Tag: mental habits

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. 

5 Mental Habits that will increase your Happiness

5 Mental Habits that will increase your Happiness

In the last 20 years, science has learned a lot about the links between spirituality and happiness. Studies on spirituality, specifically on certain spiritual or mental qualities like altruism, generosity, faith, hope and gratitude, have shown repeatedly that they increase our level of physical and mental well-being.

Spiritual practices that incorporate these positive mental qualities and habits increase our happiness while practices that incorporate negative mental qualities and habits such as fear, hate and suspicion lead to the opposite effect.

These findings provide the scientific basis for good spiritual practices throughout the world. All major religions advocate these healthy spiritual practices. On the other hand, deviant religious practices advocate the negative mental habits and qualities, and it is in this way that we can recognize them as deviant.

Here are five positive mental habits that will increase your happiness when you put them into your daily practice.

  1. Savor the present moment

The ability to savor the present moment, such as savoring the food you are eating or the moment you are sharing with your child, requires a certain degree of mindfulness of the moment. This habit of savoring the present moment leads to a sense of awe and connection, a feeling of joy and contentment  —  all positive emotions that increase happiness.

  1. Be thankful for the good things you get

Gratitude is an attitude that rewards you repeatedly. Those who have the habit of being grateful for what they have and what they got tend to find more joy and contentment towards life. Being grateful also makes one feel at ease – a sense of being at peace with the world. A mind of gratitude is open, expansive and relaxed. All these increase the level of happiness experienced.

  1. Aspire towards a meaningful goal

Having a sense of purpose in life leads to hope, happiness and a sense of optimism, so set yourself a worthy goal. The goal need not be huge or materialistic. It can very often be immaterial, such as being of service to others, being a good role model for your children, or simply spending quality time with your family. You can start off with a small achievable goal. Once you have attained this goal, you can gradually increase the challenge and aim for bigger goals. Know that if you can do a small task well, you can also do a big task well. All it takes is planning and persistence.

  1. Give generously

Give or share generously with others. Regardless of how rich or poor you are, you can always give or share things, skills or services. There are many things you can give that will not cost you a lot, such as giving your time to listen attentively to a friend in need, to console a grieving person or to encourage a disheartened friend. Genuine giving such as these again leads to a mind that is open, expansive and relaxed. It leads to a sense of having, not lack. It leads to a sense of purpose and self worth.

  1. Empathize

Empathy means being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A person who can empathize well finds it easy to understand the sufferings of others. They are also more willing to listen and help. Empathy has been found to be an important aspect of emotional intelligence. It helps us greatly in our interaction with others.

Science has shown us that people who consistently practice any one or more of the above positive mental habits daily are happier people. Science has also shown us that these skills can be learned. So start learning and putting them into practice in your daily life today and increase your level of happiness.

Let Go of these 5 common Mental Habits and Transform Your Life

Let Go of these 5 common Mental Habits and Transform Your Life

We all have both good and bad mental habits. Mental habits are those habits that run almost imperceptibly in our mental background. They are our tendencies to think and do things in a certain way. When we have good mental habits, they help us to get what we want in life. On the other hand, when we have bad mental habits, they hinder us from getting what we want out of life.

Mental habits are not set in stones. They can be changed. By letting go or changing our bad mental habits, we can change our lives for the better. Sometimes, simply letting go of one bad mental habit can completely transform our lives.

Here are five negative mental habits we should let go to improve ourselves.

1. Seeking Approval

The root reason why we seek approval from others is because we seek acceptance. And why do we seek acceptance from others? Because we have very little self esteem. We do not regard ourselves as good enough. We think our thoughts, values and ideas are inferior to others.

This tends to happen when we compare ourselves with others, and find ourselves lacking in certain things or areas which we regard as important.

It is important to realize that underneath all the external facade, we are all of the same essence. We are no lesser than anyone else. If you think that you are lesser, it is only because you have the habit of thinking so. You have convinced yourself, through your own negative self talks, that you are lesser than others. The reality is that you are not.

You need to recognize this truth so that you can work ourselves out of the negative mental habit of belittling your own worth.

2. Belittling or Criticizing Others

If you have the tendency to belittle or criticize others, you should realize that this is a symptom of your own inner insecurity. People with good self esteem do not often find it necessary to belittle or criticize others. Only those with poor self esteem do that as a way to boost their own ego, whether they consciously know it or not.

This is not the same as pointing out someone’s bad habits or behaviors in a critical but impersonal way where the focus is on the negative acts (bad habits or behaviors) and not on the person doing them.

3. Denials

If you have the habit of denying your own faults, then it is a reflection of your fear. What exactly are you afraid of? Each time you deny, you should make it a habit to find the answer to that question. Most of the time, you will be pleasantly surprise to find out that your fears are unfounded.

Often, we deny our faults thinking that others will not accept us when they know that we are imperfect. Just as often, we will find out that this belief is not true when we truly challenge it.

One big side effect of denial is that we refuse to take full responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. When we do that, we often end up apportioning the blame to others.

4. Comparing Self with Others

Having a habit of frequently comparing ourselves with others is another symptom of a low self esteem and the need to seek acceptance.

We need to realize that we are not meant to live our lives like a carbon copy of others. We are each unique individuals who have different dreams and goals, and therefore there is no need to compare.

However, you can use other people’s success as a guide and motivation for your own goals in life.

5. Negative Self Talks

All of us have negative self talks. That is to say that all of us have doubts about our own self worth at times. This is normal as we are not perfect beings. The important thing is to realize that we have these negative self talks, and we should make the effort to cut down the frequency of these negative self talks. To do that, we need to bring these negative self talks to our conscious awareness. We need to learn to be mindful of their arising.

When we are able to cut down on our negative self talks, we will begin to feel more self worth and better self esteem.

When we are able to let go of these negative mental habits, we will begin to become a happier and more successful person.