Explore Your Innerverse

Examine the Self: Understanding the Impact of Introspection

Introspection is the examination of your own thoughts and emotions.

It is all about looking within yourself.

First introduced by the psychologist Wilhelm Wundt in the late 1800s, the term ‘introspection’ referred to a research technique requiring people to train themselves to carefully and objectively analyze their thoughts. He believed in two divisions of introspection: self-observation (reflecting on our thoughts) and internal perception (perceive the inner thoughts).

Simply knowing about the structures and make-up of our minds is not enough.

Wundt believed, to take things one step further, we needed to learn to dive deep into the activities and processes that occur as we experience the world, focusing on the three areas of:

  • thoughts
  • images
  • feelings

The advantages of introspection

It is through this careful examination process of the self, can we reap many benefits. Introspection is more than about just being aware of your thoughts and emotions, but it is understanding the very self better to navigate life.

  • Own your decisions — The more you introspect, the closer you get to that voice within. Introspection allows for a tighter, closer connection with your deep desires, as you drown out the noise around you. In modern society, it is very easy to be distracted and swayed by external stimulus, but by listening to yourself carefully, you discover exactly what you want.
  • Understanding your emotions — Introspection is a type of therapy, examining self under a watchful self-inflicted microscope. The more you discover the why behind your actions, the closer you get to figuring out what you can do to control them, instead of letting your emotions get the best of you.
face your fears
  • Face your fears — Deep introspection is all about examining the fears that linger within. Everybody lives with some fear, which manifests themselves in your life in some form or another. By digging deep into your inner self, you peel back the layers and discover the fears that are hidden inside. And by examining yourself closely, you have the opportunity to face these fears head on.
  • Challenge your beliefs — Some beliefs are so deeply ingrained within us, we have no idea why or where they came from. Sometimes, looking into yourself can help you challenge existing truths you believed, opening the mind from past indoctrinations and shedding the self clean.

Enhancing our ability to understand ourselves and our motivations and learn more about our own values helps us take the power away from the distractions of our modern, fast-paced life, and bring our focus back where it belongs.

— Dr. Tasha Eurich, Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World

How to practice introspection

Simply reflecting on yourself is what the psychologist Wundt described as self observation in introspection. This was highly subjective and unscientific.

When it comes to self-introspection, this is where a lot of us stop — merely pondering the thoughts, but never understanding what to do next.

For impactful introspection, we need to take action.

  • Read regularly — Reading the right books can open our minds to a whole new world of knowledge, facts, and opinions. We can expand the imagination and learn to see perspectives that might otherwise, not have been.
  • Write often — There are countless studies that illustrate the benefits of journaling. Writing out your thoughts can help increase self-awareness, but also improve communication and memory as well.
woman in sleeveless top and backpack surrounded by trees during daytime
  • Be patient — All good things take time. Don’t let time slow you down. Discovering yourself and learning to overcome the flaws in your cognitive processes is not an easy thing that happens overnight. Sometimes, some of the bad habits that have shaped our thoughts and emotions are so deeply layered, it can take months or years to refine them.
  • Go beyond the ‘why’ — Knowing the why behind your thoughts and feelings are important for understanding, but can be limiting. Introspection, afterall, should be about greater change. Just asking the ‘why’ keeps you limited in
  • Focus on the good — It can be very easy to get down in the dumps these days, with so much to compare yourself to. Relational studies illustrate a ‘magic ratio of five‘ that describes how it takes five positive interactions to make up for a negative one. It’s no wonder one negative comment lingers longer than that of a positive remark. But, with this 5:1 ratio against our odds, it’s a reminder that we need to relish in the postive that much longer.

Really savor the good. In other words, the way to remember something is to make it intense, felt in the body, and lasting. That’s how we give those neurons lots and lots time to fire together so they start wiring together. So rather than noticing it and feeling good for a couple of seconds, stay with it. Relish it, enjoy it, for 10, 20, or 30 seconds, so it really starts developing neural structure.

— Rick Hanson PhD, Buddha’s Brain: Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

Self-awareness to become your best

One of the greatest powers we can have in this distracting, noisy world is knowing who we are, trusting ourselves fully, and being absolutely self-aware.

Books and articles like this are definitely helpful to point you in the right direction, but know that true self-awareness takes time. The true power of introspection comes progressively, as you discover more about who you are and what you can do.

Its not a one-stop formula for change. Instead, introspection is a tool for you to leverage in this everlasting, constantly evolving process toward actualizing the self.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

— Lao Tzu