We don't generally pay attention at this level. Habits of mind are subtle.
They are like lemon juice flavoring a glass of tea. We might not see the lemon juice when we look at the glass, but it's there and its presence changes the flavor of our experience of drinking tea. Habits of mind do exactly the same thing. They change the flavor of the moments of our lives.
When we wait in a grocery store line, there is an experience. We are upright. Our bodies are relatively still since we are not moving significant distances. We are probably warm and dry. There is a level of ambient noise - talking, cash registers, packages rustling, maybe music. There are odors - food, floor wax, other people. We may see people and equipment and windows and doors and shelves of goods. Maybe we have taken a taste of something we are about to buy and have that sensation in our mouths. That's our experience. It's complex, full of sensations, but it is neither good nor bad. It is simply our experience until we filter our experience through one of our habits of mind. Then it acquires a flavor.
I woke up this morning to the sound of the radio that my husband uses as an alarm clock. The radio news this morning was full of the European debt crisis, the challenges to the Euro and the US Super Committee problems. Before I listened to the radio, I was comfortable and physically protected in a warm bed, next to a loving husband. After I heard these stories of economic woe, I was still comfortable and physically protected in a warm bed, next to a loving husband. My experience remained the same. The only thing that had changed was my habit of mind.
In listening to the stories, one of my habits of mind arose that I call "CouldaShouldaWoulda." In other words, "I could have seen this coming and I should have made different decisions and I would have had a better financial outcome." - as if I were considerably smarter than the world full of gifted economists and thinkers. "CouldaShouldaWoulda" is judgmental and anxious and that was now the flavor of my morning.
My habit of mind affected how I took a shower, how I dried my hair and even what I chose for breakfast and how it tasted. Everything was colored by the judgment and anxiety that is a part of this particular habit of mind. And, as I said, habits of mind are subtle. A habit of mind arises and we may not even notice it happening. This one took me a while to see. With a judgmental, anxious habit of mind things may just seem off and we wonder why we are in a bad mood.
So what do we do about habits of mind? The first answer is so simple it seems unrealistic. We just notice them. Seriously. It works. Sit for a minute and see if you can taste the habit of mind permeating this moment. Don't try to change it or make it bad or wrong (more judgment and anxiety). Just notice it.
Here's where the lemon juice in the tea analogy breaks down. We can notice the lemon juice all day long and it still stays in the tea and changes the flavor in the same way but if we notice our habits of mind on a regular basis they begin to lose their power over the way we think. Their intensity fades.
A better analogy for noticing is putting a brightly colored screen in the sun for a long time. When we notice them, our habits of mind are still a part of us, but they start to fade. As we look through their screens the color imparted to everything is weaker. This doesn't happen all of sudden, of course. Like the sun fading the screen, this noticing takes time. It's a practice.
The second thing we can do is cultivate a little loving kindness towards ourselves. As our habits of mind arise, we notice them and accept them and ourselves with an open heart. We say, "There is ‘CouldaShouldaWoulda' again." And we love ourselves anyway. Loving kindness is a powerful actor. Combined with noticing, loving kindness slowly begins to make a space between our habit of mind and our experience. There is a pause, room for a breath.
Into that space there also may be room for a little humor. It is pretty funny after all that I think I can outsmart the central bank of Europe. And into that space may arise a little opportunity for choice. When we accept "CouldaShouldaWoulda" lovingly and find that space for a breath, we have a moment to be aware before the habit of mind settles in and we can say, "No, maybe I won't color this particular morning with ‘CouldaShouldaWoulda'. Maybe I will choose a habit of mind that brings me a little more ease in my day instead."
Article Source: psychologytoday.com