Last week, as I sat teaching a group of youth to knit, I mentioned that one of the things I liked best about knitting was that it gave me time to be introspective. Immediately I was greeted by five people all staring at me in that way that makes me wonder how I always get myself into these conversations.
Someone asked,” What is introspection, anyway, Dr. Beck? Is it like some good way to be an introvert?”
Really, though, how do I get myself into these conversations?
A verse from an old poem came to me and I recited it, a poem called My Lost Youth by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – forgive the sexism:
“I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
Across the school-boy’s brain;
The song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain.
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still:
‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’”
Another wit in the group chimed in, “I’m still not getting introspection, Dr. Beck. Maybe you should stick to your knitting.”
I decided to ask another member of the group, who really knew how to knit what they thought about as they worked on their knitting. He thought a minute, and said, “All kinds of things – whether the person I’m knitting for will like this, that I’m getting hungry. I might think about a school project or I’ll remember that I must message my Mom. I think about whatever comes into my head.”
“That’s introspection!” I said triumphantly to the rest of the group.
“so, it’s like a kind of mindfulness activity but more directed,” someone offered.
“Exactly!” I said and told everyone my three steps to introspection. I don’t know how I get myself into these conversations but I do know how to get myself out of them.
The first step to developing a habit of introspection is to find a time to do some deeper thinking – I remind people that they may have a repetitive thing that they’re engaged in – like taking a walk, or knitting, or just waiting for an appointment – and this is a great time to be introspective.
The second step is for the person to consider an important question about themselves or their life. It can be any question, but it’s best if it’s a question that’s profound, like:
What do I like best about myself?
Who are my best friends and why?
Which people always make me feel better?
For those having trouble thinking of an important question, they can find some on this website.
The third step is for people to keep track of the things that they learn. They can do this in a notebook or make small posters and put them up around a desk or a locker.
If your family is up for this, perhaps everyone can try to develop an introspective practice and maybe even share some of their insights and learn more about each other.
As one of my patients pointed out, introspection is linked to mindfulness and has some similar benefits emotionally. However, most people will agree that any practice that helps you to work out some of the bigger problems in life may be easier to take up than mindfulness.
Also, in case you didn’t realize it, introspection can also get a person into some interesting conversations.