6 Mind Habits that make life much more difficult that it needs to be & 1 Antidote
In a small kingdom of Nepal a prince was born. The priest who evaluated the new baby looked for and found the 32 signs of greatness. The ones that would destine the prince to become either a great worldly leader or a great spiritual teacher.
The father, who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, did everything he could to prevent his son from becoming interested in spiritual matters. He kept his son cloistered within the palace grounds and surrounded by pleasures. His aim was that if his son would not experience pain, he would never be motivated to become a spiritual teacher.
One day, the prince convinced his driver to leave the palace on an unplanned visit outside the palace gates. On planned visits the king would make sure that upsetting things were kept out of sight. That wouldn’t happen this time.
On this trip the young prince saw an old man and asked his driver:
- What’s that?
- Old age, replied his driver.
- And who does that happen to? asked the prince.
- The lucky ones, said his driver.
Uncomfortable with his discovery he returned to palace but he went back again on an unauthorised trip. He saw a sick man.
- What’s that?
- Illness, the driver replied.
- And who does that happen to? asked the prince.
- Mostly everyone eventually.
On a third trip they saw a corpse.
- What’s that?
- And who does that happen to?
- Everyone, I am afraid.
The prince, more energised than ever to learn about the world convinced his driver to take him on one more trip outside the palace. They found a spiritual seeker.
- What’s that?
- Someone trying to figure out how to deal with what we’ve seen on our earlier visits, his driver said.
Then the prince was no longer satisfied with his lifestyle and had to figure out how to live with reality. He became distressed when he realised the inevitability of aging, getting sick and dying. So he decided to leave the palace and seek a different path for contentment, besides luxury, ease and indulgence.
The Prince is said to be Buddha.
As the story goes, he practised strict asceticism for five or six years. He mastered all sorts of spiritual practices but continued to be unsatisfied as conflicts and desires would persist.
One day, hand in hand with his weakness he realised he was on the wrong path. He decided to start eating normally again to nourish his body and mind. He committed to sit under a tree to meditate until he found a way to deal with this existential predicament.
As the legend goes, he sat for 49 days and nights and he reached enlightenment. He found a way to deal with psychological suffering.
What Buddha did under that tree is nowadays considered the antidote to the habits of our minds, that make life much more difficult than it needs to be.
The pleasure principle & how your mind is filtering
As species we have survived by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. We typically do what we can to avoid discomfort and stay comfortable, don’t you?
The pleasure principle explains a lot of our behaviour. We repeatedly do what we find rewarding and the sooner we have that reward, the better.
It is not the same as having to wait to find out your body is in shape after a month or two of daily training, than feeling the sugar rush that the just baked yummy chocolate biscuit is going to give you, soon after the first bite.
But here is your mind, attempting to change or adjust your experience, trying to hold on to pleasant moments and avoid unpleasant ones.
This makes it very difficult to feel at ease, content or relaxed.
In fact, this habit keeps you living in a constant state of stress because you are never satisfied with the experience. There is always something that could be improved, right? So you rush onto the next goal and the next one.
It is hard to just be.
Furthemore, your mind is such a great filter. You tend to gravitate towards what you like and again, avoid what you don’t. But not only that, your mind ignores what it is growing in the middle.
So if you don't feel strongly enough about someone or a specific subject such as, for example, statistics, you won’t look into it or even try to avoid it.
The process of seeking and focusing on those things we feel strongly about, your goal of being able to approach the pleasurable ones and avoid the unpleasant ones, leads you to miss lots of important information.
You could be taking away the opportunity to appreciate the fullness of the world.
The opportunity to learn from pain, from difficulty , which often give us the most profound learnings, would be avoided.
The problem is that you become too busy to notice your feelings, to process your worries, to take in and understand the subtle signs within you and what is truly happening around you.
If you constantly try to distract yourself from problems, unpleasant situations or experiences you can set yourself up for problems such as depression, anxiety or addictive behaviour.
Your resistance to change & the ephemeral duration of everything
As you know, everything is constantly changing, we are born, we develop, we grow, we age, and finally, we disappear. Just as everything and everyone that surrounds us.
