Category: Mind

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

Mental Habits, Nutriment and Happiness

The Pattern that leads to Depression 

As I see more and more patients, especially the elderly, and especially during this Covid-19 pandemic, I see a pattern.   

This is the pattern – our mental states, whether happy or otherwise, is very dependent on our mental habits that we have cultivated and strengthened over time.  

This is especially so in the elderly because as we grow older, our mental states tend to be dependent on our dominant mental habits. As we start to lose control over some of our physical functions, we seem to also gradually lose control over our ability to direct our mind. Thus, our mental habits become the dominant determinant of our mental states. 

This loss of control over our life is a source of fear for us, and especially so for the elderly. This fear, coupled with the dominant mental habits, become the trigger for anxiety and depression. 

Thus, if we have the mental habit of wanting to control people, circumstances or outcomes, we become fearful in old age as we gradually lose control. If we have the mental habits of focusing on the negative, we become more worrisome over time, and again, this leads to more anxiety and depression. 

Training the Mind 

Another pattern that I notice is this – it becomes increasingly difficult to train the mind as we grow older. This is understandable as we become more and more set in our mental habits, in our ways.  

Therefore, the wise advice of the ancient sages – that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second-best time to do so is now. The best time to cultivate and train our mind is 20 years ago, but if we have not started, now is the second-best time to do so. 

What kind of mental habits should we cultivate, and how do we do that? 

Well, one of the best mental habits that we can cultivate, that will continue to be beneficial for us now and into the future, is the habit of focusing on the positive. Learn to see the positive in any situation. In fact, if you can see the positive in even the most negative situation, then you have won a prize hard to gain even though you may have lost something else. Therefore, train your mind to see the positive in any situation. 

One effective way of seeing the positive in any situation is to learn gratitude. Gratitude trains our mind to see the good in everything. Open your eyes in the morning and you can be grateful for being alive. Walk into the bathroom and you can be grateful that you are still mobile and strong. Eat your breakfast and be grateful that you have food on the table. Walk outside your house or go to work, and be grateful of the freedom that you still have. Return home at night and be grateful that you have lived another day. There is just so many things you can train your mind to be grateful for.  

Secondly, unlearn the habit of wanting to control people, situations or outcomes. Learn to accept things as they come to you. Be OK with whatever comes along. Just make the best of the situation. Look for your best possible response to the situation that is beneficial to both you and those involved. Let go of your fear or feeling of discomfort at not being able to control the outcome. If the fear or unpleasant feeling persists, be OK with that too. Just learn to watch your fear or discomfort non-judgmentally, and see that they will dissipate with time. They will go away when you don’t feed them with your judgment. On the other hand, if you do feed them with your attention and judgment, they grow stronger and more persistent. This is the wisdom of non-judgmental awareness, and the insight or realization that you will gain. This is also the concept of nutriment is action.  

Too Old to Train the Mind? Try Chanting 

It is often said that “you can’t train an old dog new tricks”. Although not an absolute rule, this observation is generally accurate. It is difficult to train your mind when you are old because you already have a strong set of mental habits. So, start training your mind when you are young. Start now. 

For those who find it difficult to train your mind now, you can try chanting. Chanting, done regularly and diligently, is also a form of mind training. When you chant, you are focusing your mind on something positive or neutral, and therefore not focusing on the negative. The longer you can chant, the better the benefits. So, learn chanting.  

Another method is to keep your mind busy with some kind of work or activity, such as gardening, exercise, walking in the park, playing mahjong with friends. If you have a hobby, then focus on the hobby. Spend more time at your hobby. Any kind of activities that can take your mind away from thinking negatively is a good activity for this purpose. 

Be of Service to Others 

Finally, look for and join societies or clubs that give meaningful services to others. Become a volunteer. Do some charity work. Be of service to others. 

Be a Problem Solver, not a Problem Creator

Be a Problem Solver, not a Problem Creator

This is a very simple, yet effective, principle to follow that leads to success in any area of your life.  

