There was a period of my life, in my younger years, when I needed to make some huge changes in my thinking and behavior. I spent large chunks of time in self-reflection: reading self-help books, going to all types of behavior change meetings and writing daily in my journal. I believed I was doing the challenging job of changing my life for the better. Some friends and family told me I was too self-absorbed and they were growing weary of my constant gaze at my own bellybutton. They asked me to look elsewhere or, at the very least, refrain from describing it to them.
In the 1920s, a word was coined to describe this kind of personal rumination: omphaloskepsis. This word comes from the Greek “omphalos” (navel) and “skepsis” (examination). Which brings us back to bellybuttons.
My take is a certain amount of omphaloskepsis is healthy for any individual. Cultivating self-awareness can lead to new perspectives, new ideas and a new sense of personal value. At the same time, when navel-gazing becomes the sole focus, it can create a closed cycle that actually limits personal growth.
With age (I like to refer to it as seasoning), I’ve acquired a greater curiosity about how my friends and colleagues explore their own bellybuttons. Many of them are going through the same joys, challenges and fears in their self reflection as I am with mine.
As weird as I think my bellybutton is, further inspection makes me recognize it’s not all that unique after all.