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Why living a more examined life is worth a closer look

by Peter Alternative

It’s amazing what happens when you take some time to yourself to unplug from the matrix that is our 24/7 always on society.   After leaning into my quasi midlife crisis with a few adventures which reminded me that I could still do hard stuff, I’ve been living what, according to Greek philosopher Socrates, is an examined life.    You’ve all probably heard some of his most famous quotes on this topic, such as:


“ the unexamined life is not worth living.”


“Ultimately, by living an examined life, we are giving ourselves an amazing gift. We receive a sense of freedom, clarity and thus, peace. “We must examine and understand the universe that dwells within [our] own soul.”


While there is still much work to be done,  I concur with Socrates' belief that an examined life can improve one’s quality of life.   So, what exactly does it mean to live an examined life and so what?   Let’s start with the second part of the question and go from there.    In my experience,  living an examined life is an important tool if you’re interested in becoming the best version of yourself.  At the heart of a well-examined life are good questions, that are asked for good reasons.   I’m guilty like most of forming a judgment without looking critically at its underlying assumptions.   If you want to really understand a judgment ask yourself WHY 5 times and see what you unearth.   I’ve found that this discipline has helped me unearth unacknowledged truths about myself.  For instance, my judgmental self is born out of the fact that I have an uber self-critic within.  By taming my own self-critic, I’ve become more accepting of myself and others.     


I believe to live an examined life is to engage in introspection, self-reflection, and critical thinking about one's beliefs, values, actions, and purpose. Living an examined life involves:

  • Self-awareness: Being conscious of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and understanding how they shape your experiences and interactions with the world.

  • Questioning assumptions: Challenging preconceived notions, cultural norms, and societal expectations to uncover deeper truths and perspectives.

  • Seeking understanding: Actively seeking knowledge, wisdom, and insight through learning, exploration, and open-mindedness.

  • Ethical reflection:  Considering the moral implications and consequences of your choices and actions, and striving to align your behavior with ethical principles and values.

  • Personal growth:  Embracing opportunities for growth, development, and transformation, and continually striving to become the best version of yourself.


I’ve found living an examined life requires courage, humility, and a willingness to lean into discomfort. It’s involved ongoing self-examination and a commitment to authenticity, integrity, and intellectual honesty.    Here are some activities that you can try that cultivate living a more examined life:


  • Meditation and mindfulness: Practices like meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing can help you cultivate inner peace, focus, and self-awareness by observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment.

  • Philosophical inquiry: Engaging in philosophical discussions, reading philosophical texts, and contemplating existential questions can stimulate critical thinking, broaden your perspective, and deepen your understanding of yourself and the world.

  • Seeking feedback: Soliciting feedback from trusted friends, mentors, or counselors can provide valuable insights into blind spots, strengths, and areas for improvement, helping you gain a more accurate understanding of yourself and your impact on others.

  • Continual learning: Embracing a lifelong commitment to learning and intellectual curiosity by reading diverse books, taking courses, and exploring new ideas fosters intellectual growth and broadens your perspective.

  • Creative expression: Engaging in creative activities such as writing, painting, music, or dance allows you to express your thoughts, emotions, and innermost desires, fostering self-discovery, emotional release, and personal expression.

  • Gratitude practice: Cultivating a daily practice of gratitude by reflecting on the things you're thankful for can shift your focus away from negativity and scarcity towards appreciation and abundance, fostering a more positive outlook on life.


In my experience, by incorporating these types of activities into your daily routine, you can cultivate a deeper understanding of yourself, develop greater self-awareness and resilience, and live a more fulfilling and higher quality life.


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