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Last Updated on January 14, 2021

10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self

10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self

Discovering your true self is a lifelong journey. It doesn’t happen in one day or one revelation, but it is still worth the pursuit. When you find your true self through self-exploration, you know what you’re meant to do and are no longer afraid. Rising up with authenticity, you can overcome anything.

What is your true self? Is it the person you were as a child? When you felt the happiest? When you learned that important life lesson? When you achieved that goal? When you helped that stranger? Or when you acted according to your values regardless of others’ expectations?

The answer is all of these things make up your true self. The key isn’t discovering your true self. It’s remembering.

Here are some self-exploration practices to help you get started.

1. Act Authentically

When you act authentically, you are stepping into your true self. You are walking with wisdom, rather than worry. People come to you because they know you’re the real deal. You are flawed but fierce. You are enough as you, where you are, with what you have.

When you are authentic, you make choices that come from character. When you stay true to who you actually are, you learn that nothing can bring you down. That’s because you aren’t looking for external validation, and when you know what you have, you can do more with it.

When you act authentically, you are also acting in the best interests of everyone around you, because you care more about the right things. A better you means a better world.

2. Use Self-Affirmations

Say the following: “I am enough. I am strong. I am a victor, not a victim. I have what it takes. I will overcome. I will keep going, even when it seems impossible. I am not perfect, but I am human. I am allowed to rest, not to quit. I am not alone. I am good. I am grateful. I am at peace.”

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When you say these things, you accept them as true. You feel them, and you become them. You discover your true self in finding your power through self-exploration.

When you tell the world who you are, obstacles and opposition will move out of the way. When you are confident, you see opportunities, lessons, and wisdom. It makes you proactive, rather than reactive.

3. Confront Your Inner Critic

If all anyone did was listen to the negative voice in their head, nothing would ever get done. Einstein wouldn’t have discovered the Theory of Relativity and more if he listened to his teacher once tell him that he didn’t have what it took. The world would be robbed of that one person, who would change so many things.

The inner critic comes from fear of the unknown, of not being good enough, or of loss and lack. However, fear doesn’t have to decide what happens. You can overcome fear by not listening to your inner critic.

Instead, you can thank your inner critic and say, “I think what COULD happen…” and spin it into a positive sentiment. Fear can make sure you wear your seatbelt, practice before performing, make good choices, etc., but it doesn’t have to control you.

It may not go away completely, when you confront your inner critic, but you can reassure it and ultimately release it.

4. Don’t Hide Your Imperfections

It’s easy to wear a mask and say, “This is who I want people to think I am.” Instead, it’s more fulfilling to take off the mask and say, “This is who I actually am, and I am proud of that person.”

Through self-exploration, you can live freely by owning who you are. That will make you more responsible and more impactful. When you tell your story and say your truth, people will listen and be inspired to find their own truth. Self-discovery can then spread.

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5. Find Who You Are NOT

If you want to find out who you are, find out who you are NOT. What part of your past has defined your present? What about your culture, religion, family, friends, people around you, etc? What is truly you and what is them? You’ll never be finished discovering yourself, but you can use differentiation[1], where you separate yourself from what isn’t you by finding the sources of your views to become independent.

When you differentiate, you do not discount or minimize the effect other things have had. You just become aware of it, and what you are aware of, you can bring into the light of acceptance, where you can do something to change it.

What are your unique goals, interests, values, and ideas? Once you figure out what you are not, start there. Self-exploration is a journey of understanding how you have been shaped and molded through life and by what.

It’s okay that things have influenced you, but have you ever asked yourself why? If you can answer that question, you can start to find out who you are and set yourself free from the things you aren’t.

6. Log Your Life

Journaling is a great tool for self-exploration. All you need to do is write down your thoughts, either as free writing or following prompts. If you can’t think of anything to write, start simply: Write down your mood and the date.

What causes you to feel better or worse? What are your triggers? What makes you triumph?

When you discover what makes you tick, you learn how to better manage yourself and your life. You have a safe space where you can be your true self, and only share entries if you feel comfortable. You can pour it out daily, or just check in.

You can also observe what’s around you, letting your mind go and flow. Focus on your feelings, and allow pauses and moments for reflection before resuming writing. Let the end of it come naturally, when you feel like you have nothing else to say.

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As long as you keep some sort of log, you can learn how your mind operates, and you can pick up unhealthy patterns, which will help you regain control of your life.

You can check out more benefits of journaling here.

7. Focus on What Is Right With You

Maybe your mind ruminates on what you don’t like about yourself and what you think others don’t like. Maybe you feel like opportunities pass you up because you are not worth it. If that is you, know that you’re not alone. Everyone has a negativity bias[2] where they tend to believe more in the bad at first then the good.

