What is Introspection and Why is It So Important
Updated on 18 Dec 2023 • 6 min read • posted by Tania
Do you often turn to books or podcasts to find the answers to some of your questions about finding happiness or being successful?
What if the answers lay within yourself?
Sure, self-help books and other resources can help you learn from others’ experiences and give you some precious tools to overcome challenges.
Yet, knowing yourself through introspection is the key to self-improvement and the first step on the path to a happy and well-lived life.
But what is introspection? Why is it important? How can you practice self-introspection?
This is exactly what you’ll learn in this blog post.
What is Introspection
Introspection is the process of observing and examining your thoughts and emotions, and being present to the thoughts or emotions that arise.
Practicing introspection allows you to reflect on your experiences and actions, analyze your current mental state, and better understand your inner self.
Even though it might sound complicated, it’s a process many of us go through every day without even realizing it.
Whenever you stop to reflect on your thoughts, actions, experiences, desires, or motives in life, you practice introspection.
The term is also used in psychology to describe a more formalized, structured, and rigorous approach to analyzing our thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
Introspection in Psychology
Wilhelm Wundt, known as the father of experimental psychology, dedicated his life to studying the human mind to better understand its inner workings. And to do so, he used a scientific method he called introspection. He referred to it as the self-observation of our thoughts. During his experiments, instead of asking his subjects to reflect on what had happened in the past, the introspection process was carried out in the present moment.
The participants were presented with a stimulus such as the sound of a bell and after hearing it would then inspect their own thoughts. And as they were going through the process, they would report back on the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that resulted from the sound of the bell (or other stimulus used). The subjects had to observe their mental processes without judgment and be completely transparent when reporting back.
The famous Psychologist would then compare all the participants’ answers to see what was similar and what was different.
The idea behind Wundt’s introspection in psychology experiment was to observe how the mind processes emotions and thoughts and uncover their meanings. According to him, examining what processes and activities occurred as his subjects experienced the world around them would eventually allow people to master their emotions and gain a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Some argued that this study wasn’t scientific, as asking subjects to report on their own thoughts through self-observation is a subjective exercise and isn’t based on observable behaviors. Nonetheless, Wundt set the starting point for the future of Psychology as a discipline.
Benefits of Introspection
Allows You to Identify Negative Patterns
Perhaps you keep delaying doing your admin at work which negatively impacts your projects and hinders your progress. Or perhaps you keep justifying a friend’s toxic behavior, which affects your mental health.
Practicing self-reflection allows you to identify patterns in your life and understand how and why they impact you. And once you’ve identified negative patterns and established their causes, you can set a plan of action to stop repeating them.
Keeps You Focused on the Bigger Picture
Let’s imagine you’re studying for a difficult exam. It’s your last one, but it’s also challenging. You’ve spent days and nights studying. You’re exhausted, and you still have so much more to learn before the big day that you feel anxious and frustrated. But the reality is that you won’t get your dream job without passing this exam. When we don’t have clarity on why we do the things we do, daily tasks can feel meaningless and become frustrating.
Looking inwards will remind you of your overall goals and keep you focused on the prize!
Helps You Overcome Your Fears
Every individual has fear in their life. There is a greater likelihood of mistakes when we hurry for the objective, removing everything in our route.
- What are you most scared of?
- Disappointing your loved ones?
Whatever the case, introspection will allow you to admit your fears to yourself and work on the best way to overcome them. Sure, it will take time, and it might be a trial and error process, but looking inwards is the only way to understand what scares you and prevents you from achieving your goals and living a happy life.
How to Do Self-Introspection
Looking inwards will allow you to connect with your inner being, improve your sense of self and gain insights into your feelings and behavior. And this, in turn, will help you build better and stronger relationships, make more informed decisions and achieve your goals in life.
And while casually practicing self-reflection on your way to the grocery store or as you wait for the lift at work is a great start, some self-reflection techniques can help you amplify the positive effects self-introspection can have on your well-being.
Settle Calm Environment
The golden rule of any introspection session is that mood and space matter. Studies show that people who frequently self-reflect tend to be more anxious, have less enjoyable social experiences, and often think negatively about themselves. And it’s usually because of a recency effect, a cognitive bias in which those ideas, or arguments that came last are remembered more clearly than those that came first. For example, imagine that you did a bunch of preparation tests and failed. Then you decided to reflect on it, you were in a terrible mood and had failed tests lying around. In a such case, only negative thoughts will come to mind.
So before starting to practice self-introspection – try to abstract. Prepare your favorite beverage, light a scented candle, and calm down. As soon as you feel that you are ready – start to observe your emotions and state.
Ask Yourself Questions
If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start to better understand your inner self and uncover your motivation in life, writing down pre-planned questions can help. Having pre-planned questions will also allow you to easily incorporate self-reflection into your daily routine.
Also, Tasha Eurich’s research proved that “Why” questions trap us in our past, while “what” questions help us create a better future. So here are some prompts and questions to help jump-start the effective reflection process:
- What matters to me?
- What do I want most in life?
- What shows that I'm using my time wisely?
- What means I'm being myself?
- What do I like to do all day?
- What’s one moment I will never forget?
- What are the ten things that make me smile?
- What am I doing to achieve my goals?
- What prevents me from achieving my goals?
Journaling (free writing in particular) allows you to express your feelings and emotions and write about your personal and professional experiences. Once everything that was in your brain is on paper, you can reflect on what you wrote to identify patterns and gain clarity about your life.
Perhaps you’ll notice that specific words, people, or situations trigger certain unwanted behaviors. We suggest using journal ideas on self-introspection. Choose one or more of these questions, and then allow yourself to write freely about them without feeling pressured or criticized. The objective is just to explore what you can discover about yourself and your self-care practices.
- What makes you feel powerful?
- What makes you feel calm?
- What makes you feel in control?
- How do you encourage yourself to try something new?
- What do you choose during the week based on your needs?
By writing down what you experience and how you feel as you do so, you’ll be able to set a plan of action to better manage your emotions and actions in the future and achieve your goals.
Do Johari Window
The Johari window is a framework for understanding your relationship with yourself and others. Think of it as a way to look at what we know about ourselves and what others know about us. It's like a window with four parts:
Things everyone knows. This is the stuff about you that you know and everyone else knows too. Like your name, your favorite color, or that you're really good at soccer.
Things others see, but you don't. Things about you that other people notice, but you might not realize. Maybe you always make a funny face when you're thinking hard, but you don't know it.
Things you keep secret. This part is about things you know about yourself but keep hidden from others. Like if you're really good at singing, but you're too shy to sing in front of people.
Mystery things. The last part is interesting because it's about things that neither you nor others know about you. It could be a hidden talent or something you'll find out about yourself in the future.
The Johari Window helps us think about what we know and don't know about ourselves, and how sharing more with others can help us learn more about who we are.
Meditation is the process of noticing your thoughts or observing what’s around you without judgment. You’re not trying to analyze your thoughts or surroundings when meditating. You’re simply observing them.
Meditation requires you to be in the present and be fully engaged with what you’re doing right now. And as such, it allows you to spend time with yourself, understand your full potential, release negative thoughts and feelings and break down mental barriers.
Understand Yourself Better
Knowing your personality implies being more self-aware. You are also aware of your views and beliefs, connections, and values. We hope this article will help you on your journey to self-reflection. Taking a few minutes a day to introspection can lead to a happier, more meaningful, and more productive life, so make sure to incorporate introspection into your self-care routine using the practices we’ve shared above.