The philosopher Socrates is reported to have said the life which is unexamined is not worth living. This refers to the idea that if people fail to search for the meaning their life will lack meaning. Those individuals who go about their business without ever questioning their beliefs, motivations, and opinions can act like robots – blindly doing things out of habit. This person will behave the way they do because this is how they have been programmed to behave. If that individual has been programmed badly then it can mean that this shows in their behavior. They might engage in actions that lead to suffering for themselves and for other people. The fact that this person does not engage in sufficient introspection means that they are unable to look critically at the internal factors that cause them to behave as they do. Therefore in order for people to live with meaning and purpose they need to develop the ability to self reflect. By doing this it should mean that their behavior improves as a result.
Self reflection can be defined as the capacity to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about one’s fundamental nature and purpose. It is usual to use the term introspection interchangeably with the term self reflection because they mean more or less the same thing. Self reflection is the opposite of external observation which refers to the process of the individual looking outside of themselves to the physical world.
One of the reasons why the addict can remain trapped in their suffering for many years will be that their ability to self reflect has been compromised. This is because one of the hallmarks of addiction is denial. At some level the individual will know that what they are doing is bad for them and this leads to cognitive dissonance. This means that they hold two conflicting ideas – the strong desire to drink and use drugs and the knowledge that their actions are harmful. The individual protects their ego from this conflict by using denial. They find other causes for their problems and refuse to consider the possibility that it is substance abuse that is at fault – in fact they are likely to believe that alcohol and drugs are the only good thing in their life. Some would claim that if this person were able to self reflect clearly it is doubtful that they would be able to continue with their addictive behavior.
Introspection can be viewed as being similar to bookkeeping in the business world. If a company failed to keep an eye on their finances they would soon find themselves in trouble – most likely it would cause them to go out of business. Similarly introspection is a type of bookkeeping that keeps humans on track. Self reflection is important for a number of reasons including:
* It makes it easier for people to learn from their own mistakes. Those individuals who avoid introspection can keep on making the same mistakes because they are unaware of the reasons for why they are making them.
* It means that the person can learn about who they really are. This can in turn lead to greater inner peace and contentment.
* It allows the individual to eliminate unhelpful beliefs and opinions that might be leading to suffering.
* It means that the person will be able to spot the signs that their life is not going the way they would like it. They can then make changes that will get them back on track.
* It means that the individual is more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. This means that they can take advantage of their strengths and take action to compensate for those areas where their weaknesses are.
* It means that the person will be better able to communicate with others about their thoughts and feelings.
* It means that the individual will be much better at predicting the likely outcome of their intended action. It means that they can learn from their past mistakes.
* The person will have a much better idea of what they want out of life. This means that they will be in a much better position to achieve these desires.
* It will help the individual find meaning and purpose in their life.
* The person will have a much better idea of their own values.
* Self reflection can often increase the ability to feel empathy for other human beings – this means being able to see things from their point of view. The ability to empathize is important because it means that the person will feel more compassionate toward others and will be less likely to become involved in interpersonal conflicts.
A number of different skills can be used to help with introspection including:
* The ability to think critically means that the individual is able to examine their own thoughts objectively – it is thinking about thinking. By objectively examining their own beliefs, opinions, and motivations the individual is better able to remove ideas that are harmful to them.
* In order for introspection to be effective the individual must have the ability to be honest with themselves. This means developing the willingness to face things about themselves that may make them feel uncomfortable.
* The individual needs to have an open mind and be willing to consider new ways of doing things. If the person is not willing to change their beliefs and opinions then reflecting on them is unlikely to have much benefit.
* It is important that the individual understands the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that can get in the way of clear thinking. If they are able to identify such pitfalls of introspection they will be less likely to be trapped by them.
Introspection is a useful tool for people in recovery, but it is also important that the individual is able to engage with the world – in other words they do not spend all the time lost inside their own inner contemplations. The dangers of excessive introspection can include:
* If the person over analyses things it can take all the fun out of life. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just do and not think too much about it.
* The individual could think their way out of recovery. This is because their inner contemplations has taken them on a dangerous path – for example, they begin to wonder if they might be able to control their drinking next time.
* If people spend too much time directed inwards they can miss all the good things out in the real world. Humans seem to require a balance between introspection and engaging with the world.
* Excessive introspection could lead to symptoms of depression.
* If the person is always trapped in their own thoughts it can mean poor communication between them and loved ones. This is a shame because deep interpersonal relationships are one of the great joys of life.
In order to effectively self reflect in recovery the individual can:
* Develop the skills of critical thinking. This will allow the individual to weed out those parts of their mental landscape that are holding them back in life.
* The individual will need to understand the value of self reflection.
* Keep a daily journal where they jot down their thoughts and experiences. The individual can gain great insight while doing this, and by reading back on past entries.
* By learning to meditate the individual increases their own ability to focus inwardly. Mindfulness meditation is particularly good for this because it involves observing the inner world objectively and neutrally.
* Some people find that it is easier for them to self reflect when they exercise. This could involve going for a long walk or working out in the gym – the hormones from strenuous activity will often increase mental clarity.
* Devote a bit of time each day to self reflection. This can also be used as a time to relax and let go of stress.
* The individual needs to be completely honest with themselves and commit to no longer falling under the spell of delusion. They will constantly need to reflect on their thoughts, beliefs, and behavior to see if any delusion is creeping back in.
* It is important that the individual is able to distinguish between self reflection and over analyzing things. The ability to differentiate comes with practice.
* The tool of self reflection can be more powerful when the insights gained are shared with other people – for example, a therapist or friends in a recovery fellowship. This sharing of inner insights can also reduce the risk that the person is deluding themselves.