Recognizing your mind may lie to you is the first step in seeing the truth. When you focus on what is right for you, you counteract those thoughts telling you that you have nothing to offer. If you have control over what you think, you have greater control over your situation.

Have you ever given yourself a compliment? Why not try one now? You can personalize it, but you can say things along the lines of, “I like how you care for other people. You have a great attitude. You always rise when bad things happen. I love you.”

8. Find Solace in Solitude

Sometimes, unplugging and getting away is the best thing for self-exploration. If you step outside into nature and invest in yourself, then you will feel better and be better.

Use time to meditate and focus just on yourself, not the world around you. Listen to your own thoughts, not what others are saying. When you check in, you know yourself again.

Recharging may not change everything or stop that difficult circumstance, but it can help you develop the mindset and energy to face it through your inner strength.

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9. Practice Self-Care

Often, when people try to relax, they worry with guilt and anxiety. You may be on vacation, but your brain is still at work. If you give yourself permission to relax, you will see that you fight your battles even better and can really dive into self-exploration.

Breakthroughs will happen in self-care more than in self-sabotage. When you try some self-care, it’s not just about pampering yourself. It’s taking the time to do what you need to do in order to be who you need to be.

Self-care looks different to each person. For some, it may be using essential oils and taking a bath. For others, it may look like hiking into nature, away from your problems and troubles. Whatever self-care looks like for you, know that you deserve it.

10. Try Mindfulness

Being present and in the moment is a great way to discipline your mind into not catastrophizing. When you fail, you don’t say, “I’m a failure.” Mindfulness[3] helps you stop judging yourself by just observing your thoughts and stopping negative thought patterns.

Imagine your thoughts are like leaves flowing past you in the cool breeze. As each thought comes up, place it on a leaf and let it pass. You don’t have to be attached to each one. Instead, work on breathing deeply, which activates the Vagus nerve[4] and releases tension and stress. As you breathe out, notice those leaves getting farther and farther from you, until they are in the distance.

You can be mindful at work, when your boss is talking over you and you want to raise your voice. You can be mindful with your kids, when they are asking for their sibling’s toy and you just want to give in to make it stop. You can be mindful when you are in the most stressful situations, and it gives you a pause to reassess the situation.

Whatever the situation, you calm down so that you can act with a clearer head and make choices that will bring the best results.

Conclusion

Self-exploration looks different for each person, but authenticity always brings you back to yourself. When you are exploring who you are, you must start with what matters to you. You have to assess your values and that will give you the criteria for living.

Self-discovery is about self-love, most of all. When you love yourself, you have more to give, and you find happiness in the process.

More Tips for Self-Exploration

Featured photo credit: Jonas Svidras via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psych Alive:  Psychological Differentiation
[2] Very Well Mind: What Is the Negativity Bias?
[3] Psychology Today: Mindfulness
[4] Mayo Clinic: Vagus nerve stimulation

More by this author

Sarah Browne

Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

5 Simple Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude 10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self 14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year 7 Self-Soothing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety Relief 5 Ways to Help You Get Through Depression

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Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Self-Introspection: 5 Ways To Reflect And Live Happily

Self-Introspection: 5 Ways To Reflect And Live Happily

I think we can all agree that we could all use a bit more happiness in our lives, especially when we are isolated from others and in the middle of a global pandemic. Although watching Netflix, taking walks, exercising, and video chatting with friends all bring us moments of happiness, they feel temporary—they are fleeting.

At the end of the day, when we lay our heads down on the pillow, we are still stuck in our own heads—ruminating negative thoughts, the argument with our partner, friend, or coworker we keep replaying in our head, our constant self-judgment “you’re not enough” conversation that we have back and forth, fear, and hopelessness. Then we wake up and do it all over again. Can you relate?

The good news is that there is a simple practice that can help. Introspection and mindfulness (self-introspection) can actually increase your happiness permanently.[1]

What Is Introspection?

To begin, we have to first define and understand the word “introspection.”

Dictionary.com defines introspection as:[2]

observation or examination of one’s own mental and emotional state, mental processes, etc.; the act of looking within oneself.

Introspection is a thinking, analytical process. It is the deliberate process of reflection. We don’t do this because frankly, it isn’t easy and it takes a lot of work!

Many people are often caught in the state of reaction and ego and do not actually take the time to reflect. They are clouded by emotions and are unable to see things clearly. For introspection to be helpful and effective, it requires self-awareness and the ability to put aside the ego and the need to be “right.”

Let me share an example from one of my clients.

Mandy has a long stressful day working from home while juggling her kids’ distance learning, goes grocery shopping, and comes home and begins to prepare dinner. Helping the kids complete their homework while cooking dinner, her husband comes home and plops himself on the couch. He turns on the TV and begins laughing at the sitcom that he’s watching.

