Experimenting with Self-Discovery in Real Time

experiment in real time

By Troy Headrick

I don’t think this is going to be anything like any of my other blogs.  Actually, I’m not for sure what this is going to look like or how it might turn out.  That’s why I’m calling it an “experiment.”

I will conduct my experiment by asking a series of personal, self-discovery questions and then answering them.  Each response will be used to generate another query and answer.  I will repeat this several times.

I want to be slow and deliberate each time I create my questions, but I want to be quick when writing my responses.  Answering quickly is my way of allowing the ideas to flow.  I want to get them out very spontaneously and then go back and clean up the language afterwards.  I don’t want to edit my responses in any sort of substantive way other than to make them more readable.

There are probably several reasons for doing such an experiment.  One of them is to drill down, farther and farther, toward some kind of foundational idea.  Another is to see if I discover any interesting connections between the ideas that are generated from this activity.  At the conclusion of this exercise, we’ll reflect on whether it had any value and if you could do something similar.

Let’s start…

My First Self-Discovery Question:  Why have I spent so much of my life feeling afraid and anxious?

My Answer:  Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing, that I didn’t have any siblings for the first eight years of my life?  So, I ended up dealing with things on my own or feeling like I didn’t have a peer to turn to for help or answers.  I think such a feeling of being alone in the world, surrounded by only a very small number of much older adults, turned me into a very serious kid.  I’ve heard from many that I was this sort of youngster.  Being this way also contributed to me becoming very self-critical and a kind of perfectionist.

My Second Self-Discovery Question: Why did I become so hard on my myself and such a perfectionist?

My Answer:  That is a very good question.  I’m trying to think if any of my parents or grandparents were perfectionists or if something happened to me early in my life—some kind of trauma, other than being alone much of the time—that would cause me to become this way.  Well, I can’t see that any of my relatives were perfectionists, per se, but my parents got a divorce which was very traumatizing.

My Third Self-Discovery Question: How did my parents’ divorce contribute to making me self-critical and serious? 

My Answer:  I remember the period when my parents were having trouble in their marriage.  It’s still very clear in my mind.  I even remember the actual day my mom moved out, taking me with her.  I’m trying to get inside myself to see what was going on internally.  I know I didn’t freak out or panic or even cry a lot.  I think I tried to understand what was happening more than feel it.  Does that make any sense?  I think from a very early age I used my reason more than my emotions.  Once I got in school and was around other children, I played, of course, but I was just as happy being aloof and watching, observing, studying, and I suppose this made me appear to be “serious.”  (It is likely people were reacting to me as if I were serious which then became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.)  Also, because I was so alone, I don’t think I had a lot of positive reinforcement for the good things I was capable of doing.  I didn’t hear or receive praise from other kids (there were none around), at least until I got into school and found out, by listening to others talk about me, that I was smart and had talents.  I think not knowing that I had talents made me assume that I had none or that I was “nobody.”  This feeling of being nobody must have begun to take root and started to turn me into someone who needed to prove (to myself) that I was somebody.

My Fourth Self-Discovery Question:  To what extent are some of these early psychological factors still at play in my life?

My Answer:  I’d say quite a bit.  I enjoy laughing a lot—it feels like taking a powerful medicine—and experiencing great peak emotional moments, but I often distrust emotions.  Emotions, by their very nature, are extreme and unreliable.  I know, for instance, that if I’m angry, I’m liable to overreact, so I intentionally keep myself silent and wait for the emotion to subside and my head to clear.  It is only then that I trust myself to make a response.  I pride myself on being a thinker and I love being a thinker, but I don’t trust emotions as much.  Emotions are dangerous.  Did I really say that?  Plus, being overly emotional means that I’m not going to be able to show “moderation in all things,” one of those philosophical principles of life I try to live by.  I try to keep an even keel at all times.  Otherwise, I feel tossed about on rough waters.  This raises an interesting question:  How much emotion is too much?

So, I’ve finished the experiment.  I know I could have extended it quite a lot.  In fact, I included an interesting query in the last line of my last response—how much emotion is too much?  I think that one would have been interesting to answer.

I feel that this had value for me.  I hope you can see how these kinds of queries help us drill down into things and make fruitful discoveries.   For example, it was interesting to read that I wrote not receiving positive feedback from other children had kept me from knowing myself or what I was capable of.  Does that mean we can’t know ourselves unless others tell us who we are?  What a wonderful question to ponder!  If I were to redo this experiment, I would certainly want to ask and answer that one.

