The Observing Self – Your Fast Track to Get Unstuck

The Observing Self - Your Fast Track to Get Unstuck.We human beings are unique because we have this helpful tool called the mind to analyze, rationalize, plan, judge, and organize our experience.

And consequently, we value our ability to use the fantastic thinking tool between our ears so highly that sometimes we define ourselves based only on the judgments of our thoughts, emotions, memories, urges, and sensations.

For example, if your predominant mood is anxious or nervous, you may tend to think of yourself as an “anxious person.” Or, if your mind frequently makes negative self-judgments, you may think you have low self-esteem.

The Thinking Self and the Observing Self

In truth, however, we are much more than the sum of our inner experiences and thoughts. What actually makes humans genuinely unique is the fact that we are not only able to think, plan, organize, fantasize, and experience a range of emotions, but we are also aware of these processes. You can observe your thoughts or register your body’s sensations and describe how they come and go.

All this shows that there is not only a part of you that thinks and feels, but also a part that notices and observes your thoughts and feelings. We, humans, have internalized both dimensions.

Also interesting: Beyond Meditation: The Real Reason For Cultivating Mindfulness And The Present Moment

Psychologists call them the thinking self and the observing self. The thinking self is the constant stream of thoughts and images running through your brain almost every moment you are awake; the observing self is the place within you from which you can notice all this thinking and any other experience you feel internally or have in the external environment.

The Observing Self offers choices

So the observing self allows you to be an observer of your own experience. You can see what is going on inside and around you in a way that will enable you to act from a position of conscious choice, rather than acting unreflectively. This choice is crucial to respond flexibly to life’s challenges.

The more clearly we can see our hectic minds’ patterns and habits, the less likely we will follow our autopilot unquestioningly. We begin to create a small gap between what our mind tells us to do and what we actually want to do and say. In that gap, we can begin to build a rich and meaningful life by making choices that are driven by what really matters to us, not what our mind tells us to do at any given moment.

Like the weather and the sky

The idea that there is something other than our thinking selves is not a very common one, and for many of us, it’s difficult to grasp at first. One way to better imagine the relationship between the thinking self and the observing self is to compare it to the weather and the sky.

All that our thinking self refers to is the weather, and the observing self is the sky. The weather changes from day to day, from moment to moment – sometimes it is warm and beautiful, sometimes cold and stormy.

Also interesting: Your 4-Step-Formula To Overcome ANY Difficult Situation

What remains constant is the sky. The sky sets the stage for the changing weather patterns and never comes to harm, no matter how fierce the storm or how bright the sunshine.

The sky is a witness to the weather and will be there long after even the most powerful hurricane has passed. Likewise, your observing self will always be there for you with the ability to make room for all your thoughts and feelings, no matter how difficult or unpleasant they may be.

How to access your Observing Self

All of this may sound a little strange because your thinking self will desperately want to analyze and understand what the observing self is – that’s just how the thinking self works. Therefore, to get to know your observing self better, it is best to experience it in action.

How is this supposed to work? Well, the good news is that you are automatically taking the observing perspective all the time without even realizing it. You just need to spend more time learning how to access this observer perspective in moments when it matters more easily.

Also interesting: Mental Imagery – Does It Work To Fall Asleep Faster?

Below is a simple exercise to help you become more aware and connected to what’s going on in your mind and under your skin. At the same time, you will strengthen your ability to maintain a certain distance from these things and focus your attention on what is happening in the here and now. Through this pause, you will begin to open yourself more to the possibilities available to you.

Exercise: How to notice that you’re noticing

For this exercise, get into a comfortable position. For a moment, allow your mind to wander where it wants to go. For example, if it wants to engage with a particular thought or feeling, just let it happen.

When you are ready, I would like to invite you to experiment a little with directing your awareness to different aspects of your current experience while being aware that you are noticing these different experiences in the here and now.