Mandy is a bit annoyed and wished her husband would help out, but she holds her tongue knowing that he needs to unwind from his long day too. After dinner, Mandy gives the kids a bath, reads them a book, and puts them to bed. She finally has a chance to sit down for the first time in hours and asks her husband if he could help clean up and do the dishes. He says, “I’ll do it later honey.”

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A few hours later, the dishes are still not done, he’s still watching TV, and Mandy begins feeling irritated, angry, and resentful. After all, this seems to happen quite frequently. She mentions the dishes again and he responds with an annoyed tone and harshly says, “I ALREADY told you, I will do it later.”

Mandy gets angry and begins to complain about how she has to do everything around the house and that he never helps with the kids. It turns into a full-blown argument and she retreats to her bedroom fuming. Mandy replays the argument over and over in her head and goes to bed stressed, angry, and in tears.

Introspection Alone Is Not Enough

Introspection uses a lot of “why” questions. “Why am I angry?” “Why do I feel this way?” with the well-intentioned goal of understanding self. The problem with this is that it keeps us trapped in our own perspective and oftentimes, in the past.

Introspection also has no clear direction of where it could go depending on what you’re looking at, how you’re looking at it, and where you’re looking.

As my mentor and friend Dave Potter eloquently put it:

“Introspection is like looking through the microscope and the slides keep changing.”

Introspection is the tool, the process—like in Dave’s analogy, it is the microscope. The slides (self, emotions, thoughts) keep changing.

Another downfall of introspection is that it is very ego-focused and self-centered and often results in either:

  1. Growing the ego and reinforcing the need to be “right” – In the previous example, Mandy can observe her emotions of anger and resentment and understand why she feels the way she does. She gathers evidence and past experiences and understands that this anger and resentment comes from years of feeling this way. Examining her feelings and experiences further causes her to feel even more entitled to her feelings of anger.
  2. Causes self-judgment, self-blame, and suppressing of emotions – Mandy can observe her emotions of anger and resentment and understand why she feels the way she does but feels bad. She tells herself “I shouldn’t be angry,” “I overreacted,” “I was stressed and I took it out on him,” etc., and begins judging herself, blaming herself, and ends up feeling even worse.

So, if introspection alone is not helpful, what else do we need? A touch of mindfulness (self-introspection)!

What Is Mindfulness?

There are many definitions for mindfulness, but I define it as non-judgemental, present moment awareness. Mindfulness opens our minds to observe our thoughts and feelings, acknowledging and accepting them without judgment.

To put more simply, it’s not about fixing or changing your thoughts or emotions but about noticing and accepting them as is.

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So, how does this help exactly?

Let me first start by saying that mindfulness is a practice, meaning it is not an innate, automatic behavior or process that we do. It is a practice—it takes practice. It is a learnable skill and actually doesn’t take much time at all.

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing attention to the emotion that comes up, not identifying it as part of self but simply noticing it and getting curious. When there is curiosity, there is no space for judgment. When there is no judgment, acceptance is much easier to follow.

It’s kind of a funny thing. When we are not so tied to our perspective and clouded by our emotions, it opens up a horizon of possibilities. We can see things as an observer, remove ourselves from our identity of the emotion, the intense feeling, and can take a step back. When we can do this, the emotion no longer has a hold on us.

Many research studies show that mindfulness meditation is effective at reducing stress and can improve physical and mental health by changing the brain and biology in positive ways.[3] Researchers reviewed more than 200 studies of mindfulness among healthy people and found that mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

As someone who was diagnosed with “Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder” since high school with many trips to the ER and inpatient stays at a psych unit, I have not had another recurrent depressive episode since I began practicing mindfulness and meditation. It has saved my life, and I am truly grateful.

Five Ways to Practice Self-Introspection

You may be wondering, “Great! How do I do this?” As someone who may be new at self-introspection, there are some key points to keep in mind to set you up for success.

1. Set Up Your Ideal Environment

As I mentioned before, “mindfulness is a practice” and it takes practice. Think of it as the rehearsals before the big show, the basketball scrimmages, or batting cage practices before the big game.

When we practice something, we make progress and become prepared for “the big game or show,” which is your life. Although mindfulness doesn’t necessarily require sitting and meditating for 30 minutes a day, this definitely helps train us to be still. When you are still, you are with yourself, your mind, and you can practice noticing the thoughts, the sounds, and the sensations.

This requires a quiet space without distractions or stimulation where you can be alone and undisturbed. Some noises or sensations are unavoidable, but trying to meditate, self-reflect, or think about things while the kids are running around, the TV blaring, or people talking is not an ideal environment.

If you have kids or a family and it is difficult to have alone time, waking up 30 minutes earlier in the morning, sitting in the car, or even while in the shower is an option. You might have to get creative. If you have difficulty sitting still, you could do a walking/moving meditation. If you feel stuck, being in nature and outdoors somehow helps bring us back to stillness.

