Introspection: Is It Frivolous?

How many of us really know ourselves? Is knowing ourselves truly important, or is introspection simply a frivolous activity for those who have nothing better to do?

There are many people who do not see the usefulness of introspection, and feel that it is synonymous with self-absorption. After all, there are many world problems that need solving. Why waste time looking inside of ourselves when we could be out saving the world – and, truly . . . what is the point?

Introspection, the observation of one’s inner thoughts, desires and feelings, has long been an activity attributed to deep thinkers. Even in the days of antiquity, ancient philosophers posed similar questions. Plato asked, “. . . why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?”

But, is this a relevant activity for our everyday living? Is introspective thought necessary?

Fast-forward to modern times, and we still see an interest in thought awareness. The interdisciplinary study of cognition (the study of mental processes, such as knowing or thinking) devotes a specific focus to the study of metacognition, which is loosely defined as “knowing about knowing,” or “thinking about thinking.” In addition to its obvious relevance to the process of learning, it also refers to self-regulation, meta-reasoning, consciousness and self-awareness.

Metacognition gives us the ability to think about, control, and transform our own thinking, which certainly has practical relevance. When we consider the fact that what we think and believe largely determines how we feel and act, introspection rises to a different level of importance.

There are two primary ways go about living:

  1. Passively move though life by virtue of habit and reactivity. Do things the way we’ve always done them, never pondering whether our thoughts and actions are helping or hindering us. See ourselves as receivers of a random fate, reacting to whatever happens and allowing the chips to fall as they may. Life is a matter of disconnected existence, and happiness (or unhappiness) is simply a random by-product.
  1. Conduct our lives with a sense of awareness, waking each day with a higher goal in mind. See ourselves as managers of our lives, proactively cultivating our thoughts and actions in accordance with our goals. Examine the outcomes of our thoughts and actions, and make intentional changes as deemed necessary. Remain connected with our inner truths, and view happiness as the backdrop for everything else.

The primary difference between these options lies within the level of intention. Introspection is what unlocks intent. When we understand ourselves – our thinking, beliefs, desires, and feelings – it allows us to guide our own evolution. It makes it possible for us to examine our thinking and related behavior, and to make changes that will facilitate progress in an INTENDED direction. Therefore, considering the two options above, we can either live according to habit and impulse, or we can live by conscious intent.

Mindfulness, or present moment awareness, is a concept borrowed from Buddhist tradition that has been successfully adopted and used therapeutically by many Western psychologists. Mindfulness practice involves conscious awareness of one’s current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. In addition to being aware, mindfulness also requires observing those thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. This is a very contemporary application of introspection and thought-awareness.

Introspection allows us to become deeply aware of our own thinking. Since our thinking is what colors our beliefs, assumptions, values, as well as our overall way of viewing reality, we can perhaps assign a higher level of importance to the activity of becoming more aware of ourselves.

Becoming more aware of ourselves places us squarely in the face of our own truths, and knowing our own truths allows us to connect more authentically with others. Introspection also helps us to intimately know ourselves through a heightened awareness of our feelings and emotions. In connecting with our inner selves, not only do we become more aware of self, but we can actually become more compassionate toward others. Having compassion for others begins with having an understanding of ourselves.

Introspection is a key with the potential to unlock the highest levels of our potential. It allows us to know ourselves, mold our beliefs, alter our thinking, set goals, change course, and enhance our connections to others. Realizing our human potential puts us on a direct path to happiness – and in my book, happiness is definitely not frivolous.

“Your vision will become clear
only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside, awakens.”
~Carl Gustav Jung~

Personal Reflections:
  • What are your thoughts about introspective thinking?
  • Do you participate in any activities that facilitate introspection?
*Image: frugo
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