This is not actually an introductory course in Introspection. Just some gentle encouragement and advice for those contemplating a new hobby. Note I’m not a professional, but I do have a lifetime’s experience in overthinking!
I don’t think introspection has ever been a particularly widely valued skill in our modern lives, and is one of those skills that perhaps we consider innate rather than acquired.
All I can say is, while overthinking can be both symptomatic of and responsible for poor mental health (my opinion, I’m not a professional) introspection was the way out of depression for me. To put it in its simplest terms, looking inwards for answers, rather than outwards for blame, or reasons, or distractions.
I’m not suggesting there are any magic bullets – far from it. This post is just introducing a simple tool to get started on working on yourself – a personal stocktake. If you are feeling overwhelmed, pausing to get clear on what is overwhelming can give perspective and clarity on what you need to do next. Regardless of what you think your mental or emotional state is, reflecting on it is a valuable exercise.
Find a comfortable setting and allow yourself a window of uninterrupted time for the activity. Ideally you won’t be distracted. If anything is distracting you while doing the stocktake you should write down those things as ‘To Do’ items to deal with later. For example, if I was doing this and remembered I had forgotten to call someone, I would note it down. If I remembered I hadn’t hung out the washing, I would note it down. Often for me I would end up with a handful of things to do after I had finished.
For me I like to go to a cafe alone and ‘stocktake’ over a coffee, but I’m sure the location is not important as long as it is somewhere comfortable with minimal distractions.
Take an A4 notebook and draw lines to divide a page into ten approximately equal sections. I You might decide some sections aren’t applicable to you. I would suggest including them to start with, although you might decide you need to break things out into other categories. Each section represents an ‘area’ of your life.
The categories I start with are:
- Personal Growth
- Physical Health
There can certainly be overlap between many of the categories (eg Relationships/Family, Social/Recreation) and I only break them out so that I can include different points where needed.
This step involves writing 3-5 items, short bullet points, about each category. What do you need to do, in this category. What isn’t working, or is working. Depending on where you are at, emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, in most categories this is probably something you already do instinctively.
As an example, when I first started doing this I was living in an apartment that was a bit small, so the category ‘Environmental’ for me was often a list of chores to declutter my apartment. Later it became tasks to move house. But I can also see the category as the broader environment, how can I improve the area we live in. For the sake of this exercise, it is ‘what is most important for me to do now?’
So you take a few minutes on each area, being as honest with yourself as you can. ‘Financial’ might be as simple as listing bills that are due, or taxes to be done, or it could be getting your finances ready for a home loan. It is whatever is relevant to you at this time.
Working through all the categories, you might not have anything on any of the categories. That’s fine. Maybe just sit with each category for as much time as you are happy to give it, and make any observations.
Having gone through the exercise of creating notes under each category, you can move onto the final steps.
You might react to certain categories in a different way. That’s ok, and to be expected. Just try to be aware of those reactions.
Look over the categories, and the bullet points within, and make a separate list of anything that you can do from the list. Note anything that you would consider essential (eg pay a bill due tomorrow, call your brother for his birthday) and note anything with a due date.
Also note which category or categories you consider the most important during this review. Not necessarily the ones most important at your core, but the ones where you feel maybe a sense of urgency, or maybe you feel you can get some easy wins by addressing those things.
Having reviewed your notes, and any tasks arising from noting any distractions along the way as mentioned in Step 1, you now might have a little (or big) to do list.
Whatever you do, don’t stress about your to-do list! If there is anything you have noted as essential, try to get it done at your earliest convenience. It feels good to get it out of the way! But if you don’t, so be it. This process is not about self-flagellation. It is up to you how prominent you make your ‘to do list’ arising from this exercise – some weeks I will refer to it until all the essential tasks are done, and other weeks I don’t look at it again until the next time I go through the process.
What I like to do the following week is have a look back over the previous week, and use it as a starting point. Is there anything I had on the To Do list that I didn’t do? Yes, every time!
If I do this exercise (regularly or not), and review what I have written previously, sometimes I notice a shift in how I feel about a certain area. It is a useful process to assess how I am feeling around each of these areas, and prioritise accordingly.
Like I said earlier, there are no magic bullets. Just steps on a journey, and introspection is one step you can take.