Introspection and the art of being self-reflective

Introspection is a term that is often used in affiliation with the idea of reflection. This term is one that is very closely associated with one’s psychological state and the idea of looking inward.

On a definitive level, it is defined as “a reflective looking inward” as well as “an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.”

This concept is one that is a part of the social sciences and humanities. It is also heavily integrated into spiritual practices and schools of thought as it allows one to experience a great deal of spiritual benefits.

Due to the often fast-paced and hastened nature of Western society, it is common to find oneself primarily concerned with external affairs. These affairs consist of those surrounding the workplace, one’s academic life and one’s familial or social life.

In our daily endeavors, it is easy to find oneself fixed on such external affairs to an extent in which one neglects to look within.

In neglecting to look inward, one can come to find that they are not truly living their lives to the fullest.

For instance, an individual who works a normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift may come to find that they are not living a very meaningful life. This may come as a result of primarily focusing on performing well and completing necessary tasks throughout the day.

While there is nothing wrong with a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, neglecting to allot oneself a window of time to reflect on one’s self can result in an adequate but not fulfilling life.

With this being said, is being self-reflective the panacea to an average experience?

Well, the answer to this question is not very simple. In short, self-reflection can significantly improve and add to one’s experience. It is beneficial to one’s mental health and well-being like exercise is beneficial to one’s physical well-being.

However, it must not be seen as the cure all for one’s mental or spiritual health. Self-reflection is simply one of many things a person can do to generally improve their quality of life.

With this in mind, what does introspection entail? And are the concepts of introspection and self-reflection synonymous or interchangeable?

To answer the first question, introspection has to do with examining your “thoughts and feelings.”

It requires an individual to look within and reflect on their inner psychological state and inner processes. It is a very simple concept but to truly practice it is in my opinion, an art.

According to Dr. Chris Zarpentine, assistant professor and chair of Global Cultures, introspection and self-reflection are by no means synonymous although they are related. In Zarpentine’s opinion, self-reflection has to do with an evaluation of one’s status and place in life.

As a consequence of this, he finds that self-reflection is more external while introspection is definitively internal.

However, practically speaking, what does this mean?

Well, as it pertains to introspection, Zarpentine reflects on the Eastern spiritual practice of meditation. In meditating, one attempts to primarily focus on breathing.

In doing so, a person is less inclined to focus on external matters such as their later commute or an upcoming exam. When a person is in this state, they’re more likely “to focus on the internal.”

As it pertains to self-reflection, this kind of thought encourages one to focus on their desired goals and aspirations in life and where they are at in relation to these goals.

Paying attention to the discrepancy in where one is and where one would like to be is the cruz of self-reflection. If practiced, it can inspire a person to create positive changes in their life.

Bearing the different but similar natures of self-reflection and introspection in mind, one can see that these practices can inspire a great deal of changes within the life of a person.

These practices are not necessarily a panacea to an adequate experience but they can definitely give an unreflective life a boost. Zarpentine also reflects on a eloquently said and relevant adage that was once stated by Socrates.

In a scene mentioned in Plato’s Apology in which Socrates was on trial near the end of his life, the philosopher states that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Zarpentine elaborates on this point stating that as humans, our ability to reflect on our lives is something that distinguishes us from animals. Animals have their own daily experiences and goals.

For humans, we have the additional ability to be self-reflective. Therefore, this is an activity that we should take advantage of, it is what makes us human.

So on your daily commute and endeavors, be sure to give yourself a nice window of time in the day or at certain points in the week to introspect or be self-reflective.

It is by no means a panacea to an average experience but it can definitely have a positive impact on your life.