I was recently asked if I could write a post on breaking the habit of self introspection. Like I do with everything I share, I can only go from my own experiences.
Before I share what helped me break this habit, let me briefly explain what self introspection is.
What is self introspection?
Self introspection is when all of our consciousness (attention) is focused inwards on our anxious thoughts and sensations. Instead of focusing and engaging on the outside world, our inner world of thoughts, emotions and sensations becomes the most important thing to us.
In fact, the outside world often becomes irrelevant, especially when we are in the grips of high anxiety.
It’s very common for people (including me) to lose interest in the things which once brought them enjoyment.
Put more accurately, it isn’t that we’ve actually lost interest in the things we normally like doing. We just become so self-absorbed in our inner world of anxiety that we take other stuff for granted. (Trust me, once you’re over this, you will naturally feel drawn towards the things you used to love doing).
This is why, to this day, my knowledge about most things isn’t that great. Because I’ve spent most of my life being focused on my anxiety, most things just go in one ear and out the other.
I truly believe this was the reason why I did so badly at school. I was so pre-occupied with my anxious thoughts and sensations that nothing “out there” could hold my attention for long.
I become entrapped in a vicious cycle because even though I couldn’t concentrate and nothing would sink in, I was too afraid to ask the teachers for help. So, I lived in quiet desperation for most of my school life.
This obviously frustrated me because I knew I wasn’t going to get good grades and I also knew that I would probably struggle later in life because of a lack of knowledge.
That being said, because I’m no longer so fixated on my own thoughts and feelings, I can actually concentrate on the things which I’m really interested in.
If it’s anything that I find tedious, then my mind gets bored very easily and defaults back to paying attention to something which it finds more exciting, my thoughts and emotions.
This is just how my mind works. If I don’t care about it or find the thing really interesting, my mind will just switch off from it and look for something else to chew on. This is why I only did well in the subjects I enjoyed.
Here are the things I recommend doing and not doing when trying to break the habit of self-introspection
What didn’t help me
What didn’t help me when trying to break this negative habit was the act of trying to stop it. This is the great paradox. The more we try to stop a negative habit from occurring, the more get wrapped up in the habit.
I’ve mentioned this quote before and I’ll mention it again here because it fits perfectly with the message I’m trying to convey.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminister Fuller
Basically, this means that the more we try to fix our current habitual behaviour of self-introspection, the more we become self introspective. Why? Because we are putting more emphasis on the anxiety.
We cannot fix it in the way we usually think we can.
You can’t get out of the quicksand by constantly jumping in it. This is what we do when we try to fix this negative habit in the “wrong” way. The more we try to think ourselves out of our anxious state, the more attention we are putting on the anxiety which will feed it.
The more we try to argue or reason with ourselves when we are absorbed in our anxiety, the more we will feed the anxiety.
What helped me
So, what helped me to actually break out of this habit was to give up trying to stop it. I gave myself full permission to self-introspect as much as I wanted.
Now, this didn’t mean that I would constantly carry out this behaviour, it just meant that my attitude was more welcoming of it. The attitude of acceptance is crucial. As a paradox of giving myself permission to self introspect, I actually did it less and less.
It’s the transition from an inner no to an inner yes. Telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be doing this and questioning why we feel the way we do is what keeps us locked into the debilitating loop.
Stopping the habit of judging myself when I became aware that my attention was solely focused on my inner world of anxiety was another thing that really helped me in the long run. Judging ourselves is another way the anxiety creeps back in.
Instead of judging myself, I would create a new pathway in my brain by reminding myself that “okay, I understand that I am being self-introspective, I am not going to beat myself over this, I am going to accept it.”
The more I did this, the easier it became for me to not get pulled into the habit again.
I also practiced shifting my attention away from my internal world of anxious thoughts and sensations by doing the things I wanted to do.
I didn’t tell myself that I was doing it because I wanted to stop being so absorbed in my anxiety because this will create the rebound effect. I just started to place my attention on the things I wanted to do.
Do this long enough and it becomes the new norm. Right now, the behaviour of constantly ruminating on our anxiety is the norm.
Instead of trying to argue with ourselves about why we’re doing it and trying to mentally break out of it, just give up the fight and start giving your attention to the things you’d normally like to do.
It doesn’t matter if it feels unnatural at first. It takes a while for normal feelings to break through when have conditioned ourselves to be in this negative habit. Just keep at it and sooner or later this new habit of our attention being immersed onto the external world will become the norm again. Patience is key here.
I was recently reading one of Paul David’s posts about hyper-awareness of oneself. Every now and then, I will look at other peoples work for inspiration when I feel at a loss of what to write myself.
Sometimes I’m just overflowing with ideas and creativity, and other times I feel empty. This is just how it goes. Instead of complaining about it, I just look at what other’s are doing, become inspired by it and then share it with my readers – you.
He wrote something which made complete sense to me. In the words of Paul David, he said:
“I now understood that my awareness was continuously focused on me through nothing more than a habit that I had created. All I had thought about for years was me and my inner state, and so, of course, my awareness was always focused there. I then had a profound realisation that it wasn’t me that was thinking about myself; it was the habit I had created in my brain that was.
This was the very reason I could not defeat it or instantly stop thinking about myself as this habit was overriding all my attempts to do so. I finally got it; I couldn’t defeat a habit, I could only create a new one and let the old one die away of its own accord by no longer feeding it.”
To quote Buckminister Fuller again: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
The idea is to replace it with a new habit until the old habit is rendered obsolete. We do this by letting go of trying to manipulate our inner state and practice focusing our attention onto the external world.
There were two things which really helped me cement this behaviour of focusing my attention externally into place. I’ve already mentioned the first one and that’s immersing ourselves in the things we enjoy doing.
I recommend creating a list of activities that you enjoy doing and focus on one at a time. When you feel intellectually satisfied with one activity, move on to the next and repeat this. The most important thing to understand is, it doesn’t matter how big or small the thing is. If you enjoy it and it makes your time on earth here better, then that’s all that matters.
For me, it’s going for walks in nature, helping people (what I do online), playing my favourite songs on guitar, listening to my favourite songs, working out, watching my favourite films, reading my favourite books, travelling, etc etc.
Another way in which we can start to break our habit of self-introspection is to practice paying attention to what’s going on around us at present.
We can do this by:
Focusing on any noises which are occurring right now
Paying attention to the colours and shapes of the objects in our environment
Noticing any smells
Paying attention to the feeling of our feet touching against the ground as we walk or the feeling of our backsides resting in a chair for example
The practice is to hold our awareness on what we can perceive and every time our focus goes back onto our anxious state (which it will because of the habit we’ve created), we can just gently bring our attention to what’s going on in this current moment.
We can ask ourselves a question for each of our sensory perceptions.
What can I hear right now? What can I see right now? (then pay attention to all of the colours and shapes) What can I smell right now? What can I feel right now? What can I taste right now?
Drawing objects around the house can really help us to take our attention away from our internal world and onto the external world. Whatever is in front of you right now, just grab a pencil and piece of paper whilst you put on some of your favourite music and meticulously pay close attention to the object you’re drawing.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, just give yourself permission to play.
I trust this article can help you. Let me know how it goes. Breaking this habit does take a lot of time, so you’ll have to be patient.
Until next time.