Introspection in Isolation
April 12, 2020
As unsettling as this novel situation is, it undoubtedly presents unique opportunities that shouldn’t be overlooked — opportunities to engage in introspection through creative self-expression.
Iceland has a population roughly 1% that of the US and winters during which there is a maximum of five hours of sunlight in a day. These conditions result in involuntary social isolation that is similar to the current effects of COVID-19. The main difference is, though, is that Icelanders can expect this period every winter; they have to know how to deal with and thrive in these conditions. My anecdotal hypothesis is that the winters in Iceland account for why the nation has more musicians and authors per capita than anywhere else in the world. One in ten Icelanders is a published author (BBC News). As a nation, they respond to absent daylight and limited social interaction by creating.
We are now entrenched in the social equivalent of an Icelandic winter, so why not use it to indulge in self-expression? Whether that for you takes the form of writing, singing, playing an instrument, coding, painting, speaking, doing a home improvement project, creating a new business plan, etc, this is a great opportunity to do it. The added benefit of creating something — the part that I am most interested in — is that you will naturally engage in introspection. Genuine self-expression must be preceded by introspection; you have to look inward before knowing what it is that you want to bring out.
There are three steps to achieving introspection in isolation, by way of creative expression.
Step 1: Float Atop the Trough
First, acknowledge the low and make the most of it. I am inspired by the many people that I have seen respond positively, intelligently, and optimistically to this pandemic. Their actions make it easier for others to follow suit.
The human experience is defined by ups and downs, and a human’s experience is defined by their response to those extremes.
No one’s life is defined as one that is without both highs and lows, so the unique experience of an individual rest solely in their responses to events they are presented. This is in-line with the Stoic idea of the dichotomy of control. A Stoic would say that the nature of a this situation is out of our control but our reactions to it are completely within our control. Choose to bob on the crest of the trough and not get swallowed up in it — don’t relinquish what you can control to the negative situation that you cannot. There are many ways to rise from this low, but I’ll focus on creativity and self-expression and their peripheral effects. Creativity is something that people may not find time for in their normal day-to-day, but time is abundant for it now.
Step 2: Counteract Inertia
The value in creative self-expression has to do with the clarity it brings to the individual, regarding their passions and priorities in life. I’m not saying it’s a good time to explore your interests because you currently have a captive audience on social media. This is about individual benefit and personal growth. You can express yourself without an audience and yield the same (if not better) results.
The fuel for your actions should come from within, not from recognition or external validation.
The only way to create something unique and genuine is to bring it out of yourself and not cater to what you think others want to see. Hopefully the value of engaging in your interests is evident and that it allows you to disregard how other people perceive you when doing so.
At the same time, however, there is really no such thing as pure internal motivation — just as an object cannot be accelerated by an internal force. Internal motivation is not a catalyst for action in itself; it is, instead, the act of attributing external driving forces to yourself, such as passion, ambition, and desire. To be internally motivated is to allow passion, ambition, desire, etc. to motivate your actions and give you intention. Those are more powerful forces than motivation drawn from recognition or external validation.
It is even more important now to be able to find motivation because all the external forces that typically move you forward are at a halt: a busy schedule, a paycheck, grades, and social commitments to name a few. Our inertia may drag us to a stop in the absence of imposed, external motivations; objects at rest tend to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. It is important to find motivation from within by identifying passions and setting goals, both of which can be done now by pairing self-expression and introspection. Internal motivation will spark a fire that will endure and that is easier to tend, for objects in motion tend to stay in motion.
Step 3: Encourage Passion
Just because your primary motivations aren’t recognition and external validation doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t willingly and consistently recognize others, especially when they act in a way that you see as bettering themselves or the lives of others.
Perpetuate and encourage the thoughts and actions that you wish to see in the world.
How much easier would it be for you to pursue your interests and passions if everyone you knew excitedly encouraged you to do so? Regardless of how internally motivated you are, it helps to have external support, so provide that for others. As I mentioned earlier, the more people that respond positively to a negative situation or that pursue their passions without reservation, the easier it is for others to follow suit.
Recap and Regards
One possible route to introspection in isolation is through creative expression, the benefits of which are innumerable.
The three steps:
- Recognize the control you have of your response to negative situations, and make it positive.
- Remain a moving object by finding internal motivation, leveraging the external force of passion.
- Encourage others to bring themselves out into the world, knowing that their contribution is valuable.
Introspection is worth the effort. It leads to clarity of thought and peace of mind, which enables one to have a more positive impact on those around them. It is worth taking the time for introspection, and it may just come naturally when you set out to create something. You may find a truer form of yourself along the way.
Thank you for reading this. I hope some of these ideas are helpful to consider during this time, and I hope you and yours stay well.