Most of us like things to be somehow stable, predictable and consequently controllable. We like to know what is likely to happen, to be ready and comfortable with our potential expected future.
However, things are constantly changing.
You probably have had more than a small or big unwelcome change in your life, haven’t you? Something that changed you or your daily routine forever.
You must know that resisting changes cause you considerable unhappiness.
In fact, most of what makes us unhappy involves difficulty in dealing with change.
How do you deal with change?
I invite you to think about the big changes you have experienced in life up until know. Write them down.
What has been your emotional reaction to them? How do you tend to feel when unexpected change arises?
And, how do you tend to respond?
When you do this exercise, it will give you a clue to the different patterns you may be holding on to and behavioural habits that follow the bias of your mind.
Those that are creating suffering.
Then you can decide what to do with them.
Furthermore, deep down we are actually aware of this. We know changes happen. We know how ephemeral things are.
We are aware that pleasure will pass, that what we are experiencing as good will end at some point.
Everything is transient
This knowledge can create a constant sense of dissatisfaction because you may fall into the trap of focusing on how much good is left, not truly enjoying and living pleasurable experiences. Like going on holiday and continuing to think about what you will have to do at work when you get back.
Your mind becomes preoccupied about how long the good is going to last and when, the bad news that is around the corner, will decide to show up.
So, on the one hand, your mind doesn’t tend to like unexpected changes, everything is good when it is somehow under your control. But, if something unexpected happens and you resist it, instead of approaching it with curiosity and acceptance, you will suffer.
On the other hand, you know changes are inevitable and things are transient. It is like doing everything you can to hold on to a comfortable feeling, a positive experience or anything that makes you feel good.
Your brain is trained to seek pleasure, but the problem is that you may get so attached to this that life becomes even more difficult.
Let’s say you have just fallen in love (with someone or with a business idea, it doesn’t really matter). The infatuation at the very beginning feels amazing, you don’t want it to end. You are so motivated, so excited, so happy that you want to hold on to those feelings forever.
What is going to happen when difficulties arise or unexpected changes come your way?
How are you going to live that experience if you are constantly worrying because you know at some point it is going to end?
Your extraordinary capacity to think, plan & love.
You are pretty good at thinking and planning.
This is an amazing tool.
However, if you are not able to put it down when it is not needed, it can create emotional distress.
Your mind is constantly thinking and planning, making it very difficult to really enjoy what you are doing at the present moment, whether working, chatting to a friend, eating your lunch or in the middle of a deserted beach.
To be in constant thinking and planning mode can take your emotions on a roller coaster, as your mood will change based on the quality of your thoughts.
The key resides in not thinking about life but experiencing it.
Have you ever tried to stop your thinking? Pretty difficult right?
And tell me, when you stop to evaluate your thoughts, if you do, do they tend to be helpful ones?
It is not only something that is tied to our thinking, but also to our predisposition to love.
This evolutionary mechanism that has helped us survive as species, creates powerful emotional responses so we bond in couples, groups and communities, giving us a sense of belonging and protection and the opportunity to survive.
However, our capacity for empathy, attachment and love, is yet another opportunity for us to worry about the well-being of our loved ones and whether they are also able to avoid pain and find pleasure.
These habits, together with the others mentioned above, make it hard for our minds not to be preoccupied with thoughts that even though our loved ones may be doing considerably well, something unfortunate will happen at some point or another.
Our Self esteem based on accomplishments
Why is comparisonitis so successful?
When your self-esteem depends on your achievements, this does not give you lasting happiness and fulfillment, do you agree?
You will tend to compare yourself more often with others. Looking at that other entrepreneur that is doing better, the colleague that has just been praised and promoted, the friend that seems to have a fantastic relationship.
Hence, you will jump into thinking that when you have x, y or z you will be happy.
If you follow this path, you enter into a depression state or motivate yourself to achieve the next goal or objective. You get it and go back to the vicious circle.
Let me remind you that the scale by which you measure your success will always be recalibrated. Especially if it is based on outside standards and accomplishments.