What do you think about my experiment?  Such could be used in journaling or for self-exploration or to come up with blog ideas.   These queries could stretch out in all directions, taking us many places.

I look forward to reading your responses.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.


79 thoughts on “Experimenting with Self-Discovery in Real Time

  1. This is a fabulous idea. I might give it a go when I’m feeling particularly self-reflective. It kind of reminds me of what I had to do in a Counselling Skills course, although we were talking face-to-face in a triage scenario – speaker, listener and observer.

    1. My experience is using a bunch of different journaling exercises while teaching writing classes at universities. I never used one exactly like this one, though. I can very confidently say that this sort of thing would definitely work for coming up with writing topics.
      Your counseling experience sounds interesting. Can you point me to a reading that explains the training you’ve described. I’d really appreciate it if you could. Thanks for reading and responding.

      1. The course was many years ago now, so I’m unsure about current reading. I don’t recall undertaking much reading at the time, other than the ethics, but I must have done. What I remember most clearly was loads of practical work, self reflection and analysis. The approach I studied was person-centred counselling. The idea as the listener was not to ask specific questions, but instead support the client to talk about what they wanted and use active listening and paraphrasing techniques to empower the client to explore their own questions and answers. At least that’s how I remember it 😊

  2. It is not pleasant to feel permanently fearful and anxious. I have had to combat those feelings my entire life and put it down to physiology. Perhaps in a better future we humans could eradicate such emotions.

    1. Hi, Anthony. Physiological in what sense? I know that anxiety is exacerbated when there are chemical imbalances in the body. As I mentioned in my blog, I can certainly commiserate. I waiver between feeling somewhat optimistic about the future and feeling utterly pessimistic. Medical science certainly does continue to become more and more sophisticated. I think much anxiety would be alleviated if we developed wealth income distribution systems that helped more people feel financially secure. It’s the feeling of vulnerability that strike fear in so many hearts. Thanks for commenting.

      1. Yes Troy exactly. It’s the horrible feeling of vulnerability. Which could, as you rightly say, be eased by a better economic system. Physiological because when in such moods you can not by any rational argument, change your mind. As 9 often

      2. Anxiety and fear don’t listen to reason, especially if those are caused by a chemical imbalance or something similar. It’s like trying to reason away cancer or this virus that’s taken control of the planet.

      3. Yes and it is that chemical imbalance that medicine needs to address. We really are nowhere on that front althougj the initiative into psychedelics is a positive step in the right direction

      4. I’ll have to do a little reading on psychedelics. I didn’t realize that progress was being made on that front. We’ve long known that marajuana has wonderful medicinal properties. It’s that we get these old-fashioned, puritanical ideas in our heads that hold us back from making real pharmaceutical progress.

      5. I agree Troy. Timothy Leary and many more respected figures from the 60s believed psychedelics have the power to heal the world. I believe they were absolutely right.

  3. Another great post! I love the idea. It feels like how a therapist might keep asking you to dig a little deeper till you stumble upon something truly insightful about yourself you weren’t fully aware of. The question of too much emotions has got me thinking. Thinking about your observation that not receiving positive feedback from other children had kept you from knowing yourself. I would take that to mean that self-esteem is an important ingredient to finding out who you truly are.

    1. Self-esteem does help. Also, just having others to talk to helps. Children need “mirrors” to look into so that can begin to see themselves. Of course, my use of quotation marks means I’m thinking of mirrors in a metaphorical sense. When a person finds another who listens and speaks, it’s like looking into a mirror. We get to know ourselves and our abilities through communication and by comparing ourselves to others. It’s like I didn’t really understand America or Americans until I left the country for a long time and had a point of comparison. Thanks, AP2. I always enjoy discussing things with you!

  4. Been journaling for a number of years: languages and scrips, art, doodles, ideas left and right handed, mirror image, on my back and upside down … an applied to my life…

    Look what it’s done for me … 🥴..🤡..🤓

  5. So sorry, I also meant to say that your work and journaling experience sounds really interesting. I’d like to read more, including other journaling techniques used. I decided to undertake the course when I worked in a university as a Disability Adviser, as I wanted to better support my students by improving my listening skills. Still a work in progress.

    1. I’ve blogged on some of these topics and will post some links later. Sound like some really cool and rewarding work. Do you still do that sort of thing?

