The art of self observation

by Marcus Loane

20th March 2010


A useful psychological technique is that of taking a step back from your own thoughts and feelings. Suppose you are experiencing negative thoughts or feelings about some event, for example,

“I feel angry when he dismisses my opinion. He does not respect me.”

Rather than identifying with the negative feeling and being angry, frustrated or disappointed, you can take a step back and observe yourself having those feeling and thoughts. Therefore you would think something like, “there is me feeling angry and thinking he does not respect me. How interesting. I wonder what triggered those thoughts and feelings in me and if they are reasonable and how long they will last.”

It is a subtle difference but it can have a powerful effect. You become an observer of yourself as if you were an interesting specimen. This is also known as meta-cognitive skill which means thinking about thinking. Negative events and reactions will have less effect on you as you take a step back from them and your core identity is insulated to some extent.

However you do not necessarily have to start analysing everything you think and feel. In fact you can do the opposite:

You can imagine your stream of consciousness as a flowing river and you are sitting on the river bank. Your thoughts and feelings are leaves floating on the surface of the water and you are on the bank observing them, watching them come and go. You are sitting calmly and serenely on the bank and maybe thinking there are some  irritated thoughts/feelings coming along and then you watch them float away and out of sight. You can use this imagery to dismiss negative thoughts and move on rather than letting them take over and waste precious moments of your life. You can become more resilient and shrug things off and get on with living.

You can be interested in your own thinking processes but in a more detached way. This self observation or detachment can paradoxically make you less self absorbed and more outward looking, more interested in the world around you and in other people.


Marcus Loane

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