Want to be stronger? Introspection and Repeating Fears
People don't grow mature with time. They grow mature with experiences, in particular, with handling experiences. In this article, I'll share with you a few thoughts on how to be stronger and increase the "depth" of you and your understanding of yourself.
Our ability to handle life's adversities is not innate - it is trained. Some people take a few days to get over a setback such as relationship rejections or a criticism; whilst it may take others a few weeks, or months. Our approach to adversity defines our life outcomes, yet it is mysterious as to how some people can cope and recover so well from setbacks whilst others struggle. Within the limited scope of the article, my thoughts on how to be stronger are based on two considerations: introspection and repeating fears.
1. Bring yourself to Introspection: Met the real "You"
Why a friend in difficult time is not always good for you
After every setbacks or anxiety attack, I used to talk to my friends in length about what happened and the way forward. In most cases, this would be a normal human reaction to difficult events or weak emotional states: We seek for comfort in others. It is in human natural desire to be in a crowd, to be agreed with and to seek familiarities and sympathy. It is therefore natural after such events to release the negative internal energy through means of communications.
However, the smartest friend of mine (herein Ms. Genius), once after such conversation, spoke to me of a profound thought. "I don't mind talking to you after these kinds of events, but sharing will only make you weaker", said she. I have mentioned in one of my previous blogs that having a weakened state of mind is one of the occasions where surrounding yourself with raw intelligence really matters. In this case, such insight of Ms. Genius has enlightened me about what is wrong with how I have been handling life adversities.
The problem with sharing and communicating your unfortunate events is that it doesn't give you the chance to introspect and reflect on what actually happened. It is too quick of a relief of stress and anxiety that our mental and physical endurance is hardly stretched. As soon as the pain is relieved with the involvements of peers, the pain is too quickly forgotten and buried, that we barely internalise and conclude any lessons to ourselves. Such relief when talking to others is a feedback to your brain, which says "When situations get tough, communicate to release!" This builds a dependency; so strongly that sharing is almost the immediate first action to be taken, because confronting what actually happened yourself is tough.
Any difficult situation in your life is a learning opportunity. It is similar to if life gives you a difficult math problem, for which you will most likely struggle to find an answer yourself. If you manage to solve such problem, you will know how to handle it next time you are given similar problem. For example, having experienced recovering from one heart-break, you will know the basic process of how you navigate through the next heart-break, even if those two are not entirely the same situation. Over-sharing with others without actually solving the problem only deprives you of the chance to face the difficulty and solve it yourself. Even if you can manage to "borrow" your friends' answers to the given math problem, and/or somehow get away with it, life will sooner or later give you another similar problem to make you learn how to solve yourself.
So, how do you solve it, or face difficult events, by yourself alone?
Bringing yourself to the best states for introspection
“A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.”, said Charles Kettering, the famed inventor. The first step to solving any adversity is to define it well by inspecting yourself of what truly happened, cutting through the midst of our cloudy emotions and cognitive biases. Having another peer’s opinion on the matter is helpful in this way i.e. such opinions are not subject to the participants’ cognitive distortions. However, if you can learn how to see truly what happened by yourself, not what you “think” happened, it is a powerful improvement of your ability to stay intact with rationality without external assistance.
The few specific steps below are suggested to frame yourself into the best condition for a successful introspection.
The above side-by-side pyramids are my own model of my mental states. At a given point when necessary actions and decisions are called for, I usually aim to determine where my state is in this 3-d construct and aim to pull the state toward the Center and toward the highest point of peace. Post-adversity, when you are at the peak of anger/anxiety, your level of consciousness is low. To allow yourself to be back to the high level of consciousness (peace), there are a few simple applicable actions laid out below.
Since the anger/anxiety is constituted from two components: physical and mental frustrations,
To ease your physical frustrations:
- First, breathe. Stop everything you are doing and simply engage in very deep, frequently timed breath. Breathing will regulate your heartbeat, temperature and signs of nerves.
