Our habits of mind

Oh, the stories we tell ourselves.

The many stories I’ve told myself over the years have caused me suffering, as they reinforced negative perceptions of myself and the world. I used to view myself and the world darkly, and my experience of life wasn’t great. This affected my health, happiness, and relationships.

What we focus on increases. Because of the brain’s tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive, my negative perceptions seemed to grow. They were sticky thoughts.

It was a life-changing moment for me when I learned to question my beliefs and assumptions, and consider there might be another way to look at things. This was a revolutionary act that brought me liberation.

A dear-heart recently had their world beautifully shaken as they asked themselves, “What if things I’ve always believed aren’t true?” The prospect filled them with both fear and excitement, as habitual beliefs and resulting perceptions came into question. I’m excited for them as it’s led to some wonderful discussion and discovery. Their world has opened up in a new way.

Our perceptions affect what we’re able to see, and a shift, or opening in perception, can make the world of difference. 

Our habits of mind and perspective greatly affect our health, the quality of the lives we’re living, and our relationships. This either adds to, or takes away from our happiness and experience of life. 

As Wayne Dyer wrote, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Just because we’ve always thought something, doesn’t mean it’s true.

As humans, we have habitual ways of seeing our self, life, and others. And, because of the confirmation bias, the human tendency to see only what matches our beliefs and ignore the rest, limits our view of reality. In other words, our perceptions or lenses are often tinted or shaded, limiting what we’re able to see.

The lenses through which we view life directly affect our experience, health, and happiness. We often take others' behaviour so personally, when it has nothing to do with us.

The sage advice of to not judge, but stay curious (thank you Jane), has served me well. In opening up my perceptions, I remind myself to wonder if there’s another way of seeing things, or if there’s something more I need to know. We can do this in big and small ways.

For instance, I used to get annoyed and suffer the consequences of my annoyance when I was confronted with people who were speeding and driving ‘like an idiot.’

I could feel my body tense, as fight-or-flight hormones surged through my body in response to my assumption of them being a careless idiot. I had the tendency drag the experience with me, as I’d share stories about the ‘idiot on the road.’ In fact, when I did this, I paid a personal price for someone else’s poor driving. Why would I do this to myself?

I’ve replaced this thinking with a new, curious perspective of wondering if they’ve got an emergency or need to get somewhere quickly, that I’m not aware of. My judgment and irritation are replaced with compassion and concern, which feels a whole lot better in my body and mind, and it’s quickly forgotten.

While this is a small example of challenging my perceptions and being curious, I also apply this principle in other ways that have increased my understanding and opened up my experience of life. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I’m wrong. What matters most is the personal cost I pay in assuming the worst.

We’re all students of MSU, the school of Making Stuff Up, as we navigate this thing called life. 

We assign meaning to what’s happening in our lives, based on our own beliefs and perspectives. Learning to expand our perspective with curiosity, asking questions, and getting below our initial assumptions frees us from habitual ways of being that can cloud our judgment and create barriers.

According to Plato, “What we expect, we find”. Do you want to be right or be happy? 


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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