When I moved to Los Angeles, one of the first things I learned was that, according to my friends, I was lacking in the self-reflection and mindfulness areas. As a 20-year New Yorker, I had based my life around my ability to effectively hustle, but after a rough few first months in Los Angeles, a friend encouraged me to do some introspection and take a look at the skeletons in my closet. Skeletons, I thought, now those are interesting to me.
Skeletons in the closet. Haunted bags of bones that decorate our October doorsteps. Skeletor, Army of Darkness, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Skeletons are everywhere. And they’re generally seen as scary. But, what is it that we find so scary about the structure that holds up the bodies we inhabit? Why are we so afraid of skeletons?
In essence, we should be lauding our bones for their faithful Atlas-like service to our every physical whim. But, instead, we run away from them, make movies about them, and prop them up on our doorsteps to scare away the ghouls.
Perhaps our fear of skeletons has something to do with the fact that many of us have an aversion to introspection. Perhaps our emotional insides are so scary that our feelings spill over onto our perceptions of our physical insides.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m often afraid of what I will find if I take time to look inside myself. I respect my physical skeleton for what it does, but when I have the choice, I choose to look outside myself rather than inside. But, why is it so scary to me to look inside myself? I figured now that I was in Los Angeles, I was stuck with this whole mindfulness and introspection thing, so I might as well jump in feet first.
So, what, exactly, is introspection, anyway?
We use the word “introspection” in casual conversation, but it is also a more formalized psychological term. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines introspection as, “the process of attempting to directly access one’s own internal psychological processes, judgments, perceptions, or states.”
So, in essence, introspection is pulling aside one’s own curtain in Oz to peer at the person operating the controls that govern our lives. It’s important to take time to look at what is happening inside our brains so that we can make more informed decisions that are true to ourselves. If we don’t pull back the curtain, if we always stay fearful of our own skeletons, we run the risk of veering away from our true purpose.
In VeryWellMind, Kendra Cherry says, “The use of introspection as a tool for looking inward is an important part of self-awareness and is even used in psychotherapy as a way to help clients gain insight into their own feelings and behavior.”
So yes, introspection may be a little bit scary for some of us, but I realized that the skeleton I know in my little Los Angeles closet is better than the skeleton I don’t.
Why We Should Look Inside
A study by psychologists at Queen’s University that was published in the journal Nature Communications states that humans have an average of 6,200 thoughts per day. However, the general consensus amongst scientists is that a majority of these thoughts are not original.
Numerous articles mention a study in 2005 that showed 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. Meaning, we think the same things over and over (“I need to wake up earlier.”) However, when I searched high and low for the origin of this study, I couldn't find it. I will say, though, that from personal experience, I repeat a lot of thoughts in my noggin’. And my guess is that I’m not alone.
Here’s the thing, though, we all know that repetition helps our brain learn. (If you didn’t, here’s a super interesting studyabout it.) But, what if we are thinking the same things over and over, 6,200 times per day, that aren’t benefiting ourselves? What if we have a negative thought on a loop and we aren’t aware of it?
That’s when introspection comes in. When we spend time asking ourselves the hard questions, examining what we tell ourselves, and checking all of the proverbial bones in our skeleton for disease, we can root out some of the causes of our problems and reintroduce new (and potentially more positive) thoughts.
How to Look Inside
One of the most comprehensive lists of questions for introspection is compiled by Courtney Ackerman on the Positive Psychology website. The site lists 87 different questions that you can ask yourself to check in and see what’s going on inside.
First things first, though, introspection requires a little peace and quiet — away from the external stimulation of, well, the world. So, set aside some time to be quiet and really listen to your own thoughts. Find a peaceful place and time that is free of distraction and interruption and get to the task of checking out the skeletons inside your own closet.
I like to stream-of-consciousness journal while I’m spending time on my little balcony in Los Angeles reflecting on my thoughts. I often find that what seems rational, positive, or productive in my head is something completely different when I see it written out on paper. I have found that I can rationalize pretty much anything if I keep my thoughts on the surface and I don’t dig too deep. Take it from me — this is not the best way to go!
So, in the interest of introspection, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What am I taking for granted?
- What is the one thing in life that I care the most about?
- Am I spending my time in a mindful way?
- Am I caring for my physical body?
- What thoughts or beliefs do I need to release?
- What will be my legacy?
- Who in my life needs me today?
- Am I using my resources wisely?
These questions are good prompts, but I have also found that once I get started really reflecting on myself, my thoughts, and my actions, the things I need to address almost always bubble to the surface sooner than later.
I get it, skeletons are scary. Mine can be, anyway. Introspection, though, is imperative for a well-lived and fully-realized life. Our thoughts are important because they’re repetitive. If we can look inside ourselves and view our judgments, our perceptions, and the process behind the product, we can make some important adjustments.
At the end of the day, our skeletons are with us whether we like it or not. Like our thoughts, our skeletons help shape our bodies and our existence. They might be a little scary, but it will behoove you to take some time, look inside, and understand the foundations of what makes you…you.