Have you ever had a lightning bolt moment?

When it comes to personal growth, progress usually unfolds in an incremental way: over time, we gradually get ourselves more organized, or establish a running routine, or wean ourselves off Diet Coke (ahem).

But every once in a while we experience an epiphany: we’re hit by a bolt from the blue, and in an instant we understand how to fix something in our lives that hadn’t been fixable the day, or even the hour, before. When we have a lightning bolt moment, something in our brains says Aha! and everything snaps into place in an instant.

I’ll never forget the Thursday morning I was home with my kids, losing my temper again about the disastrous state of our house—and I’m not usually hot-headed! In a burst of insight, I realized that Thursday was the only day of the week I was home all day with the clutter, and that clutter was making me crazy.

Nothing changed about my home in that instant. But in that moment, I suddenly understood the problem for the first time. There was a conflict between my personality and my environment, and once I understood that, I could change it. Every single day is more peaceful in my house (okay, except for the ones when it truly looks like a tornado just blew through) because I know that clutter makes me crazy, and I have the power to control it.

When it comes to personality, knowledge is power.

That’s a pretty mundane example. I have serious ones: I could tell you about the time I was contemplating taking our SJ child (that’s Myers-Briggs speak) to counseling … until I read up on his personality type. His behavior was textbook for his type (as was my reaction for my type), and I stopped worrying. Or about how for the first ten years of our marriage I thought that my husband was terrible at fighting fair … and then I learned that the way he handled conflict was completely consistent with his personality. He wasn’t wrong, just different than me, and we’ve navigated our conflicts much better since the moment I realized that.

I could tell you how freeing it was for me to learn the crushing grief I felt over problems that weren’t actually mine to grieve didn’t make me crazy, it made me a highly sensitive person. My life changed the moment I realized this. And I’ve long recognized that I feel absolutely broken when I have to make any decision that will result in disappointment for someone. Once I recognized that was a perfectly normal reaction for a 9, that horrible feeling didn’t go away, but understanding why I felt that way—and why it was perfectly normal for someone like me—helped enormously.

Here’s the thing about epiphanies: they have the power to change your life in an instant. You’re hit by a bolt from the blue, and it all becomes clear: you suddenly understand how to make that big decision, have that hard talk with your kid, or share a cubicle with your co-worker without losing your mind.

There’s just one problem: you can’t force an epiphany. (If only.) But you can cultivate an atmosphere that’s welcoming to the burst of insight: learning about your own personality is more likely than any other thing I know—barring those milestones like a wedding, move, or funeral—to invite a lightning bolt moment.

When you strive to know yourself, you’ll be rewarded with the knowledge you need to make actual, concrete changes in your life—changes that improve the way you work and rest, learn and serve, create and celebrate. Changes that help you better show love and participate in a community in the way that’s right for you.

It’s not easy. Sometimes learning about yourself is downright painful. But it’s worth it.

P.S. Check out Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before for more about Lightning Bolt Moments, this time in the context of habit change.

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

1. Have you ever had a lightning bolt moment, where something about your own personality—or that of someone close to you—and its effect on behavior suddenly made complete sense?

2. Cultivate an environment that welcomes these insights in your own life by…

  • reading about personality types
  • talking to other people who have similar traits
  • journaling your feelings, motivations and struggles
  • making time for self-reflection by turning off the TV or radio and spending time alone

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