What methods do you use to introspect?
June 6, 2010 7:50 PM   Subscribe

How do you introspect? When you're feeling internally (emotionally, mentally, spiritually) congested, what do you do? More inside.

I'm a generally sensitive person--if something is off inside, I'm not one who can live with it. I have to pinpoint it, grapple with the congestion, and somehow make it disappear so I can rebalance myself and live optimally again. Problem is, sometimes I have a really hard time pinning down what that congestion is and why I feel the way I do. I think the answer is I just have to "know myself," so how do you guys get to "know yourselves?"

I journal somewhat regularly, particularly when I'm feeling down, but often feel like I'm just complaining and not growing. I'd like to know what you guys do specifically to achieve clarity and growth. If you journal, how regularly do you journal, and are there a specific series of questions you ask yourself and try to answer? Do you use a prompt? Do you freewrite? Do you go on a long run? Are you the kind of person who needs to have conversations to figure things out, and if so, do you do them with a trusted friend or therapist or do you do them with yourself? Do you check in with yourself every day, every weekend, every month, or just when you're feeling down?

If you could be really specific and relate your methods to how you function in particular (for example, some people need to write everything down to process--others need to hear themselves think--others need to visualize, etcetera), I would be ever grateful!
posted by melancholyplay to Human Relations (28 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Try meditation.
posted by amro at 7:54 PM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Good question..thanks...I'll follow the answers.

Personally, I clear my mind and process in a few ways...

fishing: the focus and process
Kayaking: rhythm and isolation
photography: observation
dog: conversation and companionship..

all of these help when I need to find that inner place...
Good luck...
posted by HuronBob at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I might pray, or I might try to distract myself, or-since I am a musician-sometimes I sit at my keyboard and play it out.

If I really need to process-and at times in my life I did-I journalled then let it set and come back to it later.

Much more than that I never did find useful. Sometimes it's more useful to get out of your own head and focus on something outward. If you get in a mental loop I especially recommend it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:00 PM on June 6, 2010

I put on music and walk: I find if I'm not moving then my mind just goes in circles. I keep a OGG (ok ok, MP3) player with a lot of different music on it so I can find something to suit my mood as I walk and just let my feet carry me in a big circle over and over again until my mind is sorted out.
posted by Canageek at 8:04 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you journal, how regularly do you journal, and are there a specific series of questions you ask yourself and try to answer? Do you use a prompt?

Who do you talk to, in your journal? It may help if you can pinpoint who you'd like to imagine saying what you're writing to. Are you talking to your friend? If so, what can you say to make your friend understand how you feel? Or is it a parent, a significant other, a colleague, etc? In each case, you will use different tactics to get across what you're trying to say. That can really help you feel through different ideas and feelings, if you write as though you were trying to make someone else understand.
posted by meese at 8:05 PM on June 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

running - without music is best for me - to get attuned to your heartbeat, breathing and footsteps is excellent for clearing the mind.

yoga - aside from the breathing focus, i have found that certain postures have a strong effect on emotions, but i think specifics will differ from person to person. chest-opening positions really help me get a handle on emotions and submerged feelings.

free-writing - it is sometimes difficult to get into the correct state of mind to achieve this, or it takes awhile to really get to the point. i like to have a beer and use the typewriter. a little relaxing of everyday shields and no erasure possible.
posted by chickadee at 8:10 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I put a teddy bear on my desk and talk out loud to it.

I know it sounds weird and insane, but I find that vocalising my thoughts like that really helps me. I started doing that with programming problems and quickly found that it works with all sorts of problems. If I can't do that, I write stuff down into a journal - or even on scrap paper - and work things out that way.

There aren't any specific questions I ask myself - mostly I just talk/write until something clicks, and I can sit back and go, "That's it. That's why I'm feeling like ____." I also tend to only 'check in' on myself when I'm feeling really down/stressed, although I should do it more regularly, because my first method of dealing with stress is to distract myself and that always makes it worse in the long run.
posted by Xany at 8:16 PM on June 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Who do you talk to, in your journal? It may help if you can pinpoint who you'd like to imagine saying what you're writing to.

