Getting to know yourself is equal parts intimidating and exhilarating. It allows you to open a window of understanding and acceptance that can have a tremendously positive impact on your life. Sure you know your favorite color is purple and that you hate chocolate, but how do you feel about bigger things like commitment or that too-spicy comment your friend made last week? In order to have a full picture of yourself, you need to know where you stand — and your stance on all things, big and small, can be explored by learning how to practice introspection.
While you may have heard someone say they’re “being introspective,” did you know this is a process you can try out for yourself? “Introspection is a thinking style in which one observes and reflects upon various aspects of themselves and their existence in order to gain insight into their lives and purpose. It is used in order to help people feel more connected to who they are, clarify life choices and gain perspective on life’s challenges,” says Haley Neidich, LCSW.
If you struggle to slow down and be in the moment, Neidich says, introspection is the perfect tool to add to your self-awareness arsenal. “Taking the time to sit in contemplation about your life and relationships can help you to uncover things that you may have been avoiding so that you can face your challenges head on,” she says. “Using introspection, you can also take the time to tap into gratitude for your experiences and current situation.” Increasing your self-awareness and gratitude can be beneficial not only for your well-being, but also for everyone else in your life. Without further ado, let’s get introspective!
How To Use Introspection In Your Daily Life
Without realizing it, you’ve probably been introspective already. Yes, you — see, you’re already doing great! If you’ve said things like, “I’m not a morning person” or “I have trust issues with my family,” explained Dr. Kevin Gilliland, PsyD and Executive Director of Innovation360. All of those realizations are introspection. “Those insights into when and where and with whom we do well or struggle is the result of introspection or reflection,” Dr. Gilliland says.
To more actively use introspection, a push from others can help. “Sometimes other people can get us started on that path, a performance review or a close friend making a comment in passing will stay with us,” Dr. Gilliland explains.
Once you’re ready to try being introspective on a more regular basis, Neidhich recommends a non-judgemental approach within a daily mindfulness routine. “This can be through journaling or through a sitting meditation in which you allow your mind to self-reflect and explore rather than asking it to quiet,” she says.
It’s completely normal for some people to get carried away or triggered while exploring introspection. If this occurs, Neidich suggests journaling with a time limit in place, even just five minutes, and let your mind go over whatever it comes up with. “The key with introspection is not to judge our thoughts or beliefs but to approach the time as if you’re a researcher exploring your own mind,” explains Neidich.
Potential Negatives of Introspection
With that said, shorter bouts of introspection may be best for you, depending on the state of your mental health. “People who have a history of depression may be triggered by an excessive amount of introspection. I advise anyone who is experiencing depression symptoms or who has a history of depression to put a time-limit on their introspective thinking,” says Neidich. “A lot of judgment and self-criticism can also come up for people who are dealing with mental health or self-esteem issues.” If you experience any of these feelings while practicing introspection, she recommends doing it with the help of a licensed counselor, who can guide you through it safely.
Besides negative thinking, Dr. Gilliland cautions against getting too wrapped up in thinking. “We can get lost thinking about things instead of doing things and that really limits the information that we have to gain a better understanding,” he says. “It’s always easier to learn when you are moving in a direction. When we stop moving, we stop the flow of information and that can make things difficult. We have to balance thinking and doing.” Again, introspection can be incredibly beneficial — but it doesn’t stand on its own.
Who Can Benefit From Introspection?
Unless you’ve struggled with introspection, even in therapy, it can be a beneficial practice to try. “In our world today, everyone can benefit from being self-aware and evaluating their lives and choices regularly,” adds Neidich. “We tend to feel that being busy earns us a badge of honor when, in fact, the real gift is in slowing down. When we reflect upon who we are in the world we can begin to see things clearly with regard to a clear path towards our goals. Everyone benefits from that and deserves to have clarity and feel connected to who they are.” Just take things minute by minute and assess how you feel as you go through the process of getting to know yourself better.