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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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Yurika Vu

Mindfulness Coach- book a complementary breakthrough session at www.yurikavu.com

Self-Introspection: 5 Ways To Reflect And Live Happily

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Published on March 4, 2021

24 Self-Reflection Questions To Get You To Rethink About Life

24 Self-Reflection Questions To Get You To Rethink About Life

“Oh no, Oh no! AHHHHHHH!” These were the only words I could manage as my car spun out of control, hydroplaning across multiple lanes of the slick freeway. It was one of those moments you see in the movies where your life flashes before your eyes, and you instantly begin the process of asking yourself a slew of self-reflection questions.

I was driving back from a children’s birthday party with my wife and two very young daughters on board. My girls were strapped tightly in their car seats and sleeping peacefully. My wife had just told me to be careful as it had begun to rain heavily for the first time in months.

“Yes, sweetheart, I am.” I had responded, wanting to keep everyone safe and knowing that my tires were due to be replaced. My caution didn’t matter. Once the millions of tiny pockets of water had taken over, we were at the mercy of my out-of-control Pontiac Grand Prix.

We ended up careening across four lanes toward the center divider only to spin back the opposite direction to the right shoulder, off the road, and up a dirt embankment. We somehow had managed to avoid every other car, but that didn’t matter. What we couldn’t avoid was the six-foot cinder block wall that lined the highway. We slammed into the wall with incredible speed and force—so much that the impact caused the car to flip 360 degrees and ultimately land back on the wheels.

Witnesses said it was the most incredible thing they had ever seen and that we would not walk away. I, too, felt it was incredible but for different reasons. The impact for me was not the crash into the wall or flip. It was afterward during a time of deep self-reflection about life when all the questions hit me.

The movies make you believe that everything slows down during an experience like this to the point that you can reflect on life. Trust me, rethinking about life comes much later when your ass isn’t spinning out of control.

So, what did I ask myself? What were the self-reflection questions that came as a result of my accident?

They mainly centered around the essential components of my life—family, faith, relationships, beliefs, and actions. I had focused on these areas to that point, but I was unsure of where I stood, not just for me but for everyone I came in contact with daily. It all boiled down to being the best version of myself, which we should all truly strive for in life. I mean, it’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

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Before you answer that question, take a look at the following 24 self-reflection questions to get you to rethink life.

1. Am I Living in the Moment?

Living in the moment is effortless in our go-go-go world to live on autopilot. This is fine for things that don’t matter as much to the big picture but not for the whole picture itself. Go ahead and brush your teeth or take a shower on autopilot. Heck, our brain is very comfortable in this setting. But have you ever drove to work and not remember the trip at all? I’m sure you have, which is terrible when you think about it. It is not just because of its safety but also because of the beautiful things you may have missed along the way.

2. Do I Cherish Every Second With My Loved Ones?

While this sounds like number one, it is actually quite different. Time is one of the most valuable resources we have in this world. There’s an old saying that “time is a gift.” Think of it as precious as a gift from a loved one, and you will cherish it with the same passion and importance.

3. Do I Accept Everything as a Gift?

There are plenty of other gifts in life besides the time that blesses us each day. What gifts are a part of your life? I’ll bet something like good health or a loving family was the first thing to mind. Positive things are easy to view as gifts.

How about the not-so-obvious or even horrible? Even something as traumatizing as a life-threatening car accident can and should be considered a gift. As Steve Jobs famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”[1]

4. Do I Treat Everyone With Respect and Kindness?

This is one of the most often-ignored self-reflection questions yet also one of the most important. You flip the bird to someone who cuts you off in traffic, you make fun of a total stranger’s attire to a co-worker, or you forget to say please and thank you to the cashier at the grocery store. Flip the script and imagine yourself on the receiving end of all the hurt, and you’ll see it’s simply not necessary.

5. Am I Being Harmful With My Words or Actions?

Like number four, many of us practice bad habits with things that are harmful to others, and we do not even realize it. Research on communication from Dr. Albert Mehrabian showed that we get 7% of the message from the words, 38% from the tone, and 55% from the body language.

Thinking of this before you speak or act really puts this question into perspective. Any word or action can be harmful if spoken with a harsh tone or offensive body language. Check your words and actions to ensure they aren’t taken in a harmful way.

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6. Am I Foolish?

Another important self-reflection is “Am I foolish?”

Mr. T famously said in Rocky III, “I pity the fool!” when asked about his upcoming fight with Rocky Balboa. He continued saying he pitied Balboa for being predictable and stupid. What are the areas of your life where you lack good judgment and are unwise?

7. How Wasteful Am I?

We live in a throw-away society where things are quickly thrown away in the blink of an eye. These wastes are not always material objects as we can be wasteful of things like time and energy. Before you discard anything material or otherwise, think of how you can fix it. You’ll be amazed at how easily you can mend things with the proper attention.

