Right now is when you make major choices, like which field to work in, which friends to stay close with, and so much more. Sorry to add to the pressure of figuring out who you are and what’s right for you, but new research shows people who are truer to themselves are also better at communicating, have tighter bonds, and are overall happier.
“Knowing your natural tendencies lets you work with them, leaving you more fulfilled,” says career coach David Borchard, author of Will The Real You Please Stand Up? While IDing aspects of yourself that are outside-influence-free sounds daunting, it’s not. Just answer these questions, which will give you insight on what blisses you out. Putting this crucial info to use won’t require huge moves, just tiny tweaks that equal a big happiness impact.
Which friend do you admire the most and even kind of envy?
“So many women struggle to figure out their goals,” says Meyers. “One way to tune in to your true passions is to look at what about a friend’s life you’d like to steal.” Envy your pal who has a high-powered job where she gets awesome opportunities? You’re dying for a career with growth potential. But if the girl you’re jealous of has a low-key gig that allows her lots of free time, you’re craving a work-life balance.
Start acting on the traits that helped your friend get to where she is—say, never declining a project from your boss, if you want a high-stakes career. Or if you love how your pal always has time for social stuff and work, look at things like her habit of running errands first thing in the a.m. so she won’t have to turn down invites in the evenings.
Is your weekend agenda already set by Wednesday afternoon?
Haven’t a clue where you’re going until five minutes before you step out the door? Routines drag you down. That’s why you have an awesome time when, say, you run into a high school friend and end up spending two hours browsing through a clothing boutique with her. Avoid things that corral your go-with-the-flow tendencies. “If you have brunch plans, don’t tell your mom you’ll meet her an hour later,” says Rhonda Britten, a life coach in Boulder, Colorado.
Girls whose entire weekends are booked by the middle of the work week feel most secure with structure. Anything too disorganized—like an out-of-town friend who is visiting and refuses to tell you her itinerary in advance—will overwhelm and annoy you. Fit recurring events into your routine (think a foreign language class that meets every Wednesday and Saturday morning). “Having that blocked out gives you a calming sense of order,” says Seth Meyers, PsyD, a Los Angeles psychologist and author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription. It’ll also help keep you sane with things you can’t plan for—like what a guest’s going to want you to do after her plane lands.[nextpage]
How many times did you move as a kid?
New research shows people who stayed in one spot are more likely to have several close bonds. “Because of that, regular interaction with them is what keeps you happy,” says Britten. Feeling bummed but not sure why? It’s probably that work craziness has kept you from seeing a close friend. Meet her over lunch to catch up.
If you moved around a bunch, you have a different relationship skill set: You are a pro at connecting with new people, but take a little longer to form tight bonds. “Rushing into something is going to make you more anxious than you already are about letting in someone you recently met,” says Meyers. Rather than spend marathon sessions with new people, schedule a few shorter meet-ups.
What were the last plans that you ditched?
Canceling on something you could’ve attended can be revealing. “Sometimes, we like the idea of doing things, so we don’t admit that we actually find them draining,” Borchard says. Trends in what you’re skipping show what makes you anxious or just plain bored. “Once you know your stress triggers, you can tailor your plans accordingly,” Meyers says. So if you keep bailing on shopping trips with all your pals and happy hour with coworkers, then group get-togethers probably aren’t your thing. Meet up with one or two buds instead of five. You’ll still log in bonding time, but it’ll be in a way that’s more enjoyable.
Always tempted to cancel on a specific person? The “real you” thinks you’d be better off without them.
What’s a recent compliment someone gave you that came as a surprise?
Worried that you bombed the toast at your friend’s wedding, but other guests say you rocked it? Don’t brush it off—it’s a chance to tap in to a side of yourself that you might have unintentionally buried. “We make judgments about ourselves early on,” Borchard says, “so other people often have a truer picture of us.”
Ask for a second opinion from another friend. “If multiple people see a positive quality, it has a real presence in your personality,” says Britten. “Nurturing it will exhilarate you.” So in this case, speaking up more at meetings or sharing more funny stories at parties will keep you more true to yourself.