If you are a problem creator at home, you will soon lose your family. If you are a problem creator at work, you will soon lose your job. If you are a problem creator with your friends, you will soon lose your friends. This is a very natural and predictable outcome. 

On the other hand, if you are a problem solver – at home, at work, anywhere – you will be welcome. You will be wanted. You will be needed. That is why there is such a term as a “solution provider”. A solution provider is basically a problem solver. A solution provider provides a solution to your problem. 

Think about it. The supermarket solves your food problem. The doctor solves your health problem. The accountant solves your accounting problem. Even entertainers solve your boredom problem.  

Most of us do not want to be a problem creator, nor do we set out to be one. However, we sometimes create problems unconsciously and unnecessary due to our lack of self-awareness. We constantly react to people and situation automatically, out of habits. Our past experiences condition our reactions. In other words, we continue to live in the past.  

Once, a lady patient came to see me due to stress. On further discussion, her problem started because of a simple phone call from her mother-in-law to her husband late at night. She was totally upset with that late night phone call, and therefore upset with her husband. When I asked her whether she would have reacted in the same way if the caller had been her own mother or sister, instead of her mother-in-law, she was stunned for a while. Then she responded that she would not have reacted in the same way.  

On further examination, the issue was not really the phone call. The real issue was her own relationship with her mother-in-law. She has had a troubled past with her mother-in-law, and from those old experiences had come this conditioned reaction that she was not aware of.  

Often, we are caught in similar situations where we react to people or situations simply out of past conditioning without our conscious awareness. Many of our relationship problems arise in this manner. Thus, if one has a high degree of self-awareness, many problems can be prevented in this way. 

While most of us may not consciously set out to be a problem creator, we need to be aware of those who intentionally set out to create problems, and then pretend to offer you the solution. We see this modus operandi a lot in politicians. Many politicians love to divide and rule. They create or fan racial or religious issues, turning them into big problems, and then offer themselves as the solution provider. 

 Unfortunately, this simple modus operandi is easy to implement and succeed because we ourselves have inner prejudices and biases which we are either not aware of, or not willing to admit and take responsibility for. In this way, we become easy pawns for their manipulations. Thus, we see here how denial can be harmful not just to ourselves, but also to others, and to society at large. Denial can make us an unconscious and unwitting participant to problem creation.  

Reality itself does not create problems.  

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

What is mindfulness?  

According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-reactively, to the unfolding of our experience moment to moment. Mindfulness is done purposefully, with a conscious decision, to be aware of our present experience. It is also done non-judgmentally, non-reactively. This means we merely watch the unfolding of our experience. We do not add on to the unfolding experience with our habits of dramatization, exaggeration and fantasy.  

Dr. Gordon Coates in New Zealand has a simpler definition for mindfulness. To him, mindfulness is the constant, non-judgmental awareness of our body, feelings and thoughts. 

Two Layers of Reality

Mindfulness practice helps us to unclutter our mind. To be more specific, mindfulness helps us to unclutter the content of our mind.  

It helps us to see that there is a layer of reality that we are experiencing, and then, there is another layer of reality that we have added to the first layer. This second layer is the result of our mental habits, our conditioned mind. Our everyday mind has the habit of adding to the first layer of real experience through dramatizing and exaggeration – habits that come from our conditioned mind.  

The problem is that we get lost in the drama of our own creation without even being aware of our own role in creating it. With practice, as our mind watch purposefully and mindfully, we begin to see these two layers of reality. We begin to understand our own role in creating and maintaining these fantasies in our life. Our joy and our pain are all our own creation. 

What mindfulness is not

Mindfulness practice is not about the thoughts. It is not really about the content of your thinking. It is more useful to understand your own thinking process – how your thoughts come about, and more importantly, how you react to those thoughts. With enough practice, you will soon realize that you do not have to believe in those thoughts. And once you stop believing in them, they no longer hold any power over you.  

