Have you ever thought about your own thoughts or questioned your mental processes?
Do you sometimes take time to clarify your values in a moment of doubt or uncertainty?
If you answered “yes,” you are no stranger to self-reflection and introspection (terms that will be used more or less interchangeably in this article), an important psychological exercise that can help you grow, develop your mind, and extract value from your mistakes.
Read on if you’d like to learn the meaning of self-reflection and introspection, reasons why it’s important, and tools and techniques for practicing it yourself
Introspection can be practiced both as an informal reflection process and a formal experimental approach, and the two have different definitions. Still, both processes can be undertaken by anyone with curiosity and determination (Cherry, 2016).
The informal reflection process can be defined as examining one’s own internal thoughts and feelings and reflecting on what they mean. The process can be focused on either one’s current mental experience or mental experiences from the very recent past.
The formal experimental technique is a more objective and standardized version of this, in which people train themselves to carefully analyze the contents of their own thoughts in a way that’s as unbiased as possible.
The original idea of introspection was developed by Wilhelm Wundt in the late 1800s (McLeod, 2008). Wundt focused on three areas of mental functioning: thoughts, images, and feelings. Wundt’s work eventually led to the current work on perceptual processes and the establishment of the field of cognitive psychology
So, why is introspection important? Researchers have shown that we think more than 50,000 thoughts per day, of which more than half are negative and more than 90% are just repeats from the day before (Wood, 2013). If you don’t make the time and effort to refocus your mind on the positive through introspection, you won’t give yourself the opportunity to grow and develop.
Enhancing our ability to understand ourselves and our motivations and to learn more about our own values helps us take the power away from the distractions of our modern, fast-paced lives and instead refocus on fulfillment
Reflecting on ourselves and our environments is a healthy and adaptive practice, but it should be undertaken with some care—there is, in fact, a wrong way to do it.
When your focus on introspection has morphed from a dedication to an obsession, you have taken it too far. In fact, those who take self-reflection too far can end up feeling more stressed, depressed, and anxious than ever (Eurich, 2017).
In addition, it is all too easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking we have found some deep insight that may or may not be accurate. We are surprisingly good at coming up with rational explanations for the irrational behaviors we engage in (Dahl, 2017).
To help stay on the right path with your self-reflection, consider asking more “what” questions than “why” questions. “Why” questions can highlight our limitations and stir up negative emotions, while “what” questions help keep us curious and positive about the future (Eurich, 2017).
With this important point in mind, let’s move on to the questions, exercises, and worksheets that you can use to work on your own self-reflection