A GUIDE TO INTROSPECTION: SELF-REFLECTING FOR PERSONAL GROWTH
Over the past few months, I’ve talked about introspection a lot, mostly in my self-development posts (like my posts on the life wheel or how I deal with body-shaming). The reason I talk about introspection so much is because, according to me, it’s the very basic first step towards being a decent, emotionally intelligent human being.
If you’ve never heard of introspection, let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? According to the Merriam-Webster, introspection is defined as a reflective looking inward : an examination of one's own thoughts and feelings. Basically, introspection is asking yourself the hard questions to get to the bottom of your feelings and analyze your own thought patterns and, therefore, behaviour.
This might seem like an unnecessary waste of time, but unless you want to be a highly dysfunctional being, it’s actually extremely important. Most people who are in control of their life actually practice introspection every day. You might be doing it without even realizing, if you’re just in tune with your emotions and thoughts, if you’re journalling or if you’re in therapy - which is basically like a guided form of introspection.
When you’re asking yourself questions like “why did I pick a fight with my sister over Christmas decorations” or “why am I so jealous when my boyfriend looks at other women”, or even “what should I do to get myself to workout more” you’re practicing some form of introspection.
Virtually everyone can benefit from introspection, and usually (this is from my own very personal experience) the people who think they don’t need it are smug assholes who think they’re always right. So unless you’re that self-righteous douchebag (which I’m sure you’re not, *wink-wink) here’s how introspection can benefit you:
Introspection helps developing more meaningful relationships
If I wanted to put this a little more bluntly, I could also have said: Introspection helps you not being a complete asshole by projecting your own shortcoming and insecurities on other people. I could have touched on this last, because the whole point of introspection is to look within yourself. But I wanted to touch on it first, because I’m sure that (just like everyone else) you know someone who could use a little looking inward in order to be more of a decent decent person.
It’s also a little easier to identify negative patterns in others than in ourselves, at least at first, before becoming acquainted with introspection.
Case in point, someone wrote to me recently to say that her boyfriend always gave her back-handed compliment, saying things like “you looked so beautiful tonight, you were for sure in the top 10 of girls who were there”. I’ve also heard “your boobs look great, there’s only maybe like, 25% of pornstars who have nicer ones”. And no, I’m not even kidding.
If you’re a man (actually, if you’re anyone), you don’t wanna be that person, because that person sounds like a complete, utter asshole.
So if by any chance you do say something like that, and your girlfriend (or boyfriend) points out that it’s a shitty thing to say, you should realize that it’s time for some serious introspection.
That’s when you get to ask yourself the tough questions you need to ask yourself, if you want to make sure to not create other situations in which you make your partner feel like shit by saying horrible things.
In this specific case, you should be asking yourself things like: “Why did I feel the need to tell my partner others are more attractive?” “Did I purposefully want to make them feel insecure?” “Did I do that to compensate for my own insecurity?” “Do I feel like my partner’s value stops at their physical appearance?” “Does it make me feel better to rate my partner’s appearance in comparison to other women (or men)?”
Chances are, if you’re doing it right, you might life the veil on some deep rooted insecurities of your own, or some unhealthy behaviour like objectifying your partner, or even feeling like they’re there only to fulfill your selfish cravings for a certain body type or “look”. Once you realize that, it comes down to assessing your values and deciding what kind of relationships you want in life.
Mark Manson explains it very well in his book The subtle art of not giving a f*ck (you can read my full review here), when he says that choosing one option means saying no to a bunch of other options. So you might love super attractive women, but if what you want in life is to have a family and kids and a loving wife, then it doesn’t really make sense to go to strip-clubs and have sex with hookers every weekend. Once you’ve figured that out, it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch to figure out that it’s not fair either to compare your wife to strippers, hookers, pornstars, or anyone else for that matter. On a side note, I really recommend that book if you want to hear another perspective on introspection, because this book talks about it a lot, in a super accessible, refreshing way.
