Managing Mental Habits


Eckhart Tolle asks, “Can you look without the voice in your head commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, or trying to figure something out?”

I don’t know about you, but most of the time I can’t.

That little voice in my head comments, draws conclusion, compares, and tries to figure out pretty much everything. ALL. THE. TIME.

It’s relentless.

It’s exhausting.

And (more often than not) it’s completely unnecessary

But I’ve come to see how commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, and trying to figure things out are all just mental habits—processes that my mind puts into action (largely without my consciously thinking about them). And I’ve come to learn that I have the power to disengage from these mental habits, as long as I’m aware they’re happening. <—- that last part is key!

You might be asking, “how exactly do we do this?”… Good question!  Follow me here for a second, and I’ll explain…

With mindfulness meditation, we notice when a thought has arisen. Once we’ve noticed the thought, we can then, consciously, disengage from the thought and redirect our attention back to our meditation anchor point.

You with me so far?… 🙂

Well, interrupting a mental habit (like needlessly commenting, drawing conclusions, comparing, and trying to figure things out) is exactly the same process!

Noticing when we’re caught in the midst of a mental habit that’s not serving us gives us the ability to consciously let go of and “reset” the flow of our thoughts, creating a sense of mental spaciousness that then allows us to skillfully—not habitually—choose how we’d like to proceed.

Sure, it ain’t always easy. But, it’s possible!

For me, when I’m going about my daily life and find myself caught in a mental habit that’s causing me suffering to some extent—I pause, do my best to let go of whatever mental process is happening, and then gently guide my attention toward something more neutral that will help me recalibrate. Like the sensation of the breath in my body. Or maybe the subtle tingling in my feet.

It might take a few moments to successfully “reset” in these instances. But, as I practice becoming more aware of my mental habits, I can see how it’s becoming easier to break free from them whenever they do appear.

And, as I shared earlier—they appear often!

Why?… Because I live in a society that conditions me to think I “need” to comment, draw conclusions, compare and try to figure things out. ALL. THE. TIME. The media is over-saturated with folks who are constantly role-modeling these types of behaviors. And it makes sense that I might easily fall into this “main stream” of thought, getting swept away by the strength of its’ current, and believing this is the way I “need” to be behaving, as well.

But, my mindfulness practice has proven this isn’t actually the case. I have a choice!

It’s been said that the path of mindfulness flows “against the stream.” It takes a great deal of fortitude, persistence, and conviction to keep moving in a direction counter to most.  But, if enough folks start swimming in the opposite direction from the mainstream, and start becoming mindful of their mental habits, maybe the tides might turn someday…

What do you think?


Mindfulness is meant to be shared. Please join me and a growing number of like-hearted souls in celebrating mindfulness as a way of life. Share this post with your friends. Participate in The Mindfulness Diaries’ growing Facebook and Google+ communities. And share YOUR personal journey with mindfulness in the comments below.