This implies that your self-esteem will depend on whether you win or lose, which makes it very fragile.
However, if you work on creating a sense of worth and self-esteem, not attached to your achievements or performance, you will be strengthening it and becoming more resilient, more confident, adventurous and free.
Negative experiences over positive ones
Another funny habit your mind has, is to remember the negatives far more than the positives.
You do so in a much more vivid and intense way for the negative experiences.
It is, again, the way our brain has helped you survive. We won’t die from a false alarm but we could do so if we are not alerted to what could be a potential danger.
Remembering painful experiences in a way, can help your prevent something similar from happening. It becomes easy to anticipate them in the future, to expect them, which give us the illusion or sense of control.
All these negative thoughts, memories or worries bring with them emotional distress, even if at present, you are perfectly fine and nothing is going wrong.
So if you hang on to those negative memories tightly and do not learn the best way to let them go, getting lost in your own narratives and overthinking about it, you are going to experience a lot of pain.
“It is my fault”.
“I could have…”.
In this era where we have the potential to achieve anything and everything we want if, “we work hard enough and we make the right decisions”, who is to blame if you don’t get what you want or you don’t feel the way you want to feel?
“You have the resources, right?” - voice with a judgement tone.
Furthemore, it is not just society which push us to think this way, but it is associated to the pleasurable principle mentioned at the beginning.
There must be something wrong with you if you are trying your best to seek what you want and avoid what you don’t want. You are making the right decisions but you still feel unhappy. What?!
Let me tell you, there is nothing wrong with you.
A lot of our suffering comes from ancient mind habits that helped us to survive in the past
Becoming aware of these fundamentals is the first step not to avoid pain, but to avoid suffering.
Awareness, attention, remembering.
Continually remembering to be aware and pay attention.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is considered to be the first step towards enlightenment, towards your awakenings. Conscious awareness.
Life is challenging, and emotionally challenging.
Your suffering may come from worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, you can feel angry, sad, frustrated, ashamed, stressed, upset, bored, or you just may not feel great.
Other times it can come from anxiety, depression, consequences of addictions or other metal health problems, that can make it hard for you to function.
Mindfulness helps you observe how your mind might be creating or contributing to your suffering. This way you can always replace those habits for other helpful ones.
It is about becoming aware, acceptance, in a non judgemental manner.
It involves noticing where our mind goes minute by minute and coming back to the present moment, as an anchor.
Developed in the East as a component of Yoga and meditation practices to free the mind from destructive habits and in the West for spiritual growth.
Mindfulness is a particular attitude towards experience that connects you with the present moment, gifting you with a relative sense of safety.
7 benefits of mindfulness
It alleviates suffering and enriches your life. I allows you to pay attention to the most important information.
It helps you drop the tools, your armor, when you really don't need it, allowing you to feel calm and content with what you already have.
It can help you embrace the ups and downs of life instead of resisting the experience.
It deepens your capacity to love, even when that makes you vulnerable, because you are developing your resilience.
It takes you off autopilot and makes you notice and savor the present moment, connecting you with your environment, your relationships, yourself to a deeper level and enhancing your creativity.
Mindfulness can help you see and accept things and people as they are, supporting you in embracing change and failure.
It can help you feel more confident by loosening your concerns with the “self”.
Emotional distress and worries fall into perspective when you become less preoccupied with “you”, how you look, what others may think about you or how you made a mistake.
This helps you to act more wisely as you refocus on the bigger picture and not your ego, gaining clarity and direction.
Our brain holds numerous habits from evolution.
Taking into account:
the pleasure principle
How our mind filters information that we may not consider important but it might be.
The habit of self-blaming
The resistance to change
Our awareness of how ephemeral things are
Our capacity to think, plan and love
How we are programmed to remember negative experiences more than positives and,
How we may be basing our self-esteem on our accomplishments…
No wonder we may be creating suffering when actually life does not need to be so complicated and we have tools to use to train our mind to operate in a more useful manner.
Tell me, which habits ring true for you the most?