Mindfulness is also not about not thinking. We are not asking you to stop thinking. It is not necessary to do that. All you need to do is to train yourself to become more aware of your thoughts and your reactions towards them. Understanding and insights will come gradually.  

Mindfulness practice is not a mean to escape from reality. In fact, when done properly, you actually train yourself to see things as they really are – free from your own drama.  

Mindfulness is about attention and focus, but it is not just about attention. It is also about awareness.  

Mindfulness is not about getting rid of unpleasant thoughts and emotions. It is more about understanding your unpleasant thoughts and emotions, how they arise, and how you react to them. 

 Lastly, mindfulness is not Buddhism. It is not religious. It is a mental practice, a mental skill, that anyone can acquire, learn and master.  

Looking inward for personal change

So, with mindfulness practice, you learn to look inward to your own body, feelings and thoughts. You learn to be more aware of them in a way that is non-judging. You train yourself to merely watch them as they unfold in your experience. In this way, you are able to now differentiate facts from fictions that you have created. You learn to see things as they really are, and this leads to insights and self-understanding. 

As you learn to become more mindful, there will be some useful insights rising in your experience. You will realize that your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. This is an important insight. It means that if you can train yourself to focus only on the positive, you can free your mind, and therefore yourself, from the sufferings and pain that follow negative thoughts.  

You will also learn that whenever your mind wanders to the future or to the past, you can always bring it back to the present moment by focusing on your body, or body sensation. Why? Because your body is always in the present. It does not exist in the past or in the future. So, this is a neat trick to easily bring your mind back to the present moment.  

You will also observe that there are actually two types of feelings or sensation – one arising from the body, and another arising from our thoughts. Unpleasant, and even painful sensation from our body may be inevitable. However, mental suffering from our thoughts is optional, meaning that we do not really have to create that mental pain once we can master our thoughts. When we are unaware of this fact, we often have no choice but to suffer both physical as well as mental pain. Once we know this, however, we do have a choice. We can learn to endure or tolerate physical pain without dramatizing or exaggerating the pain with our thoughts – a habit we often inflict on ourselves without realizing.  

Common Mental Habits

The more we learn mindfulness, the more we begin to understand ourselves and our mental habits.  

For example, we realize that we pay too much attention to what is happening outside of us, and not paying enough attention to what is happening inside of us. And we learn that paying attention to what is happening inside of us offers us more insight and self-understanding.  

We also notice how we often personalize experiences, meaning we misinterpret experience to be about us even when they are not necessarily so.  

We also make a lot of assumptions and jump to conclusions without verifying the facts. We are often not able to differentiate facts from fictions we have created ourselves. Our mind also has the tendency to focus on the negative, rather than the positive, and is often judging, criticizing, belittling and blaming – ourselves and others.  

We make a lot of generalization that may not be true. Our mind has the tendency to proliferate, fantasize, dramatize and exaggerate things. It also has the habit of looking into the past or the future, rather than staying with the present moment.  

Mindfulness is a potent tool for personal transformation

So, we can see here that mindfulness is a potent tool for self-understanding. With mindfulness, we become more aware of our own mental habits and beliefs, many of which are no longer serving our present needs. This awareness allows us to change ourselves, our mental habits and our beliefs.  

We can also use our emotions as windows into our own inner processes. However, be aware that looking inward is a journey for the brave. It requires us to adopt the policy of being honest with ourselves. We must learn to accept 100% responsibility for our own life. Although this journey of personal transformation may be full of challenges and difficulties, it is still a journey worth taking as we are likely to come out stronger and better in the end.  

As Sun Tze used to say – Know thyself. Know thy enemies. In a thousand battles, win a thousand victories. In this case, the enemies that we need to confront is not outside of us. Rather, they are our own inner limiting beliefs and mental habits that are no longer serving us well.  

Mindfulness is therefore an essential tool for personal transformation. 

The Importance of an Open Mind

The Importance of an Open Mind

Having an open mind is an important requirement or prerequisite for personal transformation.  