  1. Notice the thoughts that are going through your mind at this moment. And be aware that you are noticing them.
  2. Notice the sensations that you feel in your body at this moment, all the areas of tension or relaxation. And be aware that you are noticing them.
  3. Notice all the sounds you hear around you. And be aware that you are noticing them.
  4. Pay attention to images that arise in your mind. And be aware that you are noticing them.
  5. Notice the rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and out. And be aware that you are noticing it.
  6. Notice all your feelings here and now. And be aware that you are noticing them.
  7. Finally, allow your awareness to flow and to rest on any aspect of your experience. And become aware that you are noticing this process.

This simple exercise allows you to gently shift back and forth between your thinking self and your observing self. You engaged in a thought, a feeling, a sensation, a memory, and then stepped back to observe that very thought, feeling, sensation, or memory.

How we see the world

So our observing self allows us more flexibility and freedom in our decisions and actions. But there’s another vital benefit to switching between the thinking self and the observing self – and that is that we can influence how we see the world because the perspective we take has a significant impact on how we feel and how we experience our surroundings.

Also interesting: Understanding Chronic Insomnia: How Easy It Is To Get Stuck In Sleeplessness

For example, have you ever received an invitation to a party, and your mind loudly chimed in with the words, “I don’t feel like going!”? Maybe you got up and went to the party anyway, only to find that you had a much better time than you expected.

Or maybe you went, and your fears were confirmed; the whole party was terrible and a completely wasted evening.

Which perspective did you take?

If you experienced both situations, ask yourself this question: what was different on both occasions? The answer could be that maybe the people were different, or something happened that affected your experience.

However, the answer could also be that something was different about you and how you approached the situation. Maybe the first time you went into the evening thinking, “I’ll just go and see how it goes. Maybe it’ll be fun. If not, I can always find an excuse and leave.”

In the second case, you may have set out thinking, “This is going to be miserable. What if I get all caught up in petty small talk with nothing but boring people?”


The situation was exactly the same in both cases – an invitation to a party – the difference was the perspective you took: in the first case a perspective of optimism and openness, in the second case a perspective of pessimism and closed-mindedness.

None of your perspectives is right or wrong

Most of us have specific perspectives that we automatically adopt in various situations. When faced with challenging life situations, some of us automatically take a perspective associated with resilience and curiosity.

Other people automatically adopt a perspective associated with fear and self-doubt. Neither of these perspectives is inherently wrong or right – both are quite normal and natural, often even useful.

Also interesting: Why Trying to Control Your Thoughts and Feelings Comes at a High Cost

The only problem is automatism. We are always stuck rigidly in the perspectives we are familiar with and thus unwilling or unable to become aware of our choices and look at the world differently.

Each perspective brings its own opinions and assumptions that have an enormous impact on how we see the world and how we respond to others. In other words, our perspective has a significant impact on the quality of our experiences throughout life.

Socrates’ Way to Athens

There is a famous story about Socrates’ way to Athens that illustrates this point beautifully:

Socrates had taken a walk outside the city walls of Athens. As he rested by the roadside, about five miles from the city, he saw a traveler approaching him.

“Greetings, friend! Can you tell me if this is the road to Athens?” the traveler asked. Socrates assured him that this was the road to Athens. “Tell me,” asked the traveler, “what are the people like in Athens?

“Well,” said Socrates, “where are you from, and what are the people like there?”

“I come from Argos. And I am proud and happy to tell you that the people of Argos are the kindest, happiest, and most generous people one could wish to meet,” replied the traveler.

“My friend, you will find,” said Socrates, “that the people of Athens are exactly the same.”

A few moments passed, and another traveler approached. “Greetings, my friend! Can you tell me if this is the road to Athens?” this traveler also asked. Socrates assured him that it was.

“Tell me,” asked the traveler, “what are the people like in Athens?”

“Well,” said Socrates, “where are you from, and what are the people like there?”

“I come from Argos. And I am sorry to say that the people of Argos are the meanest, most wretched, and unkind people imaginable.”

