What is Introspection?
Introspective therapy, self-reflection, introspection - what do these terms really mean? What exactly is introspection and why is it important?
Have you ever caught yourself thinking about what truly makes you happy? Or wondering why you reacted the way you did during a stressful situation? If you did, you were probably introspecting!
Introspection is “going inward” to reflect and examine your own thoughts, memories, and emotions. The goal is to ask yourself questions that allow you to understand yourself and your actions. For example, it allows you to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, what matters to you, and how to make mindful decisions. Asking yourself questions about your emotional and mental state can help you process the events that happen in your life and you are able to grow as a result of that process.
How to Approach Introspection
What, Not Why
We can spend an endless amount of time self-reflecting but end up with no more insight on ourselves than when we first started. In fact, introspection can go from a dedication to an obsession which results in more stress, depression, and anxiety (Eurich, 2017).
“’Why’ questions trap us in our past; ‘what’ questions help us create a better future.” (Eurich, 2017).
To keep you on the right path, psychologist Tasha Eurich has identified a strategy that will keep you out of a negative space when self-reflecting. Instead of focusing on “the why”, we should ask ourselves “what.” “Why” questions can bring up negative emotions and our limitations. It can also give you a false sense of certainty that you have found the real issue without questioning its validity. Also, asking “why” questions increases the likelihood of jumping to inaccurate conclusions about why we feel and act the way we do.
Asking “What” Questions
Asking “what” questions can help you stay curious, future-focused, and can motivate you to act on your insights. For example, instead of asking “Why do I feel so sad?”, ask “What are the situations that make me feel sad and what do they have in common?” or “What am I feeling right now?” Asking “what” questions can help you better understand your emotions and manage them effectively because it forces you to name your emotions. In other words, “what” questions put our emotions into language. This is useful because research has shown that putting your emotions into words can lessen your fight-or-flight response, thus, helping you stay in control.
Asking The Right Questions
Even if you’re not facing a specific challenge at the moment, research has shown that asking solution-focused questions, or questions oriented towards a goal can make people feel good! It will help you focus on the possibilities, the positives, and your resources. It can help you steer your thinking in a positive direction. For example, instead of asking yourself “Why couldn’t I do better”, try asking “Have I overcome a challenge like this in the past? How did I do it?”
If you are facing a constant problem, it is more beneficial to ask yourself questions that are oriented towards solutions. Asking solution-focused questions can help you figure out potential solutions to your problems and can increase your confidence in your ability to approach and solve future challenges. For example, it can be as simple as “What is one potential solution to this problem I’m facing?” Then, you can ask yourself “What is the first step I can take to start my solution?”
Importance of Introspection
New research conducted by Dr. Jordan Poppenk and Julie Tseng shows that on average, humans can have 6000 thoughts a day. 80%-99% of people also have intrusive negative thoughts, which are thoughts that are unwanted and recurrent (Belloch et al., 2004). Thus, it is incredibly important to carve out some time to focus on our mind. A deeper understanding of ourselves, our motivations, and our values, can “block” out the distractions of our fast-paced modern world, and weed out our negative thoughts.
Why else is introspection important?
1) Increase your self-confidence
Introspecting can allow you to become more confident in yourself. This is because introspection allows you to learn and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. This in turn can teach you how to approach daily life in a more mindful way and create more opportunities for yourself where you can flourish.
2) Allow you to pursue your definition of happiness
When you take the time to ask yourself and think about what happiness means to you, or what is fulfilling to you, you’ll be able to intentionally pursue that happiness.
3) Allow you to make your own choices
Introspecting can “lock out” the noise from the outside. The modern world comes with many perks but it often also comes with distractions. When you tune out everything and take the time to focus on what you want and who you are, the choices you make will follow that.
4) Help you become more understanding
When you start to approach yourself and your difficulties with the intention of understanding, you will start to practice more patience towards yourself and others. For example, you will be able to respond to disagreements with mindfulness and with the intention of understanding.
Baths are a calming and rejuvenating experience. If you are up for it, you can engage in introspection while soaking in your bath experience or anywhere you feel comfortable!
If you’re unsure of where to start, here are some questions that will help you kick start your journey in self-reflection:
- Am I taking care of myself physically?
- Am I achieving the goals that I’ve set for myself?
- What am I really scared of?
- What have I given up on?
- Am I holding on to something I need to let go of?
- When did I last push the boundaries of my comfort zone?
- What small act of kindness was I once shown that I will never forget?
- What do I want most in life?
- What’s the one thing I’d like others to remember about me at the end of my life?
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” - Soren Kierkegaard
Thank you for prioritizing yourself.
Belloch, A., Morillo, C., Lucero, M., Cabedo, E., & Carrió, C. (2004). Intrusive Thoughts in Non-Clinical Subjects: The Role of Frequency and Unpleasantness on Appraisal Ratings and Control Strategies. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 11 (2), 100–110. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.397