This is because the reason we are stuck where we are right now is our rigid and unyielding mind. It is precisely because of this rigid mind that we do not seem to have changed, to have progress, to have moved forward. We are still stuck in our old limiting beliefs, and therefore in our old attitude that has become a hindrance to our own progress.  

With this rigid, unyielding mind, we are blind to opportunities and possibilities that are there for us. We are building walls and closing doors. We imprison ourselves in our own little world, our little cocoon of comfort and apparent safety. We may feel safe, but it is actually a false sense of safety. In the long run, it is detrimental to our psychological and physical health. We are constantly validating our fears. 

When you have an open mind, you start to change all that.  

An open mind allows you to see more possibilities, more opportunities. An open mind allows you to consider other views, other options. They are all there, waiting for you. But you need to have an open mind to see them. With an open mind, the doors disappear. The wall disappears.  

With an open mind, you can start to see and recognize your own limiting beliefs and attitude. And once you are aware of them, you can change them. With a rigid mind, you cannot even see them, let alone recognize and change them.  

Thus, an open mind is an important prerequisite for personal transformation. If you want to change your life, start by having an open mind. 

The Power of Beliefs

The Power of Beliefs

What are beliefs? 

A belief is merely a perception of reality. This perception may or may not be accurate. Nevertheless, we believe it to be true.  

Knowing something to be true is different from believing that something is true. In knowing, we have either seen the truth for ourselves, or we have strong evidence to support our conclusion that it is true. 

With beliefs, there may not be a knowing of truth, or any evidence to support our conclusion that it is true. We merely believe that it is so. 

However, a belief is not to be trifled with. Beliefs are almost always associated with, or invested with, strong emotions. That is why it can be difficult to get someone to change their beliefs. When their beliefs are challenged, their automatic reaction is to resist or push back. This may manifest in the form of anger or outright confrontation. 

Beliefs are also very powerful. Once you believed in something, you create a potential for it to become true to you. Acting on this belief validates it, and gives you the corresponding results that is congruent with your belief.  

The positive power of beliefs can be seen in spontaneous healing. The negative power of beliefs can be seen in all the fanatics in religions that end up as suicide bombers, murderers and manipulators.  

How do we form our beliefs? 

We form beliefs in two ways.  

The first way is through the way we interpret our own experience. This, in turn, is dependent on our own attitude towards life and our pre-existing beliefs. Our attitude itself is formed by our pre-existing beliefs. So, we can say that how we interpret our experience is greatly influenced by our pre-existing beliefs. Thus, we form new beliefs on top of old beliefs. Therefore, we have layers upon layers of beliefs, most of which we are not even aware of. They reside in our subconscious mind.  

The second way is when we accept what other people tell us as truth, often without even trying to verify or validate them. From young, we have been conditioned to believe that what our parents tell us are true. Likewise, we believe in those in position of authority, such as teachers, police and religious leaders. So, we automatically believe in whatever they tell us as truth. We do not try to, or even bother to verify them before accepting them as truth. 

This is erroneous on our part. The job of verifying the truth is our responsibility, and we should take it seriously. We should not be so gullible as to believe what people say without verification. 

We should also be careful of manipulators who are good at using words to evoke our deep emotions, and to arouse us to act in their interests. Using the right words that resonate with your beliefs, they can easily lead you by the nose and push you to act in a self-destructive way, and often, by staying out of harm’s way themselves. 

A belief does not have to be true for it to work for you 

 This is important to know – that a belief does not have to be true for it to work for you. In fact, that is why beliefs are so powerful, but used wrongly, they are also extremely destructive. When you truly believe in something, you basically hypnotize yourself with that belief, and live its “truth”, oblivious to reality.  

That is why people who are paranoid can behave in ways that are consistent with their paranoia, and may even resort to harming others in their attempt to protect themselves. Likewise, religious fanatics are willing to blow themselves up or kill others in the name of their beliefs, even when those actions are inconsistent with the real tenets of that religion.  