This example was only one example, but there are a thousand situations for which introspection applies and can make your relationships better. I’m talking friendships, romantic relationships, relationships with family and coworkers… Any relationship, basically. You can ask yourself the hard questions when you get into a huge fight with your sister over Christmas decorations, and then realize that you’re trying to outdo her because you always felt like she was your parent’s favourite child. You can ask yourself the hard questions when you realize you’re incredibly rude to a coworker for no reason, and then realize you’re treating him this way because you feel threatened by the fact that he’s a single man who doesn’t have children and it’s much easier for him to work 10 hours a day than it is for you…
It’s a very well known concept that before being able to sustain any healthy relationship, you should be able to sustain a healthy relationship with yourself, and that’s where introspection comes in.
Introspection helps knowing yourself on a deeper level
Which brings us to point number 2. It’s pretty hard to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship with someone you don’t know and the same goes for your relationship with yourself.
There are many ways to learn more about yourself, like trying new things and seeing what you like and what you don’t, travelling, reading books, entering new relationships (and putting an end to them), and the one I want to touch on here: Spending some time with yourself.
I’m sure we all know someone who becomes a completely different person every time they’re in a new relationship, right? Well introspection is the antidote to that!
By asking yourself what you want out of life, what makes you happy, what hobbies are best suited to your tastes and personality, etc, etc… You get to really figure out who you are and then you can find someone compatible, as opposed to finding someone who defines you and trying to become compatible.
The huge danger with that is that no relationship is guaranteed to be permanent, even if you feel like it is at the moment. I feel like the close to 50% divorce rate is a great indicator of that.
So keeping that in mind, I feel like it’s much easier to understand why we all need to be in a loving relationship with ourselves first.
Another thing made easier with introspection is spending time alone with yourself. I personally love spending time alone from time to time, and I even ended my last relationship with one of the main reasons being that I wanted to spend more time alone with myself.
But I know a lot of people have a hard time spending time alone. So much so that they would rather spend time with someone they don’t really like than be by themselves. I used to have a friend who told me he hated spending time alone because he felt suffocated by his own thoughts. Not only is this not healthy, but it’s a great wasted opportunity for self-growth.
Introspection helps setting goals for a fulfilling life
Speaking of self-growth, introspection is also a great tool to plan your life in a way that makes you happy. I did a post a few months ago on the LIFE WHEEL, which is a super practical tool used to plan your life and make it better with a set of fixed goals, in every category. It dissects your life in categories like love life, career, fun & leisure and physical health (to name only a few) and then forces you to ask yourself a series of questions (some easy: Do I have any ailments, conditions, pains, or chronic illnesses? and some a little harder: Do my significant other and I have the same long-term goals and values?) to which you should attribute yourself a score on 10.
I don’t want to explain the whole concept of the life wheel on here, because, well… There’s an entire post dedicated to it. But basically, it’s based on the principle that asking yourself the hard questions, looking within yourself for answers and analyzing your desires, values and what makes you happy is a great way to figure out which goals to set, in which areas of your life.
Then, once you know what you want (what you really really want!) it’s much easier to set goals that will bring you there, and stick to them, than if you’re just pulling “I want to workout 4 times a week” out of your ass for no specific reason.
Another situation in which this aspect of introspection applies is when choosing a career path, or redirecting it later in life. It just so happens that in the last year, both myself, my mom and sister came to a point in our lives where it was time to take big decisions regarding our professional lives.
I had to decide wether I wanted to leave my 9 to 5 to travel with my man and be a full-time blogger. My mom had to decide if she wanted to leave the corporate position she had for the last 20 years and go back to school in a creative field (at 50, no less). And my sister had to pick a university program, which means she had to figure out what she wants to do as a career.
All 3 situations were totally different, with different outcomes and repercussions, but they all had one thing in common: We all had to ask ourselves questions beyond just the simple “what do I want?”. Questions like “what makes me feel accomplished?”, “How important are professional achievements in my overall happiness?” and “How much comfort am I willing to sacrifice?” and so on.
These are all examples related to professional life, but the same applies to any and every area of your life.
That’s true wether you’re trying to figure out if you should choose a really demanding career path and make a lot of money to retire at 40, or wether you want to work part-time and travel 6 months a year. It’s true wether you need to decide if you want to workout really hard and watch your diet just to achieve a certain body type, or if you want to live freely, enjoying yourself, and feeling comfortable being a little heavier and less fit. It’s true when you’re trying to figure out if you want a committed relationship, with compromise, obligations, families, kids, and then some, or if you just want sexual encounters, no strings attached.
