“Narcissistic,” “self-indulgent,” even “a destructive waste of time” are terms people have used to describe navel-gazing. Merriam-Webster defines it as useless or excessive self-contemplation. But is it?
You Don’t Actually Stare At Your Belly Button
The word Omphaloskepsis comes from the Greeks and is defined as staring at one’s navel to aid in meditation.
So it’s accurate to say that navel-gazing was initially the act of staring at your navel, sometimes for hours at a time.
Today the term is more of a pejorative for self-reflection or introspection.
Some would say navel-gazing is a waste of time. It can cause you to isolate yourself. Instead of going out and experiencing the world, you’re stuck inside, thinking about only yourself.
So then, if we don’t think about ourselves in terms of our place in the world, our position in life, and our ability to make some sort of impact on it, then what should we be doing? In other words, how are we to solve our problems if we don’t think about them?
Navel-Gazing As A Self-Awareness Exercise
As a writer, I tend to do a lot of introspection. I can’t help it. I think a lot about the words that flow from my fingers to the keyboard and onto the monitor. I think about how they will be received, and in turn how I will be received. I wonder if I’m wasting my time, or if I should give up writing to dedicate myself to a soul-sucking 9 to 5. Then I fall down that rabbit hole.
I also think about my motivations. Why I behave a certain way. Why I react the way I do to seemingly innocuous things. Why I can’t stand for people to stand so close to me in any line anywhere.
But that’s not an argument for the negative view people have of so-called navel-gazing. I don’t stand there, staring at my belly button and trying to get into a meditative state. Rather, I stare a blank screen with a blinking cursor, willing beautiful prose and clever phrases to appear.
If it weren’t for navel-gazing, how would our favorite stories come to light? Creativity isn’t planned. It comes out of the recesses of the mind. The places we go to when we’re in deep thought, when we’re figuring out our next move, or even when we’re staring out into space.
What Navel-Gazing Has Taught Me About Myself
I hate to admit it, but I’ve got some changing to do. My introspection has presented me with problematic personality traits and habits that I’d unfriend and disown others over.
I’m a heavy procrastinator who has a problem with authority and a need to always be in control, and I’m often impatient. When I can’t control a situation I fly into a rage, even if it’s in my own mind. And if unregulated use of explosives was legal, there’d be lots of property damage caused by me.
There’s much more, but I don’t want to show my whole hand just yet.
A Time and Place for Navel-Gazing
Self-contemplation is a necessary activity. But you can’t just do it anywhere, or rather, you shouldn’t.
It would be weird if you just zoned out in the middle of a business meeting to contemplate why you haven’t accomplished any of your personal goals in the last five years. You probably won’t have your aha moment at the deli counter in the grocery store.
I’ve found the best place to search the darkest recesses in my mind is in the shower, at my desk, or in front of the TV (unless it’s a show I’m interested in).
Hell, sometimes I take a few minutes to just sit and reflect on myself — what I want, what’s stopping me from getting it, how I can accomplish a goal easier or faster. And as a matter of fact, I’m going to pencil navel-gazing into tomorrow’s schedule.
Navel-gazing, self-examination, whatever you call it. Introspection is essential to self-improvement.
People who don’t consider themselves as they relate to the world tend to be complacent with their stagnation. Not to mention they’re probably stubborn to the point of keeping clothes that are too small or full of holes because it’s what they’re comfortable with.
If you’re uncomfortable with self-reflection, then you might want to consider why. Obviously, this creates a dichotomy as you’re unlikely to ruminate on your distaste for navel-gazing.
But, there’s nothing wrong with the act. We can all use a little soul-searching to learn more about ourselves and how we can improve. After all, if we don’t learn about ourselves, we won’t know what truly makes who we are.