Understand yourself, manage yourself

Understand yourself, manage yourself

Have you ever thought about your skills and strengths? Have you ever tried to recognise your talents? Read on to find a few simple rules to help you understand and manage yourself.

First of all, let me explain why I write about this topic and why I think it is important. It started a year ago when Making Waves introduced a “strength-based development program for leaders”. This was my first contact with a theory suggesting that we should focus on our strengths, not our weaknesses. I am sure most of you have been taught the opposite in the past.

The classic learning model we usually follow is about improving our weaknesses so that we can balance our skills. But why do we do that? No one can be a “master of everything”. The theory I was introduced to presents a big change by proposing that it is a waste of time to invest your effort into areas you are poor at. Why not focus on and excel in the areas you are good at?


The development program in Making Waves helped me to realise what my talents are, but I still lacked the tools I needed to improve them. Fortunately, I found them recently when attending a series of lectures given by Renata Gut (entrepreneur, coach and professor at Kozminski University in Warsaw). This was a turning point for me – now I know not only what to focus on but also how to do it. To help you become a master of self-organising, I will share these simple tools with you.

You can’t manage something you don’t know exists

If you do not know your talents and strengths, you do not have a chance to let them grow. This may sound trivial but have you really identified your strengths? The development process starts by understanding who you are and what personal assets you possess. That is the first step – becoming self-conscious. When you know more about your talents, it is time to collect the knowledge, skills and tools that allow you to utilise them. That is the second step – self-development (building your strengths over your talents). The last part is to understand how to learn effectively. Identify actions that give you the best results combined with your preferred learning style.


Understand your personal resources (talents) to build your strengths

We are all different. Everyone owns a specific set of resources that can be used to build our strengths. You have probably heard many times about people who are considered to be talented. That suggests that talent is something unique that only some of us possess. Forget about that! All of us are talented in some way. The Gallup Institute has identified 34 talents a person can have. These talents have been split into four groups: relating, impacting, striving and thinking talents.

What is a talent, then? According to the Gallup Institute,

“talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied

Remember that finding your talents is just the first step to build your strengths. Strength is a lot more than just a talent; it is talent combined with the knowledge and skills that allow you to make use of it.

Strength = Talent + Knowledge + Skills

Visit Gallup’s website to read more about talents and assess your own talents (test costs 10$).

Understand your brain

Your brain processes information using two hemispheres, left and right. The traditional generalisation assumes that the left hemisphere is responsible for analytical thinking while the right one is related to creativity and abstract thinking. This phenomenon is called “brain function lateralisation”. The biggest contributor to this theory is Robert Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. Recent research questions this theory, proving that there is no simple division of brain functions between hemispheres. Regardless, we can still identify our dominant hemisphere to find out how our brain reacts on stimulus and how we act in different situations. There are plenty of tests in the “internet of everything”. Use one of them to measure yourself.

Left hemisphere dominant people are generally well-organised and structured. While given a task, they usually start by preparing an ordered list of actions that has to be done to achieve the goal. They probably do not feel comfortable with abstract tasks related to innovative ideas.

Right hemisphere dominant people tend to use their intuition and do not enjoy making detailed plans. They may even find planning a limitation of their creativity. Instead of focusing on details, they prefer to see the “big picture”. If you find yourself a bit sloppy in your daily routines (like reporting hours in your timesheet) you may belong here.

Hemisphere dominance attributes
Left – Right

uses logic – uses feeling
detail oriented – “big picture” oriented
facts rule – imagination rules
words and language – symbols and images
present and past – present and future
math and science – philosophy & religion
can comprehend – can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
knowing – believes
acknowledges – appreciates
order/pattern perception – spatial perception
knows object name – knows object function
reality based – fantasy based
forms strategies – presents possibilities
practical – impulsive
safe – risk taking

Identify your sensory preference (to find your learning style)

Have you ever felt that you learn most effectively by reading? Or maybe you prefer to walk around the room speaking loudly to remember what you learn? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to know how to learn the most effectively? Actually, it is possible. The phenomenon is called “sensory preference” and describes the way we benefit from using different senses. There are three main sensory preferences: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. You may identify your preference to find the learning pattern that suits you the most. According to Arlene Taylor, individuals with specific preferences can be characterised in the following way:

Visual Preference


  • Use visual words and metaphors (I see what you mean, it’s crystal clear to me, do you see what I mean?)
  • Draw pictures in the air with arms/hands
  • React faster and/or more intensely to visual stimuli
  • The brain responds more quickly and intensely to visual stimuli

Learning process

Use vision for their primary perceptual preference and can remember most easily what they read or observe. They can close their eyes to recall what they have read or seen earlier.

Auditory Preference


  • Use auditory words and metaphors (that sounds okay to me, it’s clear as a bell, do you hear what I mean?)
  • May cock head to one side when listening carefully
  • The brain responds more quickly and intensely to auditory cues

Learning process

Learn best by listening to verbal instruction (a lecture, discussion, or recording). They prefer to rely on sounds to learn.

Kinaesthetic Preference


  • Use kinaesthetic words and metaphors (e.g., that doesn’t feel right, I’ve got a gut feeling, let’s hammer out a plan)
  • Often prefer to work with their hands
  • Relate to the world through touch, taste, smell and sensitivity
  • Often extremely discriminating about who touches them and/or very sensitive to the type of touch

Learning process

For these learners, whole body movement and real life experiences are often needed to absorb and retain the material to be learned. They learn best when they are totally involved in an activity.

Knowing your sensory type will help to choose the learning tools that can give you the best results. You can assess your sensory preference using the test: Sensory Preference Assessment (PDF).

Use Pareto’s rule in real life

There are so many things I’d like to learn. So much knowledge to gather. How can I use my time effectively? I’m sure you have asked yourself these questions. Fortunately, there is a simple answer: use Pareto’s rule. Pareto’s rule (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule) assumes that you can achieve 80% of effects using 20% of resources (time). The rule applies very well to your self-development. It is simply a matter of finding the actions that give you the best results. “The 80/20 Principle” book by Robert Koch will give you detailed information about this phenomena, if you are interested.

Start by asking yourself two questions and write down the answers:

  1. What are the actions I do that gives me 80% of the results?
  2. What are the 20% of things I would like to focus on?

This will help you both to work smart and to focus on the right things. How to find those “best bets”? Well, the answer is given earlier in this article.

What you need to do:

  • Identify your personal resources (for instance using Gallup’s test)
  • Find out your dominant hemisphere
  • Identify your learning style

When you have done that, you should answer the following questions:

  • What are the things I should put my effort into? Talents
  • What are the tasks that suit me and what is difficult to me? Dominant hemisphere
  • How should I learn, what is my learning process? Sensory preference

Combine the above with the Pareto’s rule and you will have a great chance to become a master or self-organising. Good luck!

Photo: Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia Commons