Using introspection and retrospection for personal growth

“No knowledge comes from outside; it is all inside. What we say a man “knows”, should, in strict psychological language, be what he “discovers” or “unveils”; what a man “learns” is really what he “discovers”, by
taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge.”

Swami Vivekananda – Karma Yoga

The process of learning new things is in fact a process of discovering our own mind. The outer world can only give us information, but to find ‘knowledge’ we must look within. That’s where introspection and retrospection become really important.

Your mind is like a wheel in motion. It is always running. Introspecting is a way of looking at this wheel from outside and see that it is going in the right direction and right pace. Without introspection, this wheel of mind keeps running wherever it feels like and ends up in a random and meaningless direction.

We are too busy playing this game of life. But it is as important to get outside and look whether we are playing well or not. This post explores the ways of introspection, retrospection and how to use them for personal growth.

Ways of Using introspection for growth

Introspection is about throwing light on your thoughts, mind and behaviour patterns. But how do you introspect? Where do you look? What do you look for?

Here are 4 different types of introspection that I generally do.

1.) Talk. And listen to your own voice

Find a spot alone, undisturbed and let your mind loose. Talk loudly to yourself the thoughts that are coming to your mind. It is just like free writing, but only faster and more effective since we are also hearing our tone. The point of this is to know,

  • What is it that your mind wants to talk with yourself ?
  • What do you start thinking about when you are alone ?

Your ordinary thought process is too fast to catch your most important thoughts. When you talk and listen, you slow them down and catch those thoughts that your mind wants to talk more of.

I have often noticed that when I talk to others, I am also affected by my own words because I am listening. Talking and listening brings out some wonderful ideas that were deep within. Thus it is very powerful way to engage your mind to know more about it.

2.) Ask ‘why’ your mind chose those areas

This is the next layer of introspection. Once you know ‘what’ your mind naturally tends to, you can ask why it chose them. We may have left the wheel running for too long and it may have taken its own direction.

‘Why’ is aimed to make sure or redirect your ‘what’. It is a next layer of awareness questioning your natural tendencies.

I think Why is the most powerful question. It is the foundation of everything we do. So it should be revisited often. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want what I want?
  • Why do I do what I do?

Most of our desires have external references. We may desire things just because we see someone else having those. When we introspect on these questions, we know. The aim of these questions is to figure out the real ‘why’ and ‘what’, which is unique to you.

3.) Observe

A different level of introspection is simply observing. You are not critically thinking about an area of your life, but simply observing life as it is through your experience.

The first two points were about bringing out your deeper ideas. This is about creating new ideas. When you observe, your analytical mind is silent and your creative mind is awake.

You may ask: how is it introspection to observe the external world?

I ask you my favourite question: Are the sounds you hear coming from outside of you or inside of you?

The external world is simply the suggestion, the occasion, which sets you to study your own mind, but the object of your study is always your own mind.

Swami Vivekananda – Karma Yoga

We can not study anything else except our own mind. The world is just a mirror. All sensations are experienced only in the mind. It is mind-blowing!

Some of the great artists come up with the new ideas through observation. Louis Kahn, a famous modern architect studied and observed the phenomenon of natural light. He introspected on it and created buildings which were completely new and fascinating. I am sure you can come up with other great examples!

As an example of introspection through observation, read this: 3 Life lessons I learned from observing the shadows.

4.) Introspect great minds

Don’t limit your introspection to yourself! Dive into the minds of great achievers in your area and try to see the world through their lense.Read about their life, work and introspect their life.

I have often felt the power of reading words of great leaders especially the words of Swami Vivekananda. I am often amazed at how a few words by great masters are more powerful than many words by someone else.

There is a great difference when somebody else writes the same words. You feel the personality when you read.

We learn with more than our conscious efforts. The unconscious learning and the touch of personality often overpowers the words. 

In Mahabharat there is a character ‘Eklavya’. He was denied to become a student of the great ‘Guru’ Drona (Guru of Pandavas and Kauravas). However, he made a statue of Guru Drona, and self-trained himself to be as great an Archer as Arjun.

I really wonder where his knowledge came from. A statue of a Guru was as effective as the real Guru. The learnings from great personalities are transmitted through mediums we don’t understand.

That is why I prefer to read or know only great masters. Apart from their words, I learn something else which I cannot explain!

Ways of using Retrospection for growth

Wikipedia defines retrospection as: β€œthe action of looking back on or reviewing past events or situations, especially those in one’s own life.”

It is a faulty definition. We can never look back at past events. We can only look at our own memories of past events. There is a great difference.

Past is gone. You are not going back to the past. You are right here, looking only at the memories of the past. We can not learn anything from the past. We can only learn from our experiences, patterns and memories which are stored. 