8. Am I in a Hurry?

We are too often focused on a destination that we fly through the process and don’t enjoy the journey along the way. We may miss crucial details, opportunities to learn, or experiences with others. A mentor once told me, “Don’t be in a hurry with anything.” These are wise words for all of us to live by every day.

9. Am I Myself in All Situations, No Matter What?

A lot of us find this challenging as we have our work persona and family persona. We are all beautiful individuals that are both flawed and awesome. Don’t deprive yourself or other people in your life of your “flawsome” self.

10. Is My Heart Open?

When you live with an open heart, you allow all the fantastic parts of life on earth to be a part of you as you connect with others in the universe. Don’t be afraid to be open to new possibilities in any facet of your life. You’ll be glad you did.

11. Do I Take Anything for Granted?

Unfortunately, we don’t often realize this is happening until it is pointed out by someone on the losing end, usually a loved one. Never take things for granted. Trust me, you don’t want ever to have regrets. By asking yourself many of the self-reflection questions on this list, hopefully, you won’t.

12. Am I Putting Enough Effort Into My Relationships?

This is another self-reflection question that others frequently answer for us by letting us know where we stand. Your answer to the question, “How much does each person contribute to the relationship?” should be 100% and nothing less.

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13. Do I let Matters That Are Out of My Control Stress Me Out?

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” according to author and educator Charles R. Swindoll. This quote emphasizes the role our attitude plays in life and whether we are affected negatively by things outside of our control. The more you accept what happens and live by this quote, the happier you are.

14. Am I Taking Care of Myself Physically?

One could easily relate self-reflection to mental and spiritual health as it is considered internal. It’s important to remember that we are genuinely at our best possible self when our mind, spirit, and body are all running at optimal levels. This is enough of a reason itself without considering all the health benefits one gets from taking care of their physical self.

15. Am I Achieving the Goals That I’ve Set for Myself?

A wise man once said, “A life lived without achieving your goals is not a life worth living.” He was definitely someone who accomplished a lot in his life. Goals are not just something to write down at the beginning of the year, but they also give your mind purpose and clarity.

16. What Does a Perfect Day Look Like for Me?

The beauty of this self-reflection question is that you may answer it in hundreds of different ways throughout your life. This also makes the question extra special. Whenever you are feeling down, take a few minutes to answer this question for yourself and put more of the components you come up with into your everyday life.

17. Am I Holding onto Something I Need to Let Go Of?

At the center of this question, you will usually find forgiveness of some sort. When you answer this question honestly, you will realize that you need to forgive yourself or someone else. Please make this happen ASAP because forgiveness is one of the most incredible things we can do in life.

18. When Did I Last Push the Boundaries of My Comfort Zone?

Living comfortably may sound nice at first, but it truly means you have stagnated. To get the most out of life, you need to grow continually. So, get uncomfortable and push past the comfort.

19. What Do I Need to Change About Myself?

The subtly in this question is that it asks “need” rather than “want.” Many of us get caught up wanting to do things but never translating them into action. When something is important enough, it becomes a need, which means it will get done. Needs lead to action, and action leads to change.

20. Am I Serving Others?

According to Zig Ziglar, you can have whatever you want in life. You just have to help enough other people get what they want.[2] This is one of the secrets to an abundant life. Serve others, and both of you will reap the benefits of goodwill.

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21. Who Has Had the Greatest Impact on My Life?

Reflecting on one’s life would not be complete without realizing the impact of others. All of us have had someone that had helped steer us in the right direction when we needed it the most, whether we knew it or not. Acknowledge them in your heart and to their ears by expressing gratitude for grabbing the wheel when needed.

22. Do I Have a Purpose?

Ask any of the most successful people in this world what is the most important for them, and they will tell you that it’s not the riches, fame, or power that is matters—it’s purpose. When you have a purpose, you are fulfilled, and a fulfilled life is one worth living.

23. What’s the One Thing I’d Like Others to Remember About Me at the End of My Life?

This is a question that typically isn’t thought of until someone is at the final stages of life because it’s usually related to question 22. Be proactive in life and ask yourself this self-reflection question early enough to make that “one thing” your mission.

24. Am I the Best Version of Myself?

This question may seem difficult to answer at first glance, but it’s really not. Just ask yourself every other question on this list first, and you’re sure to have your answer to this one.

Final Thoughts

Looking back on these questions now, I realize my answers have changed since my accident—mostly for the better. I’m grateful that the life-changing experience happened nearly twenty years ago because it set me on a path of development and growth.

So, I ask you, what is your path? Hopefully, you won’t need an accident to answer that—you’ll only need the 24 questions above.

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Henry via unsplash.com

Reference

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