Introspection: how self-awareness can make your future better
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place of timeless ideas to help you become the architect of your mind and create yourself, starting from the inside.
“Everybody wants to change others. Nobody wants to be changed.”
— Naval.Raise your hand if you believe self-reflection equals to better happiness, stress, and satisfaction. I, myself, was caught out here—it felt true with no other way about it.
Most people have the idea that regular self-reflection more naturally harmonises us with ourselves. But it’s the opposite.
It’s easy to think that the more self-aware you are, the better you will think, act, and ultimately improve your life. But according to research, people with greater self-awareness show more signs of stress, depression and anxiety. They are less satisfied with their jobs. They are more self-absorbed and less in control of their lives. What’s worse, negative consequences seemed to increase the more they reflected.
People with high self-awareness are no more likely to have better relationships and well-being than those with less; rather, the key to all this is actually insight.
University of Sydney psychologist Anthony M. Grant discovered that people who possess greater insight—which he defines as an intuitive understanding of ourselves—enjoy stronger relationships, a clearer sense of purpose and greater well-being, self-acceptance and happiness. Similar studies have shown that people high in insight feel more in control of their lives, show more dramatic personal growth, enjoy better relationships and feel calmer and more content. However, Grant and others have also come to realize there’s no relationship between introspection and insight. This means that the act of thinking about ourselves isn’t necessarily correlated with knowing ourselves. And, in a few cases, they’ve even found the opposite: the more time the participants spend in introspection, the less self-knowledge they have. In other words, we can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.
Picture a situation you had recently where you felt angry or upset about something you just learned. Did you take time to ponder how you were reacting? Did you question why? Did you take time to think about improving your reaction, should a problem arise again?
Our mind gives definition and value to everything around us. The qualities critical to success—emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication, collaboration—stem from self-awareness. Self-mastery cannot occur without it.
When we reflect, we can begin to understand our feelings (“why did I feel angry about what this person said?”), question our beliefs (“Do I really believe this is right?”), figure out our future (“what better offer out there will make me truly happy?”), or explain a negative outcome or pattern (“Why do I give myself such a hard time for something so unimportant?”)
But here’s the most important part you need to remember: introspection with insight is not enough; instead of only asking ourselves “why”, we should begin to ask “what”. “What would be a better way to handle this? what would make me feel better? What could I do to help others feel better next time?”. A big problem with asking why questions are that we only search for quick and easy answers—and ones which confirm our existing beliefs (confirmation bias).
Asking why can be misguiding for us. If I asked you why you don’t enjoy your job, you might blame something your coworkers did recently, or your boss’s latest business decision that didn’t consider you, or how you feel like you’ve been doing all the work over the past few weeks. Otherwise known as recency bias.
Another reason why it’s not always useful is it may create a negative impact on your mental health. You might start to question yourself, blame yourself, fixate on your problems or place accusations instead of moving forward—which is why I now adhere to a “no-blame culture” these days.
What questions, on the other hand, guide you to see your potential. It’s an easier way to positively evaluate who you really are.
So, start by taking a few minutes each day to sit down and get to know yourself. Then, move onto asking yourself questions—a mix of what and why, depending on whether you are problem-solving, or simply exploring the recurrence of a problem. Self-mastery starts with creating faith in who you are, and introspection fueled by insight is the key to starting this.
What’s on My Mind
I recently read a short quote from Shane Parish of Farnam Street, he said:
“Imagine what you could accomplish if you weren’t focused on being busy all the time”
And I admit that I was guilty of this. Many of us are.
“Looking busy” is a game of status signalling. It’s to make others think we’re working harder than we are. But if we wrote down everything we did during a particular workday, we’d start to see that most of what we spend our time doing isn’t directly propelling us forward—it’s often giving us the feeling that we are, without any result to show for it.
Spend less time “looking busy”, and stick to just a few, high-leverage, high-value objectives per day. It’ll feel like you’re not doing anything, when in fact, you’re doing everything you need to.
I have a few new articles out on Medium, and I’d love it if you could have a read, or even share with others.
I’ve already linked the articles and sites where I sourced this information from. I think they’re also great reads if you’d like to know more.
Have a fantastic week ahead,
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