Sometimes I write to my future self. After all, that's who's going to be reading it, right?

This is really corny but I like it anyway. When I do this, I know I'm 'talking to' someone who understands what I'm going through, because... she's been there. Literally! It also helps me because it allows me to focus on the future. I assume that the person I'm talking to has grown and changed and dealt with whatever it is I'm feeling.

So for example, "god, Future Self, I feel like shit today and I don't even know why." When I write something that way, I can imagine myself actually reading it in the future, and I know that I'll feel sympathy and sadness and also relief at the knowledge that in the end it all worked out. Just thinking about it makes me feel better, because it reminds me that I'll get through this (whatever 'this' is).

Give it a try sometime... you might hate it, but who knows.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:17 PM on June 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I'm thinking through any type of problem, trying to work out my feelings about an issue, or trying to explain a concept to myself, I often imagine a conversation with someone I might normally talk to about that issue. If the issue is work related, I imagine a conversation with a colleague, for example. This is more helpful to me than a conversation with myself for two reasons. First, I have to express my ideas as I would to someone else, making it less likely that I would fib (as I would to myself, self-justification-style) and more likely that I will articulate the thoughts in complete sentences, not just in random thought clouds. Second, I am imagining the other person's questions and responses, which is helpful. If the issue is focused on information, not a personal matter, I will often envision teaching it, as that's my job. I don't necessarily do either of these thinking exercises on purpose; that's where my mind goes when it's full of whatchamacallit to suss out.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:17 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make up a religion with its idiosyncratic rules. Don't tell anybody. Make sure you have rituals that you follow. Don't hurt anyone while doing it. I'm completely serious.
posted by yaymukund at 8:18 PM on June 6, 2010 [24 favorites]

I do extra journaling, combined with meditation. I follow a practice from the Artist's Way called Morning Pages - as soon as possible after I get up, I write three pages longhand stream of consciousness. This tells me what's on my mind that I might typically suppress or ignore. At the end of the day, I also journal, though this happens less frequently (once or twice a week, as opposed to daily for the morning pages.) It can help me assess my feelings, and even just listing events of the day, however dull, can help me find points of mental bottleneck. I also meditate and engage in a mild yoga practice. I'm hypersensitive myself, and it takes vigilance to avoid creating internal drama when I just need to clear my head.
posted by medea42 at 8:21 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I go on a long motorcycle ride. Nothing clears my mind like a good long chunk of helmet time. A friend once told me that he saw a lot of the same qualities in motorcyclists and welders--comfort with large amounts of introspective alone time bring a major one.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:38 PM on June 6, 2010

I go biking about five times a week for about an hour each time. I am very familiar with the path, so often my mind just wonders. Sometimes it ends up being a conversation with myself in my head. It's almost like a personal conversation with a close friend, even to the point where I try to play devil's advocate to myself and try to contradict my own beliefs.

Weird? Yeah, probably. But I've learned a lot about myself, about others, and how I interact with others by having these long conversations with myself, totally unintentionally.

Tips on taking this approach: Doesn't have to be biking; any activity you can't just walk away from and where you can put your body in cruise control and let your brain wonder (ex: running, hiking, kayaking, walking the dog, gardening, yard word, but not reading, cooking, surfing the internet, repairing something, or cleaning the garage). No music; make yourself "bored" enough so you can talk with yourself and not be interrupted. Don't interview yourself, make it a conversation; you learn a lot more about a person by sitting down and a talk over dinner than sitting down for a specific interview. Don't force it; sometimes you'll have a eureka moment and many times you won't, but regardless you'll always come out learning a bit more about yourself.
posted by Kippersoft at 8:39 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @yaymukund--I love this suggestion. I'm going to think it out tonight. Thank you!

@medea42--That's a great way to put it, "creating internal drama when I just need to clear my head." That's exactly it!

Very true that I have a tendency to overthink things and should probably get moving in order to stop my over-analysis.