      1. Excellent, thanks, I’ll have a look. Currently, I’m job searching for a role in the NHS. I was advising at the university for 15 years, but I decided to take voluntary redundancy when the opportunity arose to focus on finishing my studies and hopefully move to a more health/nutrition based career.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I like your use of the word “unfiltered.” I wish I had used that word in my original blog. I find that commenters often explain things better than I do!

  6. What a good idea 👍
    I think it helps you to know yourself better. You can ask and answer about what you want/don’t, what’s your concern etc. It’s like a self talk or self counselling for me.

  7. The responses we have ..our way of life…are all based on the beliefs we have been handed over by the elders and the situations we have gone through…each has his own journey…
    Self reflection is a neccessity many of us don’t indulge in much….why are we the way we are….the only way is to ask these questions and reflect ..and the journey of discovering.. rediscovering.. reinventing will start…

    1. So true…So true, krish. Without self-knowledge, nothing else is possible. Too few know themselves, want to know themselves, or even know that knowing themselves is something they can aspire to. Thanks so much for the words of wisdom!

  8. What a necessary post full of much insight! I think being an over thinker and serious are your superpower not your Achilles heel. Emotions are messy, but necessary to feel for a healthy spirit. Our past shapes us, but it does not need to define us if we wish to make changes. I appreciate your candid self reflection. The more we know ourselves, the more of service we can be to others.

  9. Reading this makes me want to do some self searching questions; but I also wanted to respond to the part about you moving out with your mom. I’m not sure if this is relatable for you at all, but I remember being so used to having to just accept what was happening around me that I don’t think I ever really…processed it. I don’t know where I’m going with this. 😭

    1. When we start thinking and writing, we don’t have to go to a place that makes sense. Sometimes, we just have to “go.” Childhood is an interesting period. In one way, children are abolutely free and all-powerful. In other ways, children are totally at the mercy of the choices adults make. Thank you so much for your comment.

  10. I love this whole post. I’ve been feeling stuck lately and I’ll be using this to experiment myself! I share similar experiences to yours, areas where I felt trauma could be/have affected me, also feeling a sort of perfectionist or quite critical of myself and my actions. Glad I found your page, looking forward to more! Cheers.

    1. Thank you! I think this sort of experiment would certainly have value in getting a person “unstuck.” Why have you become such a perfectionist? I’d like to hear from other perfectionists to see what they have to say.

      1. Definitely, I tried a couple last night. Check them out! I’m new to this so I’ll have to tag you somehow.
        I think being a perfectionist came from feeling inadequate or unworthy. I’ve never stuck to something long enough to be amazing at it. I’m like the jack of all trades and master of none. So l the small tasks, chores, work and school projects I concentrate on making everything perfect because I want to be in control of the outcomes. So, of course, while being a perfectionist I’ve learned that nothing will truly be perfect. That thought, or knowledge frustrates me! Haha

      2. Great! I’m glad you found out that my little demonstration here has benefits. The first steps in making progress in overcoming limitations is realizing that they exist and then digging into their causes. It sounds like you’re well on your way in gaining important self-knowledge.

  11. conversation with self is so meaningful…it turns out eventually we do make our self image based on external inputs and spend most of the time maintaing that image. It’s very important to develop a healthy relationship with self… you have to, have to be comfortable with your own company!!

      1. I went through the link and it could absolutely relate to it… I have recognised a certain pattern as well in my case,in the end it’s all about managing yourself through ups and downs. Everything becomes relatively smooth when you learn this ‘not so easy’ trick. Good Luck!

      2. The Stoics and others have argued that the secret to happiness is sailing with an even keel. In other words, moderation in all things, don’t get too high or too low. This is one of my foundational beliefs. I try very hard to avoid big mood swings and such. I also try to be in control of my emotions rather letting them control me.

      3. Stoics have a lot of gems, being from India I found buddhism doctrine of “middle path” very apt, which is actually what the stoics say.By practising meditation I now at times can observe the emotions rising within, meditation I believe allows us to become aware of various sensations that arise, which in effect are emotions.It was a nice conversation with you, I hope you instead of controlling but what’s natural, let it flow and do nothing at all.

