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Jul 15

Why the Examined Life is the Only Life Worth Living

studyourselves-1400x600We humans are in the extraordinary position of being able to study ourselves.

Across many fields of science people are learning how the mind and body function. Humans have done a lot of research in physiology, biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.

But studying the self is not a pursuit solely for scientists in lab coats with advanced degrees. We all can, we all need, to study our own selves.

You are perfectly capable of observing your direct experience and learning about yourself, and you damn well should do it!

We can reflect on the workings of our own minds. We can become aware of patterns in our thoughts and emotions. We can think about how our actions effect others. We can consider the emotions and values of others through empathy and compassion. We can connect the dots when we eat something shitty and then feel shitty a half hour later.

We can attempt to change a habit, fail, and then observe what made things difficult for us. We can catch ourselves reacting to a situation in a way that surprises us, and ponder how there is a subconscious process driving our reaction. We can learn about our musculoskeletal system by trying a yoga posture one way and feeling pain, then trying it a different way and feeling good.

There are infinite worlds to investigate inside of you. You are an endless territory. The horizon of the self recedes forever no matter how much ground you cover. Born too late to explore the earth, too early to explore the universe, but just in time to explore yourself.

Science of the Self

So what do I even mean by “study ourselves”?

What I mean is applying a scientific lens to our experience. We look at ourselves as something to be learned from — as something to be studied.

We observe our thoughts, emotions, sensations, perceptions, memories, behaviors, habits, and whatever else is relevant to our experience. We form hypotheses‘ about what changes may be helpful to apply in our lives. We experiment with these changes to see if they are effective. We do our best to objectively analyze the results.

Essentially, we choose an aspect of our lives to study and then treat that part of life like a science experiment.

For example, I needed to undergo many failed experiments before I finally established a consistent yoga routine.

I struggled with many aspects of forming this habit, and I won’t talk about every struggle here. What’s important is that the key field of experimentation was the timing of my routine.

At first I told myself I would do yoga every day, but I didn’t set a specific time of day to do it. I just did it when I felt like it. This inconsistency of timing would cause me to miss a day here and there, then several days in a row, and then a whole week!

I discovered I needed to do yoga at the same time every day or it wouldn’t stay a habit. So I decided to try it out in the afternoon. I thought it would be a good re-energizer after finishing my college classes and work.

But often in the afternoon I’d be too tired and would not find the motivation. The same cycle of slipping out of the habit would happen again.

Finally, I decided to do yoga every morning as soon as I woke up. This worked. I am a morning person and have my best energy right as I get out of bed. I now know that any habit I consider a priority should be done in the morning, because that’s the only time I’m guaranteed to do it.

After actually committing to this yoga habit consistently, I realized why I had struggled with it. I had known all along that morning was my best time of day. I had known all along that morning was the best time to do yoga.

But up until this point, for pretty much my entire life, my mornings were always a time of lazy relaxation. Essentially a time for sitting around until the responsibilities of the day began. Usually I would watch TV, use the computer, or otherwise pass time doing nothing of consequence.

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