Changing habits is hard. If you’ve ever tried to stop smoking or lose weight, you know how hard it is. But as hard as it is to change habits of the body, it’s even harder to change habits of the mind. Habits of the mind, though, are perhaps even more important than the habits of the body. Negative mental habits can degrade the quality of your relationships, and they can undermine your goals and ambitions. Also, they are often at the root of negative physical habits, such as when negative emotions trigger overeating or overspending. Positive mental habits, on the other hand, can help you overcome difficulties and can greatly enhance your happiness and satisfaction in life. Really, developing positive habits of the mind is the meaning of true growth, the key to becoming a better person.
Watching As a Practice
But how do we develop a positive mind? The most important step toward change is watching—the practice of watching ourselves honestly and sincerely. This sounds simple, but for most people it is actually quite difficult to be honest about our innermost selves. It’s easier, for example, to ignore that we have character flaws than to admit that our behaviors are influenced by such things as petty jealousies or ingrained biases. Or, worse, we might see those things and lose faith in ourselves, which even further undermines our ability to change.
Before you begin watching, though, there is one very important thing to understand: watching is not the same as judgmental self-talk. Most of us have some voice inside our head telling us how we don’t measure up to our own idealistic standards. “What a stupid thing to do,” it says to us when we feel embarrassed. Or, “Why do you always fail?” it chides when we fall once again into bad habits. That is your angry inner parent looking at you, not your true self.
Watching is rather about gaining a distanced perception, a “God’s eye view,” of situations and how your mind plays into them. It is a matter of viewing yourself from the perspective of your True Self—the divine part of you that is unconditionally loving toward yourself and to others. From this perspective, you can learn to be infinitely patient with yourself as you begin to nudge every thought and action back toward alignment with your highest values.
Make Your True Self Your Center
As you watch very closely and honestly, you will see that there are many reasons you don’t always act in accord with your highest nature, such as emotional injuries, unrealistic expectations, and false preconceptions. Watching is about looking at these things and their related behaviors with honesty and compassion so that you can change them and heal them step by step.
So, the goal of watching is to stay centered in your True Self as much as possible. As you watch, you will see that it is easiest to remain centered when your life is even keel. However, even then, you may observe that negative chatter in the mind sweeps you away into feelings of dissatisfaction. At these times, you can practice replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, for example changing “I always fail” to “I can do it,” until the habits of negativity are replaced with positive ones.
Watching the Reactive Ego
How you react when things don’t go your way is the bigger trouble spot. These are the situations that inflame the ego, causing us to react in defense of our own self-interest. Sometimes, you might lash out angrily. Or, instead of lashing out, you hold emotions inside and develop inner resentments. Again, don’t punish yourself for these things; they are normal and simply human. At first, just work on coming back to yourself as quickly as possible after an incident. With time and practice, you can then deal directly with the ego, learning to tame and subdue its tendency to react negatively. Through the practice of watching, you can become highly attuned to being out of alignment with your True Self center by even a tiny margin. Mediation, which is excellent for clearing the mind and bringing yourself back to zero-point, combined with moment-by-moment watching is a tremendously effective for getting the ego under control.
All of us wear masks, different ones for different people and situations. They are the preconceived identities we have taken for ourselves as we present ourselves to the world. But who are you under those masks? In a way, only you can know who you really are in any given moment, and only you can determine if that version of you is in keeping with your True Self. Through watching day-by-day, and asking yourself “Who am I really?” you can come closer to the happy, healthy, fulfilled self you were meant to be.