      4. Thank you very much for that. I have done several extensive studies of Buddhism and Taoism. I mentioned the Stoics and knew that they are really Buddhists. (I try not to get hung up on labels and such, but I suppose they help us communicate.) I want to thank you for the lesson about the difference between control and becomig aware. I think that’s an important distinction. I would like to discuss this further with you. Do you have any suggestions about how I might study under a Buddhist teacher, maybe online? What suggestions do you have? I can be reached at troyheadrick@gmail.com.

      5. I did a Vipassana course and learned a beautiful meditation techniques.You can find details here https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index . Apart from that what really touched my core were lecutres of VIVEKANANDA.

        I really have no idea as such of any online course but will definitely drop a mail if I’ll ever come across one.
        I will but recommend to have a look what Vivekananda says , I might as well call him modern buddha!

  12. What an interesting piece! I might give this a go next time I am journaling my thoughts. The last question about why do we need others to tell us we have talents or we are worth something, I think comes from the society we live in. At every step on our lives from childhood to adulthood we are constantly seeking approval (parents, teachers, friends, partners) —it’s a ongoing cycle.

    1. You’re absolutely right! We spend our whole lives trying to make others feel proud of us. I wonder if this makes us better people or worse? On the one hand, making others happy and proud is a good thing. On the other hand, I’m not so sure. At what point do we become a slaves to this need to please others? Thanks so much for giving me something to think about!

  13. I love this idea ,thank you for sharing .One of the most honest writings I have read .It is kind of a Writing Meditation going on a journey of your inner self. I want to do this too .

    1. Thank your for sharing your thoughts. You ought to give it a try and then come back and let us know how it went. Several other commenters have done the same thing.

  14. Thank you do much for writing this. It is a powerful piece which encourages looking inward healthily; self reflection of a most useful and educational kind. I’ve been slowly figuring out over the past little while that I’ve become better at forgiving others, but not so much myself.

    Thank you again for sharing. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Hamish. I think we all know about the importance of being kind to others, but no one teaches us to be kind to ourselves. Why is that? Is there something in “western” countries/cultures that overlooks this important lesson? Maybe our economic system drives us so much that we end up being unkind to ourselves in the process of “making a career” or “being successful”?

      I think this might be an interesting topic for my next blog. Thanks for getting me started thinking about this.

      What is your opinion on all this? Do you agree that we are better at being kind to others than we are to ourselves? Is this a widespread problem?

      1. I agree that for most people it is easier to be kind to others than ourselves. I think pop culture messages, teach us that we sound strive to be better without acknowledging good we have already done or are in the process of doing. I would also agree that seeking advancement in many careers can force us (in as much as a choice we make can ‘force’ us) to put our own real need aside.

        At church yesterday we talked about the idea of being still to fully embrace the presence of God. Whether one is religious or not I think there is real merit to actively choosing to do nothing at times. No screens, no books, no music. Just us and our breathing. This may be the start of a solution to such a problem as I do think it is widespread, and can be incredibly damaging to mental wellbeing.

        Thanks for your well thought out response and questions. Love thinking deeply about thinking deeply.

    1. Thanks, Man, for reading and commenting. Unfortunately, too many seem to have very short attention spans and forget importants lessons almost immediately after they’ve been learned. I see a lot of that happening now…

      1. This is the way of humans, since the beginning of time. We are emotional creatures, and so holding on to anything we learn depends on attaching an emotion!

      1. Not yet. As most people these days, I’m feeling so very out of sorts. But I am determined to keep writing! Slowly but surely. I feel bad I’ve lost my blogging routine, especially for PO… but hopefully I get back into the swing of things soon. Thanks, Troy. Keep on keeping on, my friend. 🕊

      2. It happens. Life intervenes. We’re all pulled in too many directions. We’re here whenever you’re ready to return. Take care and be safe and happy.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m glad you’re living a rich emotional, spiritual, and intellectual life. Unfortunately, far too many people sleepwalk through life, but I see that’s not true about you. You are very welcome and I’ll drop by again very soon.

  15. I was raised in a highly dysfunctional family. I’ve been doing some form of self-discovery and letting go for many years. Occasionally, I step back and give the process a rest. Now, during the Covid social distancing situation, I’ve reentered the rabbit-hole. With mixed results. Formal meditation helps with the reality checks.

    1. When I hear the phrase “highly dysfunctional family,” I think been there, done that. Thanks for sharing your story and for stopping by. Lots of us have rabbit holes and spend time in and out of them. I guess that might make us rabbits? By the way, rabbits are lovely creatures.

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