Paying attention to ourself is one of the most important and powerful things that we, as human beings, can develop within ourselves. Sadly, this skill is often neglected in our home life and education, but we see that it is the common thread amongst all forms of psychotherapy and even many spiritual and religious traditions. For example, we see this in the form of a thought record in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or insight in Psychodynamic therapy, or, in spiritual traditions, meditation as in Buddhism. Nevertheless, they all point to the importance of knowing ourself — and our patterns — for us to be able to change ourself as human beings. But, before we dive more deeply into this process, we must ask ourselves how can we pay attention more closely to ourselves?
Learning to pay attention to yourself is an art and there is not just one way to do it. Essentially, what we’re trying to do is understand who we are by understanding and becoming aware of our habitual patterns, such as habitual ways in which we think, feel, and behave (e.g., constantly thinking negative thoughts, or constantly needing to use our cell phone when nervous in social situations). To pay more attention to ourself we can begin by setting aside some time each day (e.g., in the mornings or at night when lying in bed) to think about who we are and what we’re happy about or not happy about with how we were during the day. (Of note here, sometimes people feel that they do pay attention to themselves, but they really are only being self-critical; if thinking about yourself is something you despise or makes you feel worse, then you are likely criticizing yourself rather than healthily and productively examining yourself). Other ways to pay attention to yourself involve journaling, mediation, spirituality, psychotherapy, self-growth, reading research on psychology and human development, or even reading literature (e.g., seeing how a character overcame or faced a particular difficulty can be quite inspiring for our own lives).
It is important for us to learn to pay attention to ourselves because, if we don’t, we are only blindly acting in the way that our family, culture, and greater society has made us. This means that if our parents treated us in one way (e.g., making us feel we are ineffective in certain situations) we may always feel that way. Or, if our society has made us feel less than because of a particular identity we carry, this may be lurking around in our subconscious mind, as well. Of course, none of us want to carry these things around with us, but we must become aware of them before we are able to address them. Once these things come in our conscious mind, we then have the power to make a choice: do I respond to this habitual thought or feeling in the way that I typically have in the past? Or do I notice that I’m thinking or feeling this way, but decide to respond in a new, different way that is more in line with the person I want to be (e.g., instead of being scared before a presentation, saying self-affirming things to oneself or generating a feeling of confidence).
This practice of paying attention to ourself is something that gets easier with time. So much so that we can actually begin to do it, with practice, during any and every activity that we’re engaged in. Clearly, this gives us an incredible amount of power as human beings because then, once this stage is reached, any situation, whether pleasant or unpleasant, can help us learn about ourselves and to continue to grow.