Thus retrospection is also a kind of introspection which looks into our memory files. We have all kinds of memory files stored. The older we become, more memories we have. So it is great to use this storage for our advantage. Here are 3 ways:

1.) Modify your bad memories

Unfortunately we don’t have a delete button. So we can’t delete our bad memories. They come back automatically with all kinds of painful feelings. As time goes, we feel better as the memories and emotions fade, but they always leave a mark which affects our current behaviour.

We need to look back into those painful memories and modify them. This is why I clarified the definition of retrospection above. If we were looking at the past, we could not have changed it. But we are actually looking at our memories, and we can and we should change/manipulate them towards a more positive effect.

If you have seen sherlock season 4, you know what I mean. Changing a memory of a person into a dog helped sherlock get through his pain.

There are various ways to trick our minds to feel differently about a memory. I have explored some ways in the posts below:

Dealing with gaslighting and negative behaviours

How to generate positive emotions.

2.) Keep revisiting your good memories

What you concentrate on, grows. If you keep revisiting those good memories, you create positive feelings and attract more of such. Doing this can help you stay away from negativity and also encourage you at the difficult times.

I have also noticed that a strong visualization feels very similar to a memory.  It is amazing. Something that has never happened in the past feels like a memory because I have visualized it repeatedly and with great intensity.

3.) Learn from the patterns

The past is gone, but it has left you with valuable experience of life. Every morning you are one day more experienced. This is an asset which keeps growing till you die. So it is important to learn from the patterns that are formed.

Think about the reasons about why you are the way you are! What made you? How did you develop the good and bad qualities you have?

I sometimes revisit the 24 years of my life to see how did I become this way. I find out those patterns which worked and think about how I can use them in future. This retrospection can be done at various scales, for example:

  • Looking at the patterns of your previous week/month to improve your next week/month. This deals with regular habits which affect your everyday.
  • Looking at the patterns of 1 to 5 year to see the growth and transformation. It helps you see the patterns which affect your emotional and analytical growth. When I reflect on my age of 18 to 23, I notice the entire transformation that took place. I notice how my thinking patterns changed and why. I also notice the change in my emotional reactions and the reasons behind them.
  • Looking at the life till now since beginning helps you think about a larger connection and your place in the world. You notice how a child turned into you! When I look at the last 24 years, I also know how much is 24 years and how quickly the next 24 years will pass!

Conclusion

Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind.

“It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one.

“No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second.

A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.

The events that happen in the world are truly happening in our minds. When the apple fell from the tree, it was the mind that discovered concept of ‘gravity’ by introspecting on that suggestion. I hope this post added a valuable insight about the importance and ways of using introspection. Here are a few questions to introspect.

  • Who is ‘I’? What is my real nature? Who was I before I was named?
  • What do I want? Where do my desires come from?
  • What truly matters at the end of life?
  • How have I lived till now? How would I live differently from now on?

Thank you for reading.

This wonderful topic was suggested by Falling upwards. It is a nice blog sharing experiences and emotions. My favourite post from this blog is Superstitions , raising the question which is much relevant today! Do check out this post and the blog. The post I have written wouldn’t exist without her suggestion!

15 thoughts on “Using introspection and retrospection for personal growth

Add yours

  1. A wonderful post throwing light on two very important topics- introspection and retrospection in the present day situation where man is very unclear about his path. I really like the ways suggested for implementing these 2 in our daily life. Thank you Sarthak for posting these topics in such an effective manner. Great post!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “Knowing comes from not knowing”
    If you think you know, you won’t learn.
    Learning comes from a place of comfort with not knowing.

    Beautiful, thanks Sarthak, for the work that you do exploring these deeply impactful subjects.

    Little by little, we chip away at the truth πŸ€”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, absolutely. Upanishads say One who thinks that he knows, truly doesn’t know. learning can happen only with the state of not knowing!
      Thank you for your kind words and welcome πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow!!! What a read which reminded me of below story
    A man entered a house, something touched his foot and he jumped up, shouting, ‘Snake!’ When the light was switched on, he saw it was only some rubber. When the lights were switched off, he saw the snake again, exactly as he saw it the first time; but this time he was not afraid.The Buddha said, ‘Live in this world as you would if you were living in a room with a deadly cobra.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You! That is a wonderful and thought provoking story. Thank you for adding this! πŸ™‚
      I really like the last quote by Buddha. It gives emphasis to living life with full attention and care as if death is always in front of you. We can have the most vivid life experiences when death seems very near! Great and insightful thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am glad you liked this blog and I am grateful to have been a part of your journey! πŸ™‚ I hope my words help you! Wishing you best days ahead πŸ™‚

      Like

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