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2. Journaling

Journaling is underrated. If you take a look at the most successful people in the world, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs such as Oprah, Warren Buffet, Einstein, and many others, they all have this in common: they journal.

Journaling has many benefits including increasing awareness and improving memory, self-confidence, communication skills, and self-expression. It also helps us keep organized, on track, and motivated.

What I personally love most about journaling is going back and seeing where I was just one year ago, what I was going through, the challenges, the learnings, and fast-forwarding to now—celebrating how much I’ve grown.

As one of my mentors, Ben Hardy, said, “You make progress on what you track”. Wouldn’t you want to make progress on yourself, your goals, your life?

Here are some helpful tips and ideas:

  • Free write any thoughts, emotions, feelings that come up. Keep writing for one to two pages—just a free-flow stream of consciousness, not allowing yourself to think. The first few paragraphs will be very conscious, but continuing to write another two pages nonstop allows for the unconscious to come through. You will be surprised at what you find.
  • If you are going through a really tough time and are unable to separate yourself from the situation or feelings (staying stuck in your story), try writing from a 3rd person’s perspective. This allows for more openness and perspective.
  • Use your journal as your to-do list for the day. Set goals and outcomes for the day. Set an intention for the day.
  • Journal your wins. Write down the things you’re most proud of accomplishing. We tend to not celebrate our wins and quickly look for the next big thing. Stop. Take a step back and celebrate your daily or weekly wins. You deserve some acknowledgment, don’t you?
  • Journal on grateful moments. There are so many things to be grateful for but we often write them down as a list. This is slightly different and a slight deviation but I like to journal “gratitude moments.” It’s a moment in which you can close your eyes and almost re-experience it. For example, the moments when I’m outside sitting on my patio drinking my coffee, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. Take the time to engage in that positivity and all of the feelings that accompany it.

3. Use Positive Words and Phrases

We often identify with our feelings as if our feelings are who we are. We say things like “I am angry,” which keeps us identified with the emotion of anger making it difficult to let go.

We are not the emotions we experience, rather we are the experiencer of our emotions. Although we understand this in concept, our languaging and the words we use perpetuates the identification of the emotion.

As a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I believe that language and the words we use affect how we experience the world. So, although we know that we are not our emotions, we speak as if we are—”I am angry”. Case in point.

If we want to use language that is congruent with our beliefs that we are not our emotions as well as a common mindfulness practice, we can use phrases such as “I notice that I am experiencing anger.” This allows for almost like a third person’s perspective and disconnects you from the emotion.

4. Ask Yourself Empowering Questions

Making a slight change to how you ask yourself questions while doing self-introspection makes a world of difference. Instead of asking yourself “why” questions, ask “what” questions.

Instead of asking “why do I feel so angry?” ask “what is that I am feeling?” “what do I notice?” “what is it exactly that I am upset about?” See how that opens up possibilities?

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Asking “why” questions also has an underlying sense of judgment. Imagine if your child accidentally broke a vase. Your automatic response might be “Why did you do that?” The child doesn’t know what happened but knows that you are angry and starts crying. Instead, if you asked “What happened here?”, they might be able to explain that the ball bounced and accidentally hit the vase. Asking “what” questions opens the possibility for understanding, empathy, and compassion at a deeper level.

5. Focus on the Good for Just a Little Bit Longer

A relationship psychology study by John Gottman of the University of Washington found that it takes at least five positive interactions to make up for just one negative one.[4] This means that negative interactions or thoughts have generally five times the impact than positive ones. Well, this is bad news and rings all too true, doesn’t it?

Rick Hanson Ph.D., psychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, has a saying:

“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”

By ruminating on the negative, we strengthen the neural pathways for negativity and tend to see the world in this light. I bet you know these type of people in your life—the “Debbie Downers” and people who are always complaining, negative, pessimistic, and down about the world.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can almost counteract this by simply taking in the good for just a little bit longer. We can literally change the neurotransmitters in our brain to look for good things.

Rick Hanson says,

“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.”

I had the honor of interviewing Rick on this technique specifically to increase happiness. You can watch it below.

And this is how we can begin to rewire our brains for positivity, joy, gratitude and overall become a happier person.

Final Thoughts

Introspection does not come naturally. Even if you have a great mindset and a positive attitude, introspection can still be difficult. For introspection to be effective, it requires mindfulness and awareness. If you follow the points in this article, it will give you a great place to start. From there, it is just practice.

The combination of both introspection and mindfulness (or self-introspection) is the perfect recipe for creating lasting happiness—no matter the circumstances.

More About Self-Introspection

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Positive Psychology: 7 Great Benefits of Mindfulness in Positive Psychology
[2] Dictionary.com: Introspection
[3] American Psychological Association: Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress
[4] The Gottman Institute: The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science

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