Monday, December 29, 2008

The Importance of Introspecting

This should be the greatest of all New Year's resolutions, the one most fundamental to well-being while others are merely supplements.

I. The Base of Happiness

The basic key to happiness is to know it. When one does not know what makes one happy, then there is no way to maintain it or even have a clue to pursue it. You cannot cross a line that has never been drawn.

The majority of unhappiness today is not caused solely by the dreariness of our culture's direction or of the goings-on in our personal lives, but rather, in principle, what we base our happiness on. It is a fatal mistake to base happiness on things such as the number of friendships established or how the political horizon looks, because then that is to place it on something out of one's control and demolish any hope for consistency throughout life. A proper standard of happiness is to be based on something directly within control, and the only thing in absolute control is oneself.

For a proper happiness we must focus entirely on ourselves and how true we are to the values we hold (the achievement of said values is what constitutes happiness). In order to be true to those values and thereby maintain a consistent sense of life, we have to reflect inwardly to make sure those values are consistent, that the satisfaction of one premise does not mean betraying another premise.

This piece contains information on the method I have found most effective in establishing happiness: introspection. With it I have managed to drastically change my view on life and my habits, as well as give myself more motivation and increase my productivity. I will describe (in section four) my own personal method of introspection, but it certainly is not limited to that and one can choose one's own method or variety of execution.

First some terms must be defined for the less technical readers.

II. Introspection and Premises Defined

Introspection is the process of analyzing one's mental content, a specific form of thinking. This definition does not discriminate as to what mental contents are being analyzed, only that they are mental contents.

A premise, in the context of this piece, is an idea that a person has integrated into their subconscious that serves as a standing order that will affect how the subconscious functions later on in the future. Premises greatly influence (but do not determine) what habits of thinking and acting a person will have, as well as what emotions they will experience. What premises a person chooses to accept or reject matters greatly, because it will decide how hard or easy it will be to pursue one's goals.

Through introspection one can examine one's premises and decide properly on a course of action to either enforce or uproot them and integrate new ones, thereby indirectly controlling the subconscious. When you find out what makes something tick, you can control those "ticks". One could use this to eliminate the urge to be lazy or the life's view that life is nothing but boredom, or perhaps to start and maintain good habits.

But why should we introspect? Can we not just let the subconscious alone and let it pick up whatever it may? You would be surprised how many people have already answered yes to this. They may have not answered explicitly, but the results are certainly for all to see.

III. The Importance of Introspection and the Consequences of Not Doing So

Cumbersome to you or not, everyone needs to introspect, or, as the famous saying goes, you need to "check your premises." The subconscious can be viewed as a computer. It programs into itself (automizes) what ideas you consciously choose to accept and then operates according to those principles. If you feed it contradictions, then, both in your emotions and thinking, it will feed back to you contradicting data. To be concrete, you will have conflicting feelings which will hamper your ability to make a decision and be satisfied with what decision you do make.

Take, for example, Jake, who has integrated the "duty" premise that he should visit his brother (whom he dislikes) at least once a week and the value premise that his favorite television show is Monk. Monk comes on during the only one spare hour he has during the entire week (Jake is busy!), but he pledges to visit his brother for one hour also (his visits are not included in his normal schedule). Now he has a conflict between two premises, a “duty” and a value. If he chooses to visit his brother, then he will increasingly hate his visits for they deprive him of a value. If he chooses to watch television, then he will feel guilty for not fulfilling his duty and will be less able to enjoy the show. With this contradiction heeding attention to one premise necessarily means betraying another.

If Jake chooses not to identify and then resolve the conflict through introspection, then he will always experience those emotions and achieve less happiness. If he were ever to engage in introspection, he would have to make explicit *why* he thinks such an obligation to his brother exists. (Rationally he should give up his visits, as they do not contribute any value to his life and the duty is arbitrary.)

So then the reason we need to introspect is to make sure that our premises are consistent, otherwise we will not be able to act, think, or feel consistently. If you do not introspect then contradictions will simply pile up on one another and become harder to alter. It is during youth that it is the easiest time to do such work, as then there is not too many deeply rooted, if any at all, premises.

Although, surprisingly, continuous introspection becomes more crucial after one assumes the responsibility of thinking. This is because introspecting with the purpose of checking or altering your premises , after a while, means that you have accepted the premise that analyzing oneself is a good thing and to refrain from it is bad. If one chooses to ignore one’s faults and vices after a thinking session, then the subconscious will send the thought and emotion of deserved guilt. This will then become a sore which will resend that guilt-inducing response whenever stimulated, whether it be conversation, a poor action, or the likes. Over time if there is continuous evasion then there will be a sore on just about every critical part of the subconscious. Such a person as that would be unbearable in almost all human associations (to both parties), because there would be little to no ways to avoid upsetting them. So, if you choose to introspect, keep it up despite what emotional uneasiness you may feel. With practice it will form into an action you are indifferent to and feel uneasy refraining from.

Also, aside from keeping the subconscious consistent, introspection can open one up to consistent happiness. Being subconsciously consistent *does not* mean one is or can be happy. Happiness is achieved by pursuing and gaining values, which requires that you know what those values are and how you should pursue them. Of course, I will not forget, before one can ask “What makes me happy?” one must ask “How do I introspect?”

IV. Methods of Introspecting

I am sure that with some thinking you can find what personal method you would like to use, but I am going to stick to explaining two methods only: one method everyone should use regardless of their tastes and the method that works for me.

