From Tracy’s desk…an exploration of habits of mind and how and why to change them.
Powerful lives and careers are built and sustained by those whose conscious habits of mind allow for extraordinary results.
Yet words like mindfulness, consciousness, or emotional intelligence make some of us squirm inside the safety of our unconscious armor, that protective coating that veils us from seeing what is, from being who we are, and from actualizing our dreams and ambitions. We are afraid of what we don’t understand, or understand, but refuse to accept.
The discipline of habits of mind can barely be grasped by those who cling to their un-skin, the layers upon layers of stories and contrivances built up over years of pretending that they are satisfied with the way things are, though they know, deep down inside, that the way things are has to change.
The business of habits of mind fall into all four categories: biological science, behavioral psychology, philosophy, and spirituality. Who we are on a cellular level, what we do on an emotional and psychological level, what we come to believe about anything—these are the building blocks of a human being operating under well developed habits of mind.
Denying what we learn or know to be the truth; acting in ways that creates pain for ourselves or others; drawing lines in our lives around ideology that requires some to be wrong in order for us to be right: these are the characteristics of a stuck life, of a person digging in their heels against the dynamic nature of who they really are. And the kicker is: when human beings stay stuck, bad things happen, like war, terrorism, genocide, racism, greed, crime, and illness.
Habits of mind practices then, are the thing, and these habits are the very stuff from which sustainable change comes. This is true of human change, organizational change, systems change, cultural change, and societal change. Yet change is hard.
Change requires we give up something and replace it with it something else. Giving up anything requires us to let loose of our control over things we use externally to define ourselves. Change asks us to risk the comfort of the groove we ride, until one day it kicks us out of the groove on it’s own destructive momentum because that is what our biological encoding as human beings is programmed to do: dynamic expansion whether we agree to it or not.
There are those in our human history—Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, serial killers in the worst instances, or lesser evils, but damaging still, the Wall Street pension stealers, politicians who choose ideological power or playing politics over anything else, peddlers of things and ideas that kill or control other people—we know there are those who take on habits of mind that are seemingly impenetrable to the natural, dynamic nature of being if not good, at least not bad, in any way that hurts, denigrates, controls, usurps, or manipulates their fellow human beings.
We know some people even see that what they do is if not bad, then at least the opposite of good, but their habits of mind are so stained into their being that change comes only from some external force creating the change, through revolution, and sometimes, in the case of people such as Bin Laden, or Hitler, through means which ends their ability to be a destructive force in the human experience.
As terrible a truth as that is, many of us, and more and more it seems, remain utterly hopeful that change can happen, bad can be eradicated from the human experience, because we were built to change, and equipped with the mechanisms and tools to do so in big, hairy, audacious ways.
Not changing, holding on to false ideas or stories about what is or isn’t; this is what gets us into trouble, because in the end, hammers will come in increasing intensity, size, and occurrence, until we wake up, until we are hit with such life-shaking force that we become mindful of specifically what we need to change, and finally are able to see the replacement behavior as something superior to our current circumstance.
We fall into black holes and hit the concrete one too many times, and we wake up; we are able to act to change, and find we suddenly have the discipline and courage to sustain the new behavior. How we do that are by our habits of mind.
We can teach ourselves new habits of mind, if we want to.
Psychology helps us understand how the mind and body works together to promote or inhibit change, and philosophy helps us understand the filters that drive our “knowing” and interpreting anything, a fundamental aspect of change. Finally, religion and mysticism offers us a basis to understand unconstructed awareness, how we can simply “know” what we know, because we know it, even though we can’t prove it, even if we wanted to.
It all boils to this: our only job in this human existence is to first wake up, to become conscious. We can’t begin to evolve or change as we were meant to if we are unable to see beyond our un-skin. We know what we know; we know what we don’t know, but we don’t know what we can’t see or have never experienced as possible. Active, intentional self-development and understanding through constant learning of new knowledge about human biology, psychology, philosophy without judgment or constraints, and spiritual exploration without dogmatic assertions of righteousness over any other way of belief is what waking up looks like. Mastery over habits of mind comes from waking up.
Because it bears repeating…Powerful lives and careers are built and sustained by those whose conscious habits of mind allow for extraordinary results.
For more about Habits of Mind, visit the Habits of Mind Institute.
Find the 16 habits of mind practices of highly successful people.
What are your stories of trying to change your habits of mind?