In a more positive way, a belief can cause spontaneous healing.  

So, be very careful what you choose to believe in. They can make or break you. Be aware of your beliefs.

Making Decisions

Making Decisions

We would all like to believe that we make rational decisions, based on facts and logical thinking. However, the truth may be far from this simple assumption.

There are two ways we make decisions.

The first way is to make decisions based on what we think, and by this, we mean logical thinking. Thinking that is based on facts and reality. Thinking and making conclusions based on logical deductions.

However, we must be aware of the fact that we actually have a lot of irrational thoughts – thoughts that are not logical. Many of our thoughts are simply assumptions and beliefs. They are not evidence based. And we make conclusions and deductions based on these unconfirmed assumptions and beliefs. Not surprising, then, our conclusions are wrong.

To make rational decisions, we therefore need to verify our assumptions and beliefs, checking them with facts and evidence. We also need to make sure that our logical thinking process is valid, thereby the conclusions we come to is accurate and sound.

The second way we make decisions is based on our feelings. This would be considered an irrational way of making decisions, and often inferior to the first way. However, the reality is that many of us do make decisions based on how we feel. Sadly, we are not even aware of this fact when such decisions are made.

Without this awareness, we can be easily manipulated by others. They can easily rouse our emotions through clever and manipulative speeches. Advertisers are very good at this. Politicians too. Think Hitler. Think Trump. You get the idea.

If ever there is a need to make decisions based on emotions, then, always choose love over fear.

Examine your motivations. Are you motivated by greed, lust, hatred, anger, fear? If so, drop them, like you drop a hot iron. However, if you are motivated by love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, then you can choose and act on them.

You are likely to enjoy a better outcome with love.

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck is a researcher in the field of success psychology for over 30 years and is the author of “Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential”.

In this book, she put forward the idea that your success in life is not as dependent on your ability and intelligence as it is on the type of mindset you have. In other words, your success in life is dependent more on the way you think and believe about yourself than about your ability and intelligence.

Specifically, she pointed out that there are two very distinctly different mindset, each with its own distinctly different consequences.

TYPES OF MINDSET

The first type is called the Fixed Mindset. A person with this mindset believes that his ability and intelligence are fixed, innate and absolute. He sees a challenge as a test that may potentially expose his lack of ability or intelligence. Thus, he is challenge-shy.

The second type of mindset is called Growth Mindset. A person with this growth mindset sees every challenge as a potential opportunity to learn and improve himself. He does not see his ability and intelligence as something fixed or absolute, but one that can be cultivated and improved upon. Thus, he is not challenge-shy and is thus more resilient than one with a fixed mindset in times of adversity.

PRAISING THE PROCESS VERSUS PRAISING THE ABILITY

One way to cultivate and enhance the growth mindset in others is to praise the process – that is to say, praise their effort and persistence, their strategies and problem solving attitude – when they are given a task or challenge to accomplished.

This is in contrast to praising the ability of the person, as if to validate that his worth is dependent on his ability and intelligence. Praising the ability can sometimes have the negative effect of reducing self-esteem and confidence.

MIXED MINDSETS

A person may have a growth mindset in one area, such as in terms of intelligence, and yet still have a fixed mindset in another area, such as in the way he looks at relationships.

A MINDSET IS A POWERFUL BELIEF

A mindset is simply a belief. It is how you see yourself and the world. It is how you make sense of your experience in the world. It is how you give meaning to your experience.

Like all beliefs, it is not an absolute truth. What is true, is that there are beneficial beliefs and harmful beliefs. So, it is important to be aware of your beliefs and examine them to see if what you believe in is helping you or holding you back from the person you want to become.

Consciousness is Life?

Consciousness is Life?

Here is another perspective on consciousness, as explained by Sadhguru. Consciousness is life. There is no such things as my consciousness and your consciousness. Consciousness has no boundary although our mind can create a make-believe boundary. Life has no meaning beyond what meaning we give to it.