The lost art of introspection

I wonder if, before we all got sucked into the screens and the sound bites, we spent more time introspecting. Thinking about how we feel, and why. Even if it is just spending time in quiet, and spending time with ourselves.

Introspection is a concept (and skill) that is attributed to Wilhelm Wundt, one of the earliest Psychologists, in the late 1800s. Probably when we weren’t as busy, and things weren’t as stressful.

As a leader, especially under pressure, introspection is a key skill. It allows you to stop, slow down, and focus. Focus on something else, other than the event or the situation that you are coping with in the moment.

The best way to think in an introspective way is to ask yourself questions. And not questions that start with why. Why me? Why now? Why this? Those questions don’t help. What and how questions are best, and they will help you unpack what you feel. What emotions you are experiencing? And how will you channel those emotions for good? In a responsive way, not a reactive way.

It is amazing how a moment of introspection can bring calm to your day. And calm to the moment.

Introspection, or versions of it, are the first part of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence starts with a self-awareness of your emotional state and putting a name to the emotion. Then, it is a matter of regulating the emotion. Fun fact, there are humans who struggle to name the emotion. They struggle to answer the question ‘what are you feeling?’ The name for that is alexithymia. Alexithymia is a Greek word, attributed to Freud, and is translated to ‘no name for emotions’. Alexithymia can be treated, but that takes time and effort. It is a condition that impacts how people relate to others and can be detrimental to the relationships for the up to 10% of the population that are suspected to have alexithymia.

In short, when we don’t take the time to introspect, and work through our emotional state and responses, we are in fact taking an alexithymia based approach to life. We are choosing to ignore what makes us human.

But how do you be introspective? If you asked Siddhartha Gautama (aka Buddha), you would have been told to be quiet. To meditate. To search for Nirvana.

If you asked your leadership coach, I would coach you to ask yourself questions. To be mindful (what can you see, hear and touch right now in the moment), and to focus on your thoughts and not the situation. And then to focus on others, and how they are feeling in the moment. And respond to the situation accordingly.

One word of warning here is that introspection can become overthinking (or rumination) if you start to beat yourself up for feeling or acting the way you are. These states are not helpful, and will cause you to feel worse about yourself, than better. And you will become reactive, not responsive. Most literature around introspection comes with a warning label – over introspection can be detrimental. It is like water – the body needs it, but can drown in it, too. This is the yin and the yang of life!

The more you can introspect, the more you can be in emotional control, behavioural control and situational control. The more you can create conscious control.

And that will help you lead under pressure.

And please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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