- Next step to ease physical frustration is to focus on the senses. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, put really high focus on and engage with all the five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. What do you hear? What can you see? How do your fingers, arms, back and feet feel? What does it smell like? What is the taste in your mouth right now? If you re-connect and put your sole focus on the five senses, the positive energy builds up in your body fills you with the sense of liveliness. You will feel alive, and you are. You are so much of a complete living entity that none of these adversities can undermine you. Only death can separate you from your physical senses, but before then, you are alive.
- If convenient, be with nature, and with yourself. Find the nearest park, river, fields or even just soaking yourself in water of a bath will improve your connectivity with your senses and ease your physical frustrations.
To ease your mental frustrations:
- Think of nothing. Have you ever tried thinking of nothing? It is surprisingly difficult to think of nothing and will require an enormous amount of practice to be able to think of nothing whenever you want. Usually, when you are focusing 100% on the physical side, such as when you are wholly with your senses, you will be able to let your thoughts go.
- If you can’t think of nothing, think of the positive. A mentee of mine has once told me of her techniques to build unshakable self-confidence. You start off writing a list of the proud traits, achievements or the qualities of yourself that regardless of what happens, will stay with you. Repeat/read this to yourself on a frequent basis. Those items will stay with you in your mind to the point you can remind yourself of your own value, without a need of a peer or external influence. In such circumstances when you tell yourself to think positive, these items will pop up and left your mind with lesser negativity and more confidence.
By the end of this process, you will be able to bring yourself closer to peace (high level of consciousness). The introspection process can now begin.
2. Introspection Process: Befriend the real "You"
When you have achieve a peaceful state of mind, you would realise what happened was not actually a significant matter. You are still alive, complete and whole, with all the qualities, achievements and traits in your list.
It is important, however, to examine what happened – not to necessarily take any action but to learn from it.
- What was the cause of the difficult events? When did it start?
- What was the outcome?
- What did you do that contributed to that outcome? Don’t focus on others’ interactions and actions, focus on your share of the outcome. You can do this simply by starting all the sentences of the answers to this question with "I".
- Is there anything in your past background, childhood or recent, that could explain why you did what you did? Or anything that is inherently in your values and core belief that could explain?
- Could you have done anything differently? Will you do it differently if a similar event comes up in the future?
During this process, although difficult, try to admit vulnerability and recognise your cognitive distortions. If you can explain using your past and belief why you did what you did, it will be easy to see your cognitive distortions and bias in moments of low consciousness. It will be difficult to confront yourself to have answers to all of these questions, yet if you can, it will be easier to overcome, solve this problem and any similar problem in the future.
The process of introspection is essentially a way to get in touch with, understand on a deeper level, and befriend yourself. Seeing what actually happened will make it easier to solve the problem, or forgive and let go.
3. Repeating Fear: Train Yourself
The more difficult event or exposure to adversities you have, the stronger you will be – therefore don’t be afraid of putting yourself in unfavourable situation. As a learning process, the challenge of facing these unfortunate events will be vast at the beginning, but you will get accustomed to how to handle/solve it to the point it becomes intuitive.
If you have the chance to be in solitude, try to understand what your greatest fears are. It is hard to know because your brain will consciously bury your fears in your sub-conscience as confronting them is tough. However, you can make educated guesses of what your greatest fears are, based on your past and believe. Especially, pay attention to your childhood recollection: psychologists have suggested that our experience during childhood has an incredible explanatory power toward our behavior.
With the educated guess of what your fears are, to train yourself, you should put yourself in situations where you will most likely encounter them. Repeat your fears several times until you are trained to be accustomed with it. Do what you are afraid of – that’s the ultimate key to a stronger self.
The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will have in your life. By learning how to solve difficulties and adversity by yourself, you are strengthening such relationship and hence, the real you.
P.S: I made a free speech-to-text voice journal app - Join to become its early adopter!
Illustration: Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune (French, 1741 - 1814), "Have No Fear, My Good Friend", French, 1775.
Copyrights: Open Content License from J. Paul Getty Museum