On our journey towards self-knowledge, our first impulse is often to turn inward, introspect and self-reflect. We give great weight to our introspections. Most of us are confident that our perceptions of ourselves are more accurate than others’ perceptions of them.
Yet psychological research tells us that introspection is often a highly inaccurate source of self-knowledge. An over-reliance on introspection sometimes trips one up and potentially decreases one’s performance, reducing decision quality and even undermining self-insight.
A very good friend of mine said recently ‘have we lost introspection and values in today’s society’ – I paused to reflect the depth of this question, which is unusual especially when discussing such an interesting subject with my coffee and great company, but the facts are Millennial’s and the youth generation of society appear to be entirely an appendage of their smart phones. One study I read recently concluded that the average university student uses a smartphone for about nine hours each day.
According to research provided by CTIA in 2016, 2.27 trillion texts we sent globally and the US is responsible for 45% of the text traffic.
The take on smart phones is that you can customise them to give you exactly what you want. You are in charge. The trouble with this reasoning is that someone else is programming the apps you use; and those apps are programmed to get you to do certain things in certain ways that are generally to the advantage of the companies providing the apps and to advertisers. These apps may be useful to you, but they are certainly not your apps; they are not actually customised. And, they only offer the illusion of control.
Moreover, there is no app I know of designed to get you to stop looking at your smart phone and focus on the world around you or on your inner life. Some people listen to music or podcasts on their smart phones while they exercise, walk, drive, study, read, eat, or do practically anything. I’m all for listening to music and podcasts. But some of the activities listed above are actually great all by themselves.
Then there is the constant texting. Texting is very useful, I find, for telling people I’m running late to a meeting, inviting people to something at the last minute, coordinating family hordes on vacation and so forth. It is very apparent that humans prefer texting to face-to-face encounters. Millennials and youth have even characterised face-to-face conversation as a form of “aggression” – quite unbelievable!
If most people are going to shrink from having a human spirited in-person conversation with somebody else about a critical issue, how exactly are we going to move forward on the major challenges of our age? In order to address critical issues, one must do critical thinking. Where is the time for that when all one does is move from music selection, to podcast, to texting, to posting photos, to computer games, to email, back to music selection and so on? There’s never a dull moment with your smart phone. But are they really your moments in life?
One of my favourite quotes by Rabindranath Tagore, sends the message to us all when he said: “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
So much of our thinking is of necessity shaped by the mass media, it may be hard to imagine that the smart phone could really be the main reason for our inability to think our own thoughts.
Many writers have a high level of introspection which can explain an informal reflection process and a more formalised experimental approach to creativity, inner thoughts and creation.
It involves informally examining our own internal thoughts, feelings and beliefs. When we reflect on our thoughts, emotions, and memories and examine what they mean, we are engaging in introspection.
The term introspection is also used to describe a research technique that was first developed by psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Also known as experimental self-observation, Wundt’s technique involved training people to carefully and objectively as possible analyze the content of their own thoughts.
Still, throughout our daily lives, we are constantly observing and analysing.
Whether it’s an important document for work or a confusing text from the opposite sex, we have successfully trained our brains to obtain data and examine it for deeper meaning or explanation.
While it has become second nature to think critically, the ironic part is we often forget to apply this concept to ourselves.
Introspection involves examining one’s own thoughts, feelings and sensations in order to gain insight.
Being introspective is often a rare quality in young adults, and with good reason: slowing down and taking a breather from our crazy lives is not always the easiest thing to do.
In a society fixated on fast-paced environments and a “go, go, go” mentality, it’s difficult to find the time to sit down and reflect. However, setting aside a small portion of your day for self-examination can be a lot more helpful than you might expect.
Here are seven ways introspection can be a positive tool in your daily life:
1. It allows you to notice negative patterns in our life.
2. It keeps you focused on the bigger picture.
3. It prevents you from worrying about things out of your control.
4. It helps you face your fears.
5. It allows you to clearly define happiness on your own terms.
6. It allows you to make decisions based on your conscience.
7. You will finally get different results.
When we continuously go through our lives the same way, we inevitably block the chance of changing things for the better.
By becoming more self-aware, we are able to have a better understanding of what we truly want in life. Naturally, this involves making changes, whether they’re significant or menial.
Of course, nobody likes change. It’s uncomfortable and scary, and we seek comfort in what we know.
While trying to decipher the reasons behind certain behavior often leads to confabulation, focusing on our immediate emotional reactions instead may serve us better in our quest for self-knowledge, as they are often a more direct reflection of actual attitudes. In the process, we should also be open to inconsistencies between our gut feelings and our preconceived, and seemingly rational, notions.
In the end, a single observer with only a few faulty tools in your toolkit will produce dubious data. We need to go beyond introspection, and expand our toolkit towards self-knowledge.
As Caroline Knapp once said:
“By definition, memoir demands a certain degree of introspection and self-disclosure: In order to fully engage a reader, the narrator has to make herself known, has to allow her own self-awareness to inform the events she describes.”