“My friend, you will find,” said Socrates, “that the people of Athens are exactly the same.”

Our perspective is like a filter we place over everything

For the travelers in the story, their perspectives act as filters that only allow them to see certain things. Anything that doesn’t fit into the narrow confines of that perspective is ignored or dismissed.

Also interesting: 40 Grieving Thoughts That Inspire Hope

This also happens to many of us in our everyday lives, where our minds continuously generate thoughts and feelings of worry and fear. This disaster perspective prevents us from making effective decisions about our actions because our thinking becomes dominated by an overwhelming need to avoid making mistakes. We feel like we have no choice but to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which unfortunately often doesn’t work.

We lose clarity about our life

Also, we are not able to clearly assess our situation. The same thoughts keep falling like stones into a pond so that the ripples on the surface no longer allow us to see the bottom. We are no longer able to see with clarity what is going on within ourselves or around us.

Here it is a great help to step into the position of the observing self, to get some distance from the thoughts and feelings. We can even take different perspectives to realize that we are once again seeing the situation from the disaster perspective, which may not be very helpful at this moment.

Exercise: Taking the perspective of another person

Think about something that is on your mind or even stressing you out. Let your thoughts rest there for a minute or two and allow whatever thoughts and feelings arise to emerge. Notice everything that is going on in your mind, including both positive and negative emotions.

Now think of another person in your life who is important to you and who you know cares about you. He or she can be alive or already dead – the main thing is that the person is important to you.

Also interesting: Why Positive Affirmations Won’t Help You Building Inner Peace

Visualize the person and his or her character. Try to imagine them as vividly as possible. If there are gaps in your memory, use your imagination to fill them.

Now answer the following questions from that person’s point of view:

  • What do you have to say about the situation that is troubling (your name)? Is there something that (your name) may have overlooked?
  • What would you suggest (your name) do to better deal with the situation?
  • What would you suggest (your name) do to take a small step toward a more fulfilling and meaningful life?

How did it go? What was it like to consciously try to see the world through another person’s eyes to understand a little better what you are experiencing?

Why is it helpful to be able to shift into another person’s perspective?

Remember that this exercise is not intended to give you a definitive answer to all your problems, or that the other person’s perspective is better than yours.

It’s simply meant to show you how helpful it can be to open yourself up to new perspectives and information when you are stuck. Sometimes just shifting into a different perspective can show you that the path forward is more straightforward than you think.

Also interesting: Why Sleep Is More Important Than Ever In These Uncertain Times

The benefit of stepping into someone else’s shoes for a moment and taking their perspective is that it shakes things up a bit. It forces us to leave our habitual perspective from which we usually look at the world, our situation, and ourselves. This is because we humans are creatures of habit, and it’s easier for us to go through life on autopilot. So we always remain in and act only from our familiar perspective.

As if we were the perspective ourselves

Sometimes we even get so stuck in a familiar perspective that we completely identify with that perspective. This may be positive, for example, if someone who naturally approaches life with a sense of adventure thinks of himself as an adventurous and courageous person. But it can also be harmful, for example, if a person who worries a lot always defines himself or herself only as an anxious person.

Also interesting: 11 Crucial Factors Of How To Navigate Mistakes

This tendency to define ourselves based on our most common thoughts and feelings, and the perspectives we most often take can be very limiting and lead to mental rigidity. Yet there is more to us than we realize! We are more than just our thinking self because we have access to this fantastic observing self, noticing everything going on inside and around us without judging.

We are more than our thoughts, feelings, and urges

From this observing self, we can see our thoughts for what they are – just words. We can see our feelings for what they are – only sensations in our bodies. We can see our urges for what they are – just drives that make us choose one of many different available courses of action.

From this point, we can also see that we are not necessarily “an anxious person” or “an angry person,” even if we spend much of our time feeling anxious or angry.

Each of us has many facets, many of which are often ignored or forgotten if we continue to look at things around us and ourselves only from a familiar perspective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.