For all these situations, any choice you make is a good one, as long as it makes you happy. The tough part id figuring out what makes you happy and why, and there’s no other way to go about it than sitting down with yourself and figuring it all out based on your own thoughts and feelings.
Because truth is, no one can make these decisions for you, and the more you know about yourself, the easier it gets to make those seemingly tough decisions.
Introspection helps with anxiety, negativity and grief
Introspection is not only good to get to know yourself, but also to live a more positive, fulfilling life. In the case of anxiety, grief or reoccurring negative thoughts, looking inward can also be tremendously helpful.
I personally haven’t lost anyone as an adult, so I haven’t gotten to experience grief that way yet, but I’ve really been struggling with negative thoughts, particularly forgiving people and letting go of the past, as well as with anxiety on a certain level.
When it comes to anxiety, most people who live with it will tell you that identifying its cause is the first step to conquering it. That’s great, but identifying the cause of anxiety can sometimes be way harder to do than it seems.
That being said, introspection can be a great way to get to the bottom of what is causing you anxiety, either by answering the questions you’re asking yourself, or with the way you’re doing it (see below for tips on how to practice introspection).
As far as letting go of negative emotions and leaving them in the past where they belong, I like to ask myself questions like “Why am I holding on to this when it’s only making me upset?” “Do I want to be angry at that person, or do I want to forgive them and resume our relationship?”. I’m not saying it solves every single problem in a heartbeat, but it’s definitely a good way to go at it.
Now I know all that sounds great, but if you’re wondering how the hell one introspects, don’t worry, I got you covered. I’m personally an overly analytical person, so introspection comes pretty naturally to me and it’s something I do most of the time without really realizing it. If it doesn’t come as naturally to you, that’s fine, because it’s really not that hard to get into.
You can start with journalling, which is a really easy way to analyze the feelings and thoughts you had over the day, and it’s also a great opportunity to highlight positive things that happened throughout your day - yes, I’m talking about positive journalling here.
You can also take the habit of analyzing your reactions when you get angry or sad. Usually those are the easiest feelings to notice, and especially in the beginning, I find it easier to dig for the deep-rooted causes of negative feelings than positive emotions. You can either just sit down and think, or you can do it like you would meditate.
Another tip is to ask yourself questions like a 2 year old. Meaning, ask yourself one question, and then ask “why?” and then “why?” again and again and again, until you figured the whole thing out. Here’s an example:
“Why does it make me feel so shitty when my husband says another woman is hot? Because I feel like he’s comparing me, and it makes me feel like he doesn’t think I am”
“Why? Because he doesn’t look at me like that anymore and he doesn’t compliment me either”
“Why? I have no clue. I feel like I make an effort to look good, and I always compliment him.”
“Why? Because I feel like physical attraction is super important in a marriage”
“Why? Because otherwise people go look for it somewhere else, they cheat”
In this case, with only 4 follow-up “why” you went from being angry at your husband because he said another woman was hot, to figuring out that you’re really afraid of being cheated on, which probably makes you jealous and insecure. Now I’m not saying everyone should tell their partner that other people are “hot” all the time. You do you, whatever makes you comfortable.
Personally, I know no matter who I’m with, no matter how good I look, they will never stop looking at other women and finding some of them hot, most probably hotter than me. But I don’t want to be reminded of that, and I feel like it’s useless information to share. My motto in this case is “think it, don’t say it - and please be subtle when you check her out. No one wants to be with the guy who’s drooling in another chick’s cleavage, for f*ck’s sake!”.
But once you' discover that your real issue is not your husband finding another woman hot, but your fear of getting cheated on, it’s much easier to a) address the situation with him, and explain that his comments trigger your fear, as opposed to coming down on him like a ton of brick for looking at someone else, and b) it makes it much easier to address the issue, because it’s coming from you, and not someone else (in this specific case, the anger is not caused by the husband’s behaviour - although it may seem like it on the surface, but by a deep-rooted fear of being betrayed.)
Phew, that’s it guys! I know that was a lot to take in, and I know that was a long-ass post, ha! But it’s something I had wanted to touch on for so long, because it’s really at the very base of so much when it comes to personal growth, and I personally feel like without introspection, it’s really hard to have direction in life.
I hope you found this helpful, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or stories to share. I love hearing what you guys have to say!
Love, Jenny xx
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