Self Awareness - my perception of my own beliefs, personality, strengths and weaknesses, and importantly my emotions and motivations - has been a major focus of my life.
There are a few techniques that I’ve used that have helped me make progress and introspect well. I'm going to look at four of them.
Free writing. There’s a change in the way I perceive thoughts as I write them. The most fascinating free writing sessions have began when I set out to write down the things that I hide from myself, or write about the greatest sources of shame or insecurity or fear in my life.
Every morning I set a 15 minute timer and write to fill the entire time. If I don’t set out a subject for the writing session I write about the ideas that fill my mind, or my thoughts about events or goals or people.
Writing focuses thought, it puts structure to it. There’s problem solving that I can do while writing that is difficult or impossible by just holding the ideas amorphously in my mind. It allows for long strings of ideas that depend on one another to form, or lets me concretely lay out all of the aspects of my thought about a situation.
Time Tracking hit me hard. Before I began I thought I knew how I spent my time. But my observing mind had been fooled into thinking that I was productively moving towards my goals - the reality was that huge amounts of waste and distraction meant that my time was misaligned with what I claimed I wanted to be doing. Simply writing down what I did in 15 minute intervals for a few days was the most immediately eye opening experience I’ve had.
Learning about Heuristics and Biases is a great way to understand behavior generally, but applying them to yourself is so painfully insightful. Reading Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow as well as Cialdini’s Influence, and reflecting on how each and every bias was reflected in my own thinking was scary stuff.
Writing out my Worldview felt like a quantum leap in self understanding - especially writing out my values structure. Positive values - the ideas that have driven the most emotion and behavior in your life - capture the principal components of my identity. Almost as crucial are the antivalues - values I care about that most other people do not, or those values that most other people hold dear that I don’t feel as strongly. In my worldview I set out my life goals and my vision for myself in future, as well as the future of the people and organisms that I care about. I took the major failures in my life and asked how they affected me emotionally and intellectually. This introspection excised almost all of the low hanging fruit in my identity.
I’m still introspecting daily, desperate to build the most accurate model of my thoughts and behavior. The lifestyle choice is to live a well examined life.