The Art of Introspection
The effort of thinking for ourselves in today's fast-paced, technologically "advanced" society.
Have we lost the ability to think for ourselves? Have we shut down the part of our brain that helps us make decisions based off our principles, logic, and values? In today’s fast paced, technologically advanced society it is relatively easy to forget to listen to our own thoughts.
On a daily basis, most of us are bombarded by things that claim will make our lives better. Giving us an excuse to forget how great our lives really are and how to appreciate the good around us. I often wonder if many of us have lost interest or the “ability” to introspect.
Introspection, or the “examination of one’s own mental and emotional processes,” is not often a topic we think of nowadays. The ability to see the outside inwardly and ponder, if only for a moment, the things around us and our perspective is an art; an art lost to the times that have changed so dramatically over the last 10 years alone.
However, because society is so chaotic and unpredictable, I think mastering the art of introspection is all the more important in order to see our lives clearly and make decisions based upon our own views, not the views of those with an “upper hand” in the grand scheme of things.
The importance of thinking from within, instead of being influenced by external circumstance or principle, is something that can give us introspection and help us see the world through a different lens.
Although introspection is based upon each individual, there is quite a lot of “circumstantial” evidence to say that many of us don’t take the time to “think.”
According to an article published on Psychology Today, Dr. Romeo Vitelli explained that although extensive study is still ongoing in the subject of connecting technology with mental illness, specifically the internet, it is worth noting the connection of internet addiction and depression.
I often wonder if we took some more “me” time or gave ourselves a “time-out” just to stop, stare at a wall, and think without our phones, tablets, streaming devices, and yes, our Apple watches, and just simply lost ourselves in “thought;” would it force us to be introspective?
Technology, time, and fear all have their costs in our day-to-day lives. But in the long term; what will these things do to our minds, bodies, and even spirits, if we continue using these three factors to excuse ourselves from thinking based off feeling, logic, and who we are without them?
Socrates said it best, “To find yourself, think for yourself.” Why think for ourselves when we have technology to do that for us?
Millions of us consume society through technology on a daily basis. We can stream our news, get an app that orders our meals, and even track our migraines, (shout out to the “Migraine Buddy” app :)). Through this pandemic our technology use from 2019 to the end of 2020 has increased by 5.4 % according to internetworldstats.com. That’s an increase of 517 million people, globally, using the world wide web.
In the United States alone, there are about 269.5 million active mobile internet users representing over 90 percent of the world’s web usage (January, 2021 status, statista.com). A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 64% of Americans believe that social media has negatively affected the “way things are going in the United States.” (October 2020)
In terms of technology affecting us as individuals, the research team at the University of California says that we consume at least three times as more information a day compared to 50 years ago. Most of spend at least 12 hours a day at home consuming information from our television or other electronic device.
Technology has embedded itself into our lives and has given us the power to learn more about the world. But, like superman knows, “with that power comes great responsibility.” Technology also has given us the power to essentially turn off the introspective part of the brain.
Not only have studies shown that technology contributes to a failing memory, but they have also shown the complex effects overusing technology can have in our everyday lives. Let’s take a look at the two lobes of the brain that may play a part in introspecting while also consuming external information: the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe.
First, the frontal lobe - dealing with concentration, emotions, problem solving, cognitive abilities, memory, personality, conscience, and planning - give us the ability to live life outwardly.
The temporal lobe which is the receptive area of our brains, or the Hippocampus, helps us visually and auditorily process external circumstance (images, scenarios, objects, etc.) internally while also housing our long-term memory.
These two unique and distinct areas have shown they partake in a heavy contribution to our introspective thoughts. The prefrontal cortex of the brain (the frontal lobe), lies right behind our eyes and forehead. When meditation or mindfulness is practiced, we are activating and essentially growing our cognitive abilities to process our own thoughts and how we react to the world.
The temporal or lower lobe of the cortex, resting right by our ears and temples within the skull, is the place where our brain can recall things from years before. It is in this part of the brain where our long-term memory lives. According to Medical News Today, dysfunction in the temporal lobe can cause dysfunction in our minds.
This begs the question, then; if technology has been shown to contribute to memory loss, can it also contribute to mental dysfunction?
Social networks, like Facebook and Instagram, among others have shown to have adverse effects on our mental health; especially in younger adults. Isolation, depression, anxiety, and memory loss can have a significant and long-term impact overtime. Thus, damaging our temporal lobe and resulting in dysfunction in the mind.
Before we leave the temporal lobe aside, studies have also shown that other types of technology such as earbuds, speakers, and the like can contribute to hearing loss.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is used by psychotherapists to deal with mental disorders like OCD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. In an article published by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, she argues that since technology can cause us to avoid smaller uncertainties like using Google Maps to get to places, reading reviews on different places before we go, or simply tapping an app to quickly get our desired result, it can make us “vulnerable” to larger uncertainties.
She concludes that since uncertainty is the root cause of anxiety, technology essentially takes our small vulnerabilities and leaves us open to more problematic ones. This includes the fear of being judged by our friends (and sometimes strangers) on social media, avoiding contact with people and isolating ourselves, as well as our mindfulness in timing our use with social networks and technology. (Psychology Today)
When technology begins to damage our frontal lobe because the overuse of it can cause disruption in our brains (like lack of concentration due to anxiety); we can lessen the need to use this part of the brain for many of our cognitive functions. How can we continue to think for ourselves if we teach our brains to let technology think for us?