@meese & @Trarnoir --Great idea to write "to" someone. I totally forgot about this method, but I've done it before and have gotten decent results.
posted by melancholyplay at 8:44 PM on June 6, 2010

I don't know if this helps me achieve growth, but it does help me clarify things.

I construct anonymous AskMes in my head.

It always starts off tl;dr with a dash (or more) of whiny/ranty, but I try to figure out how much detail to leave out and how much to leave in, and try to strike a balance between derailing amounts of detail and too-vague-to-answer. I imagine the answers and the questions that you all contribute. I even imagine the meTa.

In every case so far, I haven't needed to actually post the question; going through the process both helps me figure out what the question is, and how to think about the solutions.
posted by rtha at 8:49 PM on June 6, 2010 [11 favorites]

I walk with notecards in my pocket in case I want to write anything down. Don't be afraid to talk to yourself.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2010

I don't "journal" per se - but I do morning pages, and have for about 3 months now (okay, so I missed today, but otherwise...). It has been my salvation. I know that's a bold claim, but I am totally serious.

Morning pages are explained in The Artist's Way and elsewhere. It's 3 pages of longhand writing every morning. Whatever is on your mind. You can also do it digitally, although Julia Cameron insists on doing it by hand. There are no rules besides meeting the page (or word) count and doing it daily.

So it ends up looking like freewriting, but it's really more a form of meditation. And it's a ritual I suppose, although that word is so loaded I'd rather not go there. My simplest and bluntest assessment is that it gets the crazy out of my head. And it works. I am unfortunately not in a position to afford therapy, so it's been the next best thing.

I do like to talk things out with friends too, but that's not always practical and possible.
posted by O9scar at 9:58 PM on June 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I find that I often have a song running through my head for a day or more at a time. That song is usually a clue to something going on at a deeper emotional level. I have also started my own style of art therapy. I take a while to figure out what I want to draw, what speaks to me and then spend time over the next few days doing the drawing, which seems to help release some of the emotions for me.
posted by metahawk at 10:02 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find that I think best when I'm physically occupied, but not mentally. So, going for a walk or a run or a swim is good, or weeding the beds in the garden. I expect knitting might help too, although I never tried.
posted by emilyw at 11:31 PM on June 6, 2010

I get up close and personal with nature. Re-establish a felt sense of connection with her and let the answers stream in.
posted by Pamelayne at 11:46 PM on June 6, 2010

Best answer: Try mind-mapping. You start at a central point, and then go off in various different directions. I find it useful because there doesn't have to be a specific order or focus to it, other than the original seed. Write down whatever comes to mind, and pretty soon you'll wade through the chaff and get to the actual wheat.

Or, if you're more sure of what it is that you're wound up about, try writing a letter to someone (I like to pretend that it's to a therapist of some description), explaining the situation. Try to imagine what sorts of questions they'd ask you, and respond to them in the letter.
posted by Solomon at 1:35 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Problem is, sometimes I have a really hard time pinning down what that congestion is and why I feel the way I do. I think the answer is I just have to "know myself," so how do you guys get to "know yourselves?"

tl;dr I give myself a grace period where I observe my thoughts and bodily sensations without judgement. I use those observations to figure out what I'm feeling. I write everything down and look at past behaviour or talk to other people if I still haven't figured it out. When I'm not actively thinking about something, I aim to empty my mind by way of physical activity and meditation.


I start with identifying as many discrete feelings and emotions as possible. I get into observation mode: I start with my body and observable thoughts and move to my feelings and emotions.

1) Body. I stop and observe how I physically feel. Where are my bodily sensations located? This serves two purposes: a) It focuses my attention to immediate happenings so I don't get distracted; b) It helps me correlate physical sensations to emotional sensations and this helps me identify feelings.

2) Thoughts. I watch out for any recurring or relevant thoughts. At this stage, just acknowledge them and I strongly avoid inner commentary. I deflect the inclination to comment by smirking/smiling at myself.

When I feel I have done enough observing (the time period varies), I write everything down. Well, I spew anything and everything even remotely relevant to the situation. Then, I sleep on it.

