Who am I? Whether out of exasperation, wonderment, sarcasm, or genuine curiosity, you’ve probably asked that question at one point or another. And you’re not alone. The world is obsessed with self-discovery.
There are therapists, clubs, groups, and techniques all dedicated to helping you find yourself. There’s so much information available to you, it might be hard to figure out where to start. But the first step on the road to self-discovery is introspection.
What is Introspection?
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as, “the process of observing the operations of one’s own mind with a view to discovering the laws that govern the mind.” It comes from a Latin term meaning, “to look within.” So introspection helps us see ourselves more clearly and understand ourselves better. How can this process help you?
Let’s say you’re on your way to a friend’s house and you get a little lost. If you call your friend to ask for directions, what’s the first thing he’ll ask you? Where are you? Why? Because it’s impossible to give you good direction without knowing where your current location.
The same is true in life. We all have goals we want to achieve, qualities we want to develop, and new things we want to learn. But we can’t reach those destinations if we have no idea who we are right now. Introspection is the door to knowing ourselves better, we just have to walk through it.
The Benefits of Introspection
How else do we benefit from introspection? We become better people. In what ways?
● Introspection can help you identify and get rid of harmful thinking.
● It can help you have a more positive view of yourself and others.
● It’ll boost your confidence in tackling difficult problems.
● It contributes to stronger relationships.
● It’ll help you reach your goals.
Why It’s Hard
So if introspection is so great and delivers so many benefits, then why do many people struggle to do it? We live in an extremely fast-paced world. And because we’re deeply entrenched in the busyness of day-to-day living, most of us feel like we don’t have time for introspection.
We’re often exhausted and running on auto-pilot. The time we do have is spent stressing about the next thing on our to-do list. So what can you do?
Stop. Take a deep breath. And create just a little bit of space for yourself in your day, even if it’s just five minutes. Find a quiet place where you can think clearly without judging yourself.
Try asking yourself one of the following questions:
● When I wake up in the morning, do I feel ready to take on the day?
● Am I reaching my personal goals?
● What concerns do I have about the future?
● Am I living the life I want?
● Do I have issues that interfere with my happiness?
● Do I need to put more effort into my relationships?
● Who am I?
● Am I stressing out about things that are beyond my control?
● Am I thinking about negative things before I fall asleep?
● Am I holding on to something I need to let go of?
● What’s most important to me?
But what if those questions feel too big and overwhelming? What’s the starting point for an introspection beginner?
Introspection Begins with Observing Your Behaviors
Psychiatrist Judith Orloff describes a technique we often use to understand other people better. More than just listening to what others have to say, we often find ourselves interpreting their non-verbal cues. We observe their behavior objectively and try and understand how they’re really feeling or what they’re really thinking. Why do we do that?
According to Orloff, what we say communicates only 7% of our meaning. 55% of communication is through body language and the rest comes through our tone of voice. Even if you didn’t know the stats, you likely have learned through personal experience that there’s usually a lot going on behind the words a person says. But how can this help you learn more about yourself?
Transform Inc suggests the following, three-tiered technique.
● How is your mind? What are you thinking about? Where is your attention focused right now? Notice and root out any self-judgment, negative comparisons, or assumptions.
● How is your heart? How are you really feeling right now? And how are your emotions affecting you?
● How is your body? Are you tired, tense, energized? What is your gut telling you?
It can be difficult to observe ourselves honestly, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The more we practice self-observation, the easier it will become.
Who am I? You might not feel like you can answer that question right now. But by making time for yourself and practicing self-observation, you’ll understand yourself better and experience all the benefits of introspection.