinking and doing things. As well as challenging you to learn how to do things you already know in new contexts, like buying train tickets. It gives you a new appreciation for the things you take for granted, and it’s an excellent way to expose aspects of yourself you don’t normally see at home.

Here are five things I learned about myself while I was away.

1. It’s not safe to be around me when I don’t get enough sleep

I loose the ability to coordinate my body and trip over, walk into or drop things. And I become more impulsive and am just as likely to drag you across a road without looking.

But more worryingly, I can get very angry and aggressive in a split second without warning. I may physically assault you, or push you onto that road instead. You might be “luckier” and I might just shout at you, but I’m not sure that hurting your feelings is a better outcome than hurting your body.

According to Rachel Swalin, these are all normal side effects of sleep deficiency. More concerning are memory deterioration, difficulty making decisions, and uncontrollable micro-napping. If that’s not bad enough, according to Ann Pietrangelo and Stephanie Watson, prolonged sleep deprivation can trigger paranoia and suicidal thoughts as well as help you gain weight, damage your heart, and mess with your hormones.

It’s time to stop feeling guilty about afternoon naps and embrace them as not only radical self-care but a marriage saving necessity.

2. A dark and quiet space with fresh air is essential for sleep

Once I get to sleep I’m okay for a while but the slightest noise can stop me sleeping or startle me awake. Just an air conditioner is enough to prevent sleep. And I start to feel like I’m suffocating if I can’t have a window open.

This is also fairly normal according to Dr Rachel Salas. Ideally, you need a quiet, dark and slightly cool room with a good sized bed on the soft side of the mattress spectrum and a supportive pillow.

In the future, I’ll look for old fashioned low rise hotel buildings that have opening windows Or holiday cottages.

3. I do better with slow awakenings

Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep, but I get stressed out by fast loud awakenings. Like when someone sets the hotel alarm for 3 am. Or the coffee pod style machine makes so much noise it leaves me trembling with my hair standing on end.

According to Micheal Breus, PhD (a clinical psychologist), there are four “chronotypes” that explain your biological clock (take a quick quiz to find yours here). According to his theory, I am a wolf and he recommends I start my morning with a 15-minute walk in the sunshine. Apparently, I am at my best around 7 pm.

So, after my activity tracker wakes me up, I think I might go for a quiet stroll while I wait for my quiet slurpy filter machine to make my coffee. Or maybe I’ll just drink it outside.

4. I need to take better care of my feet

I do not give my feet enough credit or concern. They carried me 10 – 15 km (6.2 – 9.3 miles) each day of my trip, and while they complained the entire time, they still did it. Even though at the end of the day I thought I would never walk again, the next day they got up and did it again.

Feet accumulate damage over the years through ill-fitting shoes, improperly healed injuries, and poor circulation. You may find that while the structure of your foot is fine, you have developed an awkward gait compensating for an injury that now causes you pain. And like the rest of you, your feet lose condition when you don’t exercise. When you sit a lot, your body makes physiological changes to deal with the fallout, like padding your bum with extra fat instead of your feet. Or it could “just” be old age creeping up on you with arthritis or decreasing flexibility.

A podiatrist specialises in feet and can help you manage this with targeted exercises, taping, insoles, or in extreme cases surgery. A physiotherapist can help you with manual therapy (massage), prescribe strengthening exercises, and other therapies like heat and cold or ultrasound.

My feet would probably appreciate it if I lost that weight, and took some advice about how to strengthen the muscles to better support the tendons and ligaments that help them do their job. And conveniently, there’s a new podiatrist opened in the village…

5. I prefer udon

You may be familiar with the term “ramen profitable” as popularised by Paul Graham to denote a business that makes just enough money to live on. It’s the point at which you don’t have to rely on investors and are relatively secure; your bank can’t force you into bankruptcy, and your venture capitalists can’t seize control of your business. The term refers to instant noodles which Graham considers the cheapest possible food, though he acknowledges that a healthier subsistence food is rice and beans (and provides a recipe).

So if it came to a choice between ramen (egg noodles), udon (wheat flour noodles) and soba (buckwheat noodles) profitable. I’d rather live on udon followed by soba. Though I’m fairly sure this distinction is irrelevant to the argument.


What have you learned about yourself on vacation?

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