Sometimes, just by observing myself more closely or writing all my thoughts/feelings down I'm able to identify what I'm feeling and where it's coming from. Sometimes, it takes longer. I then look back to see if I've felt this way in the past. This may be an opportunity to realise that there's a recurring pattern. If possible, I remove myself from the situation until I can figure things out. This is also when I might talk to someone because I can articulate my troubles and also, an external perspective helps. If I still haven't figured it out yet, then I've amassed data about myself that will be useful in the future. I move on. If I find myself in a similar situation in the future, I should be better placed to figure it out and maybe even have one of those light bulb moments when I finally get the obvious.

I try to make a mental check during perceived turning points or else once in a while to see how I'm feeling, evaluate my current situation and get rid of clutter. But if I'm not thinking of something in particular, I try not to think of anything at all. Meditation and physical activity (running, swimming, dancing, anything you like) work wonders for this. Also, just using all the little idle moments to bring my mind back to the present works really well for me (I love this game: figure out how many different sounds you are hearing right now).

Thank you for this thread and I'm sorry my answer is so long.
posted by mkdirusername at 3:04 AM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Try focusing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:24 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Introspecting for me often means remembering events - on a regular basis, I will write down things that I did in a day, along with one memory from long ago. I'll do this in a number of different ways and voices - first person narrative, a bulleted list, a set of emotions and their triggers, third person narrative (often useful for figuring out conflicts with other people - the situation often becomes much clearer if you force yourself to have perspective on it), a freewrite that flows loosely, so on and so forth. This stretches my mental muscles, gets me to look at myself and what I did and my own perspective on events and my choices. Writing is absolutely my favorite way to introspect. When I'm feeling weird and disconnected with myself, I'll pick a list of adjectives (good, bad or neutral) and ask myself questions about them. Do they apply to me? To my friends? Would my friends apply them to me? How do I feel about that?
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:34 AM on June 7, 2010

I walk around the block and talk to myself.
posted by xammerboy at 9:26 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two things, depending on the circumstances:

1. If I'm just feeling a little bit blocked, or like something small is eating at me, I'll go for a drive. Anything that puts your mind into that vague state that I call "out of gear and idling in neutral." Even just a 30-minute drive with silence in the car (no music or other distractions) is often enough.

2. For a big messy situation, to get my head straight, or if there's something big I need to tackle, I take an inventory. This is something I learned from David Allen's book Getting Things Done.

You block out an hour or so of time, sit down with a stack of paper, and start writing down everything that's un-done. From "clean coffee maker" to "figure out rent situation."

As you're committing things to paper, other things pop into your head out of the queue. It's really quite illuminating, and it can dredge up a lot of the stuff that's lurking down deep, stealing your mental processing power on the sly.
posted by ErikaB at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2010

I sympathize, and find a few things helpful:

1. Therapy (it doesn't have to be often or extended). My therapist is great at noticing trends and topics in my comments that I hadn't noticed or felt worth questioning. She's then really good at asking hard questions about them that often lead to fruitful new questions and answers.

2. Journaling or meditating in a way where I sit down with my higher self. This is (like the above) sort of like my future self in 10 or 20 years, but an ideal version of that self: endlessly empathetic, asking my current self questions, being a real friend. It's corny, but it helps to envision sitting down with that higher self in a really comfortable place, like her garden or her awesome library with the fireplace and tea that I'd like to imagine she'll have.

3. Working with a journaling book. Most of them are a little silly, but I've found that they sometimes ask questions about experiences or desires that I wouldn't have thought to journal on my own, but which lead to interesting new discoveries.
posted by ldthomps at 12:54 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot before: I write letters. Pen and paper letters to my girlfriend. Usually they are just a part of a longer letter, but I find setting things down in writing really helps, and she understands this. I also feel silly writing if it isn't TOO someone. I've had limited successes with blogging in the past, but I find using a pen and paper is much more focusing.
posted by Canageek at 7:31 PM on June 7, 2010

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