Introspection: Guide to being a better person

I don’t think this is a commonly used word. In fact, the reason I found this word was because I googled for the English-equivalent of the Chinese term 反省. Introspection means to examine or observe one’s mental and emotional processes.

In recent years, especially after coming back from Melbourne, I’ve often told my parents that whatever happens to us, be it good or bad, especially in bad times, we need to 反省, or be introspective. More often than not, they would give me the facial expression of curiosity, wondering what I meant. Well, be introspective about the way we react to things of course. It’s always easy to push the blame to others or things that are not within our control when the going gets tough. Blame the government, blame your parents, blame your environment… You get the point.

Frankly speaking, it’s not difficult to see why people love to do that! Because by pushing the blame onto others, it frees us of responsibility. It frees us from doing things WITHIN our control, and most importantly, it frees us from changing something about ourselves to improve the situation.

Introspection allows us to fully understand the situation from an objective point of view. It gives us an opportunity to define what truly is controllable by us and what cannot be. By delineating what is controllable and what is not, we can then build the right solution for the right problem. Our mind consists of the conscious and the subconscious, and what we do consciously is significantly affected by the subconscious of ours. A great example is the action of evading a high-speed vehicle when it comes in your way. You probably didn’t give much thought about flinching, but you certainly did. Why is that so? It’s because your subconscious mind has been trained over millenniums to protect you from harm.

Similarly, our subconscious minds have been trained from our life experiences to form paradigms of the way we view things. According to the Oxford dictionary, paradigms are patterns or models. Paradigms within our subconscious mind are really powerful because it affects the way we view things. Unsurprisingly, most people aren’t aware of the paradigms that have been deeply ingrained into them, hence they tend to react a certain way upon being triggered, be it positive or negative. Bad paradigms can distract us from what truly matters. They cause us to be reactive towards things that happen to us. They make us unproductive, lazy, and potentially toxic. Meanwhile, good paradigms allow us to be proactive, and to be a contributor to society and the people around us. They bring us to places where we want to go. Paradigms can be deeply ingrained into us due to culture, environment, and other externalities. It takes a conscious effort to override our existing paradigms and eventually create new models for the subconscious.

The act of introspection helps us to help ourselves. It tells us to analyze our innate paradigms. It gives us the opportunity to look at things from a third person’s perspective. Most important of all, it changes the language from WHAT DID THEY NOT DO to WHAT CAN I DO. Instead of saying things like “Why did my boss not give me a raise?”, “Why did the government not help me out?”, “Why did my parents not do this for me?”, we start to say things like “What can I do to increase my perceived value to the company”, “What can I do to earn more money”, “What can I do to slim down and get rid of my ailments”.

Think about it. You can always be complaining about your situation, OR you could start doing something to change your situation.

“Okay HouTian, I want to change my situation. How do I go about doing it?”

Well, here’s a word of warning. Changing the status quo has never been easy. But one thing I know for sure is that it can be done because I’ve personally done it before. I used to almost never work out until 2 years ago. It didn’t take any serious health condition to change that; a mere motivation to keep myself young and healthy got the habit going. I knew I couldn’t defy time, but I could delay the aging process by starting a healthier lifestyle. I’ve never looked back since then. So yes, it can be done. It’s only a matter of your conviction.

Back to the topic of changing your situation. To get started, allocate 5-10 minutes out of your busy schedule on a weekend, where life passes a little slower. You will come to appreciate this because this will allow you to think through things clearly, where you have time to be proactive and introspective about the things you do. During this session, think about an event that has happened recently which made you upset. It could be anything. Think about how you felt during that event, what made you react the way you did. Did it feel like the other party was selfish and wasn’t concerned about you? One great example that we can all relate to at this juncture pertains to job hunting. It sucks to be rejected for whatever reasons that is. We hate to be rejected for jobs that we have a true passion for. We may blame, curse, or whatever at the hiring manager, the company, or the economy for not taking us in. But really, that’s a bad paradigm, not exactly an ideal way to perceive the problem. You didn’t get what you wanted, and it just puts you in a lousy mood that further distracts you from your job hunting process.

Now, I want you to replay that situation, but this time around, think about how you could have improved the situation. What was the other party trying to achieve? No, not on the first order of thinking (which is stated explicitly by the other party). Think deep, focus on what the actual concern was. How could you have reacted to what they said, to achieve what you want while satisfying their deeper needs? By changing your paradigm, instead of saying it was their fault for causing so much anger and pain, you start to think about what the actual underlying problem is. What was the other party’s actual concern? What is my concern? What would be the ideal solution that could satisfy both of us? Going back to the job hunting example, we could focus on the fact that the hiring manager might have felt that you’re meant for something bigger and better. We could also focus on the possibilities that there are better opportunities out there. Of course, this is a very simple example, but the basis of the argument doesn’t change.

Being introspective doesn’t just help you get what you want. It helps you to build better relationships, be happier in life, and get more out of everything! By being introspective, we take the proactive approach of understanding where the real problem is by shifting the way we view it and take charge of solving it.

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