Introspection is a good thing to a point, but just like everything else you can take it to far. I am the king of taking a good thing too far, flying right by that sweet spot that most people stop at. Don’t get me wrong it is great to be able to understand your own thinking and behavior, having the ability to analyze what you are thinking and feeling gives you opportunities to actually catch yourself when you are beginning to get negative or least minimize the damage. Often all this self-analysis will be followed by a quest to further understand your mind, and then your off on this self-improvement journey and before you know it you find out that a significant portion of your day has elapsed.
Now here is the problem, all this self-analysis and subsequent efforts invested in self-improvement have now severely impacted your ability to just be in the present. Being in the present is also where real work is accomplished, where things actually get done. I have often found that my obsession with self-analysis turned into being self-absorbed, not being fully present for others, failing to enjoy each moment. I am not advocating that you stop studying Buddhism or quit analyzing your thoughts, but don’t let that be your focus at the expense of being fully present for your co-workers, friends, family, and significant others.
Maybe there is a fine line between self-awareness and becoming self-absorbed, and once that line is crossed you are no longer as much a member of the human race, but instead an observer. It may get to the point where you think you are different or god forbid better than everyone else, so then where does that leave you?
Something to think about anyway.
To me the word introspective means realizing your own behavior and actions, in essence analyzing them sometimes even in real-time. The definition of introspection from Merriam Webster is as follows:
“a reflective looking inward : an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings”
Here are a few synonyms for introspective that are related to this post:
- inward looking
- self analyzing
True interpersonal growth is hard to come by without introspection. It is increasingly difficult to change behavior when you don’t even understand its existence. I often observe myself being critical, or engaging in some negative behavior either as it is occurring or immediately after it occurred. These are learning moments, and although it sometimes takes repeated observations, these observations almost always result in a change of behavior. Maybe the the introspection identifies a trigger that is creating the behavior. For instance every-time I come into contact with a particular person they talk about politics or religion and that in turn triggers a critical response from me and I become argumentative. Knowing the trigger that is causing my own undesirable behavior, I now have a choice to either avoid the individual or choose to react differently to them. If I choose not to analyze the behavior, I will repeat it again and again, always with the same result.
Next time you become critical, angry, abusive, judgmental, accusatory, or exhibit any other negative emotion, stop and think about why you feel this way. Analyze your thoughts and determine if these feelings are justified in any way, what is my perception of the events leading to these thoughts, what might be triggering them? If you cannot be introspective you will forever be repeating the undesirable behavior, making yourself and everyone around you miserable. I like the quote above by the Dali Lama as we often seek to blame others for the way we feel, when it is the way we perceive the events and interactions that brings us sorrow.
The question is can we change ourselves by controlling our emotions?
Can we be accountable for the way we feel?
Can we ultimately change our response, perception, and behavior?
In my last post 10 Ways to Get Back Your Missing Mojo the 10th way was “Get in touch with your own thoughts”. I know some things that work for me and am more than happy to share them including meditation, walking, writing, and yoga. I am keenly aware that these might not be your thing and if you don’t already have a way to get in touch with your own thoughts you are going to need to find an activity that helps you clear your mind. Maybe you find that peace of mind from running. I know a lot of people that run and they tell me that it clears their mind and provides an opportunity to analyze an issue with new found clarity brought about by the physical nature of running, especially when done alone. Here is a key, if that activity can be done alone and provides some sense of peace you stand a much better chance of analyzing your thoughts and making choices more inline with what you really want. You cannot really generate any introspective insights while interacting with other people or engaging in activities that don’t by their very nature lead to clarity of thought.
So why do I need to understand what I am thinking? Doesn’t all this seem like a lot of work? I’m pretty happy the way I am or maybe I’m not. Here are a few reasons why self analysis and introspection can enrich your life:
- Understanding that you may be repeating patterns of destructive behavior is right up there on the top of the list. If you never take the time to analyze why you continue to do these things they will be repeated until they bury you, destroy your relationships, or both.
- Your insights will lead you to making choices instead of oscillating back and forth or standing still. This will ultimately assist you in determining what is most important to you and moving in that direction.
- These activities or disciplines that lead you to self analysis will be themselves provide benefits such as improving your physical and mental health. So for instance if yoga is my way of connecting with myself I will also become more flexible, stronger, and mindful. Maybe those moments of clarity come from running and I will improve my cardiovascular endurance and muscle tone. Maybe I like to paint and it allows me to express myself in a way I could never do before.
- Introspection will lead you to be more present by increasing your awareness. If you analyze your thoughts you will begin to realize that many of them are focused on the past and the future, and you will begin to understand how this is destructive in appreciating today. Once you reach this realization you begin to live in the now and less in the past and the future.
Here is a list of activities that may depending on your interests lead you to introspective thought:
- writing poetry
- writing fiction
- Tai Chi
- listening to music
- playing an instrument
You say well I would never be interested in writing poetry, and I would say have you every tried, or I can’t do yoga I have no flexibility. Don’t limit yourself to what you do today especially if you don’t already have an outlet that provides an opportunity to think. Give yourself a chance to understand your thoughts and behavior. I understand we are all very busy and have a to do list a mile long, but if you don’t take time for yourself no one else will. Carve out a little time each day to listen to your own thoughts.