There is no need to be paranoid over technology and its long-term negative effects. Technology, as we’ve also learned in the pandemic year, can have very positive outcomes. Telehealth, fitness tracking, entertainment, and research have all been streamlined since the invention of the internet and have only grown since COVID-19 forced us to stay home.
However, I believe that if we don’t take time to understand both the positive and negative effects technology can play into our lives and our mindfulness, then we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are not technically “advancing;” we are moving backward. I could even argue that in some ways, technology can cause to regress into primitive times when our lack of using our internal senses caused us to seek out external alternatives to solve our problems.
If we let our ability to introspect be overtaken by the ease of technology, then what will we have when we can no longer use technology? What if, technology’s negative effects like hearing loss, memory loss, cognitive and mental dysfunction result in more severe forms of mental disorders like Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or a neurological disorder we have yet to discover?
By introspecting without needing anything but ourselves we can gain back our self-control and recognize that there is more to life that what you see on a screen. There is more to society than another individual or network can tell us. There is more power within then there is without.
Besides technology, which can impact the time and fear we have in spending a few minutes alone with ourselves; time and fear also play a role of their own when it comes to avoiding the art of introspection.
As the days return to normal, many of us might already being seeing a change to our schedule. A few more events on the calendar, a few more dinner dates with friends, a holiday party or two with our relatives. Sound familiar?
During the pandemic, there was this “collective introspection” where nearly all of humanity stopped for a moment in time and reflected on the little things in life that make a huge difference - like love, friendship, and mindfulness.
In 2020, we traded in our office cubicles for home desks, our school playgrounds for cardboard rocket ships, and our coffee runs for K-Cups. We learned that our family, our home, and our intangibles are more valuable than our phones, our busy schedules, and our decaf cup of ‘jo’s at 3 pm.
The introspection we shared collectively was powerful enough to unite the world in defeating this virus in record time. Boy, what life would be like if we could learn to work together like that to improve all flailing aspects of society.
But as time goes on and the collective consciousness dissolves, we must remember that within ourselves, as a unique induvial, we have the ability to be more than just a statistic. Introspection forces us to take time out of our busy days and just think.
What do you value? What do you believe in? What do you want to accomplish? What are you feeling right now? What do you loved ones mean to you?
What is it about this memory of the past (either good or bad) that keeps it replaying in my head? What can I do to harness my own power and break free from the norms of society that are no longer serving me?
Using mindfulness and a few minutes of everyday of introspection we can clear out some of the clutter our minds are constantly consuming and regain the strength in the part of the brain that helps us solve our problems, look fear in the eye, and be a little more appreciative for the world around us. This is the art of introspection.
Taking the time to look inside, as though you are going through your grandmother’s treasure box in the attic for the first time in a while, can be filled with anxieties and fear. Looking within, when we aren’t confident enough or loving enough to ourselves can cause us to isolate ourselves from our own minds.
Introspecting, however can help us come back down to actuality and realize that often times, we know ourselves better than they do (the news outlets, the social media networks, the fast-talking coworkers). We know our lives better than a stranger.
Even though Google and Facebook may have a lock on our interests via data collecting; they don’t have the knowledge on how we feel. They can’t control our emotions; therefore, they can’t control us. So, what’s stopping so many of us from letting go?
What keeps us fearful of thinking from within, instead of being heavily influenced from external forces?
In an article posted by Blessed Reject on introspection psychology, the author states that while “Looking at yourself from a mental and emotional standpoint (including your actions) and analyzing them can be difficult and scary….introspection and self-reflection lead to self-awareness and self-understanding, and these two lead to personal development, the ultimate outcome of self-discovery.” (blessedreject.com)
The article goes on to credit a psychologist from the University of Sydney, Dr. Anthony M. Grant, who discovered that “people who displayed greater personal insight enjoy stronger relationships, a clearer sense of purpose and greater well-being, self-acceptance, and happiness.”
If we take a break from technology, time, and fear; can we then discover how amazing we truly are and can be to both ourselves and others? Introspection is everything.
The art of introspection is like painting a Mona Lisa of yourself. It is your reflection, it is your inner design, and it can be your strength. When you know yourself, you have the ability to think for yourself. When you think for yourself, you can stand for yourself.
Be okay with relying on yourself instead of the millions of voices that are currently flooding the internet. Be mindful that not every problem can be solved with the click of an app. Be okay with the fear you have of facing your inner design.
Be unafraid to of change…it’s just another word for growth, anyway.
As I sit here, using technology (of all things) to communicate this message to you, I often wonder what the future will bring in a technologically advanced society.
I ask myself: are we that advanced if technology causes disruption in our mental, emotion, and physical state? Is society really as “enlightened” and “intelligent” as it gives itself credit for? Or are we ignoring what that little voice inside is telling us?
Are we short-siding ourselves for an “easier path forward?”
As a student of history, I debate whether time has really given us advancement. Just because time goes on, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to hold onto the ideals we once held before society relied on “convenience.” We can always improve, and I do believe that those who create these technologies are, for the most part, trying to make our lives better in some way.
However, I also believe in the importance of doing things for ourselves. There is nothing greater than thinking for ourselves. If we trade-in, ignore, or lose this ability altogether; we lose our freedom.
Introspection, is an art. It is the ability to think for ourselves. It can help us find peace through regret, anger, and confusion. It can cut through the external noise and calm our restless minds - when we need it most. It can be mastered but never fully grown.
When we choose to find freedom within, we will always be free without.
Here’s to the “mental” arts!