Self Awareness

I think there are most likely exactly zero of us who received explicit, overt, interoceptive (inner body sense) instruction growing up. Maybe there are a few of us who did actually receive good instruction, but with different language — like, “here’s how to listen to yourself and tell when you are hungry vs full”, or, “here’s how to check in with your body and figure out if you need a break”.

But most likely, almost none of us had that. I know I didn’t. It’s been a journey that I’ve gone on as an adult, and try now to teach to children in my practice—but I didn’t learn it as a child.

Whenever I talk about interoception, adults ask me, “How do I do this for myself, too?”

Various types of mindfulness learning, meditation, or other conscious practices overlap a lot with this area — so some people may have learned to do parts of that, and some people may have never learned about anything like this.

What sort of practices do you have around checking in with your body and noticing what you are doing and why you are doing it?

If you have none at all whatsoever, maybe start by setting yourself a reminder on your phone for every (x) interval, and when it goes off, checking in with your body and how you are feeling at that moment. Hungry? Thirsty? Need to toilet? Need to fidget?

You could make a general checklist and run down it, either visually/physically, or in your mind.
-Do I need a snack, when’s the last time I ate?
-Do I need a drink, when’s the last time I had water?
-Do I need to toilet, when’s the last time I did?
-Do I need to stand up and move, when’s the last time I did?
-Am I holding tension in my shoulders, my jaw, elsewhere in my body?
-Is there mild pain in my body that I can do something about? (shift position, stretch, rub body part, close eyes briefly to relax them…etc)
-I can take three deep breaths right now.
-Okay, back to what I was doing.

Or setting visual cues around yourself if there is a particular thing you are trying to raise awareness to. If you are not just trying to raise your awareness of yourself in general, but rather trying to, i.e., figure out how to notice when you’re thirsty, maybe you set a water bottle in your vicinity and start consciously noticing when you take a drink. Or put a sticker on your water bottle, so that you have to touch it to unscrew the cap or retrieve the straw, and the sticker will make you think: What was happening right before you took a drink? How did you feel?

Start making notes in your phone, on paper, or just in your head by consciously thinking them to yourself: “I notice myself feeling x.” And then maybe, “I am going to x about it.”

“I notice that I’m feeling hungry, but I’m telling myself no snacks until I finish this work. Is that legitimate? Could I eat a snack while I work on this work? I think I could.”

“I notice that I’m feeling fidgety. I’m going to stand up and shake my shoulders and arms out, then when I sit back down to keep writing, I will see what feels good…jiggling my leg feels good, I will do that.”

“I notice that I’m feeling completely distracted, I cannot wrangle my brain to this work no matter how hard I try! Maybe I should play some music and see if that helps.”

“I notice that my head hurts really bad! Whoa! How did I just notice that? No wonder I can’t focus even though I’m trying to force myself to. Maybe it’s time to look away from a screen for a little while. I can jot down some ideas on paper for 15 minutes while some ibuprofen kicks in.”

Or be super-duper extra about it like me: make yourself an extremely simple Google Forms form survey and fill it out every day. (Yes, this is a real thing I’ve done and am doing!) “In the morning I noticed I felt…” “In the afternoon I noticed I felt…” Then after 2-3 weeks, you’ve got some data neatly compiled that you can do something with. I did this specifically with trying to isolate when I felt the most noise-sensitive, and what I did to deal with it.

And…be patient with yourself. This took me literally yeeeaarrrssssss and I still find myself going “omg omg I have to pee right this second, why did I tell myself I couldn’t go pee until I finished this report?!??! Who was I helping???”