When it comes to personal well-being, most us know that taking care of our overall health is important. How we make progress in our emotional, mental, and spiritual lives is largely up for debate. The world of self-help is viewed by many as being too woo-woo and more fluff than helpful. And the industry brings in billions of dollars every year, with no sign of slowing down.

But the topic of self-help in regards to improving and knowing oneself is as old as humanity. Spending time and energy nourishing our souls has been treated as the goal by many of history’s most celebrated thinkers.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. - Howard Thurman

The best part? Self-reflection is free and can be done anytime, anywhere. Whether going for a walk or pouring a cup of tea (or wine) and writing in a journal, taking time to self-reflect is part of how we live, in the words of Socrates via Plato, well-examined lives.

To help get started, here are five prompts inspired by five great thinkers on the art of self-knowledge:

1. "Trust thyself." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prompt: What do you believe to be true? When has someone challenged that belief?

2. "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." - Marcus Aurelius

Prompt: Spend the first five minutes every morning for a week writing down all the things you’re grateful for and notice how this changes your outlook.

3. "We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be." - Anne Lamott

Prompt: Think back to childhood. What did you want to be when you grew up? Better yet, who did you want to become? Are you that person now? If not, what is the first step you can take to change?

4. "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

Prompt: What daily actions or habits do you do that make you feel more alive? What daily actions or habits do you do that feeling draining? What can you do to align your actions and habits with your beliefs?

5. “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Prompt: Think about something that is upsetting you in the present moment. Is there a deeper problem than might first appear? What actions can you take to change your circumstances?

"When I ask for help with my creativity, I get it." - Julia Cameron

Nourishing the soul doesn’t happen overnight: it's a lifelong practice. For best results combine curiosity with kindness, and trust that pursuing self knowledge isn’t selfish, but rather the greatest gift we can give ourselves and one another.


Monica McCarthy brings people and ideas together as the Experience Impresario of Holstee. A veteran Broadway and television actress, she is passionate about the arts, philosophy, and travel, which she muses about here. Her favorite splurge is membership passes to NYC museums.

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