The first method consists in merely examining yourself *immediately* after you have a mood swing, whether it is good or bad. This way you will remember the stimulus that set it off or what action you took and it will be the easiest time to do it. To illustrate with an absurd example:

Let us say that Jane is afraid of teddy bears, but since she keeps herself so busy during the day it never occurs to her to actually examine why. Really, she would never think of it again if she never saw another teddy bear again (which would make the second method we will discuss absolutely useless. This is why this method must be accepted: some premises will only remain within one's mind clearly during a mood swing.).

But, terribly, she walks by a toy store that is advertising a new line of Rumpelstilskin bears. At that window she feels anxiety and a desire to escape. Even during such emotional distress this would be one of the best times to examine herself and ask “Why am I frightened of teddy bears?”

Checking her memories while walking, she suddenly remembers that her mean Uncle Tom used to whap her over the head with her stuff animals, particularly teddy bears. “I am afraid,” she explicitly and consciously thinks to herself, “of teddy bears because I associate them with the memory of my mean uncle.”

Jane has completed two tasks: she has identified a premise (that she is frightened of teddy bears) and why she is so (abuse from her uncle). Now she needs to figure out what she should do about that knowledge. “In the future,” she thinks, “when I am confronted by my fear I will tell myself in my mind ‘it is just an inanimate object. I fear it merely because of a dead relative.’” In this case, she only has to actively recite the cause of her fear every time she is confronted by it. Sooner or later (and this is an important point: how long it takes to alter a premise greatly depends on how long one has held it), this premise will be uprooted because she will subconsciously understand there is nothing to fear. But if she evaded the knowledge of this premise, she would have to deal with guilt too.

When you have a mood swing, ask yourself these three questions: 1.) what is the premise causing this emotion, 2.) why does this premise exist, and 3.) what should I do about it. Never let your emotions overwhelm you into not thinking, lest you become a wreck of a human being later on who cannot desire anything but a wish to ignore reality exists.

The second method is writing in a diary/introspection journal, which is my personal method. In fact, this is one of the most effective methods. This is because of the nature of the involvement of the subconscious during the writing process (*before* editing). Writing a first draft consciously is literally impossible because then one would never get done, as one would have to actively search for deliberate about each and every single word. Everyone must write according to what knowledge their subconscious has made automatic. It is very appropriate to say everyone writes their rough drafts according to their feelings (though further drafts or editing is not needed in a personal journal). Identifying premises and their causes become much easier when letting the subconscious speak for itself. Upon rereading what you have written you can see whether you are telling the truth or rationalizing.

Although the only requirement of this method may slow some down at the beginning: writing competence. Such skill can be developed with continued practice, but it will be discouraging to the sloppy at first. It is not required that one be *good* at writing per say, only that one write grammatically. Writing and thinking are connected. The quality of your thinking shows up when you write, so if you think in vague approximations then you are going to write vague approximations, so in the area of introspection approximates are a cardinal sin, as they defeat the purpose. To know something is to know it precisely, not fuzzily.

I choose this method because not only do I think and understand better when thoughts are put into written words, but it also trains my writing ability as well (I go so far as to fill a set number of pages everyday). However, there are other methods to choose from, such as audio diary. But since these two methods suffice for me I choose not to entertain the idea of anything else.
To be clear, concerning both methods, it is of absolute importance that one tell the truth when one introspects or at least recognize when one is rationalizing. Rationalizing is when one uses an arbitrary or distorted standard of logic in order to make seem logical something that is obviously illogical or irrational.

Lying to oneself or purposely distorting one's perception is not hazardous to one's habit of thinking, but it negates entirely the purpose of introspecting to begin with. Such deceptions do not give a sense of comfort by satisfying a subjective desire, but rather they replace one bad premise with another and resolve no contradictions, making for a waste of time. Using the methods above make sure to make explicit whenever one should happen to, or be tempted to, distort thinking.

V. Results

To sum up my own experience, I have managed to change myself drastically, both in how I act and think. For a brief example (I give permission for you to ask for a deeper explanation), in the past I had difficulty getting anything done and was not able to focus on my personal studies at all, but after a bit of writing my productivity keeps increasing as well as becoming more efficient, and studying is such a value to me that I feel unproductive and brain-starved a single day without it. But it has taken me tons of thinking and over ninety journal entries to get myself up to this point. So most importantly, remember that it takes a long time to uproot or alter your premises, for premises unchecked can be held for years and take years to dispose of. Have patience. Take a look at overweight people who are just starting out at the gym. They may set ambitious goals for them to achieve, such as running five miles every other day, but right when they first start out they will not be able to maintain pace within half of the track’s length. The difficulty is always at the start of things.

In the long run the person who introspects will feel much more in control of their life and will be more easily able to control themselves, unlike their opposites. The person who does not introspect will feel like life is out of control for him, and that their feelings and actions are determined by outside forces. In short, they will have chosen to build and maintain their own personal hell.

Either way, you have a choice and make a choice in either regard. Whatever choice you make, you get what you deserve in the end. You just ought to make sure that what you deserve is what you want.

1 comment:

ruchi said...

i completely agree to what u have sadi abt introspection. the methods suggested for doing so ii think r pretty apt.. have myself being doing it for sometime, though m stil struggling to make it work. u also rite in saying that introspection initially leaves u being anxious n sad.. m not happy curretnly.. trying to be though