Tag Archives: self-awareness

On Introspection

The American Psychological Association defines self awareness as “self-focused attention or knowledge.” It means paying attention to yourself. It’s knowing what’s going on in your world. Going deeper, self awareness means understanding your personality and character: your values, your relationships, and your beliefs. Self awareness includes understanding how you process your experiences. Do you like to reflect on what happens each day, or do you avoid thinking about your feelings?

The term introspection is used to describe a research technique that was first developed by the psychologist Dr. Wilhelm Wundt. Also known as experimental self-observation, Wundt’s technique involved training people to carefully and objectively as possible to analyze the content of their own thoughts. Although there are certainly pitfalls in your overall ability to fully be observant of our own thoughts, self-awareness or introspection is certainly a useful tool.

When alone time does present itself, facing it without any entertainment or diversion to occupy the mind risks anxiety, whether in its more positive or negative guises. Self reflection has sometimes been described as self-absorbed, even narcissistic, while rumination, repetitive thought patterns, is noted to be on the negative spectrum of thinking. So it’s all too easy to go from appointment to appointment, relationship to relationship, task to task, without actually knowing what you feel and think.

The neuropsychologist Antonio Damasio, whose findings about how emotion shapes decision-making skewered the centuries-old insistence that cold logic and analytic reasoning is the optimal mode of navigating challenges, has said that what we refer to as insight is really the accumulation of getting intimate with what you already know.

How do we use introspection in healthy ways? Gaining greater self awareness is a long-term process, not an overnight achievement. You do it over time by creating a practice or routine of self-reflection and introspection.

I frequently write about University of Texas psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker, who has found that taking 20 minutes a day to write expressively about painful memories, challenges, or current struggles has breathtakingly powerful effects, from improving immune function and reducing blood pressure, to a significant reduction in anxious and depressive symptoms.

Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to be helpful for introspection. With experience, meditation can allow thoughts to come and go, until it feels like a familiar ritual.

The goal of self awareness is actionable insight you can use to change your life for the better. For every activity or assessment that I offer in my practice, real life gains are the goal.  Data without pragmatic use is an intellectual exercise.  But how do you access those insights?

When to be Introspective
Move : Yoga, Cardio, Walking, or anything else of your choosing.
Meditate: Don’t worry about how it looks. Sit, walk, or lay down, however feels most natural to you.
Reflect & Journal: Jot down quick thoughts as they come to you.

I have clients keep three notebooks. One is a therapy notebook of things they want to discuss or work on, that occurred to them throughout the week. The second one is a planner: this includes work, academic, family/social, self-care, and personal things to do, all in different ink colors.  The third one is what I call the junk drawer. In this, any random thought that occurs can be written down. This helps to remove it from your head and reduces repetitive thinking, once written on paper.

Topics for Introspection
When you’re reflecting, you’re also analyzing your life. Ask yourself the tough questions, and see what answers your mind responds with. Here are a few questions I find helpful to ask:
Am I living my truth? If not, what can I do to get there?
Am I using my time wisely? What can I cut out to make more time?
What puts me on edge or makes me anxious? How can I work around this?
What puts me at ease? How can I fill my life with more of that?
Am I taking care of my body? Am I moving enough and eating foods that make me feel good?
What makes me laugh and smile? How can I invite more of this into my life?
What do I want to learn more about? Can I carve out time to start?
What can I say yes to?
What can I say no to?
Who are the people in my life who genuinely love and support me? How can I love and support them more?
And so many more.

We find time to check our email, keep up with our medical appointments, fulfill our work responsibilities. Introspection is ultimately the examination of our own emotional state, the ability to sit in silence and be comfortable with our inner most thoughts. Introspection is also our responsibility for our self; a regular scan of what’s going on inside.

Making it part of our routine is great for mental health.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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