Most of our actions are unconscious. We simply react in real-time.
Modern neuroscience tells us we are consciously aware of about 5% of our thoughts. Most of our behaviors and emotions are reactions to the 95 percent of brain activity that occurs beneath our awareness.
At the root of our automatic, knee-jerk reactions to life is a lack of self-knowledge. Modern wisdom says you should just be yourself: very appealing because no effort is required. Older wisdom says you should cultivate the self because a consciously directed life is much more likely to satisfy and bring meaning.
According to Eastern and Western psychology, we have an ego/persona, a shadow, and a self. The simplest way to understand them is:
Ego is your identity, while the persona is the mask you wear to survive and thrive – your social personality.
Shadow is the aspect you hide so that you can integrate and find acceptance.
Self is your true inner nature, who you are, and who you always will be. It actually includes the ego and the shadow.
In many cases, identity and relationship issues, and mental health problems stem from these three parts of ourselves working independently (often in opposition) rather than in harmony with each other.
Psychological education and inner-reflection methods such as meditation create healthy, harmonious selves.