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The exercises in the Self Mastery Course aren’t supposed to be easy. They might be simple, but that doesn’t mean easy. They do get easier with practice. It’s like learning to dance, or play an instrument, or a new language. In the beginning, you can’t put two steps, two notes, or two words together. Later, you can move through a song or conversation without having to consciously think about it. A single dance step, or playing one note is new, and an unfamiliar muscle movement.
The success is noticing that you are failing. It clues you into the nature of your unconscious beliefs and patterns. If you realize that, then you are on to something more important than successfully doing the exercise. You have a peek into the automatic mind, and begin the journey of bringing your unconscious thoughts, habits, and beliefs into awareness. This can lead to real and sustainable changes.
In some of the exercises I expect that people will have difficulty. Success won’t be automatic. There will be a lot of attempts and failure as you learn, like in anything. Free Exercise number 4, on Finding Neutral is an example. Agreeing or disagreeing with people in conversation, or with thoughts in your head is an automatic response. Our unconscious mind does it without a conscious thought. It is as automatic as driving a car. We get to our destination without thinking about which pedals to push, when, how hard, turning the wheel, or when to change lanes. We move in and out of traffic, control our speed, and obey all the rules while our conscious mind is on something else. Agreeing and disagreeing with people’s opinions is done the same way, but it can have a dramatic train wreck of a consequence on our emotions.
In the exercises I’m challenging you to notice those unconscious automatic behaviors, stop them, and do something different. You are going to fail at that when you first try. These things are so automatic it is a success just to become aware of the habits. What I am saying is that you should fail. You aren’t going to change the agreeing/disagreeing pattern just because you decide to.
I present these first free exercises not so that you fail, but so that you will become aware of your unconscious patterns and how automatic they are. If you can do them successfully, then you will see changes in your mind and emotions. If you fail, you have a chance to learn, expand your awareness of what resistance shows up, and see the obstacles to change.
If you find the practices hard, it is because you are supposed to. If you find you have resistance to doing something that benefits you that’s helpful. You are supposed to have resistance, and the exercises help you see it. What interferes with you feeling gratitude? You could decide to exercise some free will, and feel grateful for a while during the day. But maybe things get busy and your emotions go elsewhere instead. Why is that? It would be worth figuring out and changing that wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be worth feeling more gratitude than less? To change that you would have to be aware of what your attention was on instead of on gratitude. This can be the benefit of taking failure and turning it into something advantageous.
Maybe, you put your attention into creating that feeling of gratitude but a series of thoughts show up saying things like, “you aren’t as grateful as you should be.” So instead of consciously directing your mind, you discover contradicting thoughts that try to shame and guilt you for not feeling as much gratitude as you should.
I’ve heard this a lot from my clients about every exercise. “I don’t do the gratitude practice as much as I should.” It’s an interesting story, one worth writing about in a belief inventory explained in later sessions. It’s basically a belief that pushes back against feeling grateful. Instead it pushes your mind and emotions to feel like a guilty shameful failure for not being grateful enough. Very odd.
That kind of thought accomplishes the very opposite of what it says it is communicating. Noticing that kind of thought in your belief system, is a gift. If you are willing to look at it in the right way it shows you what you are stumbling over. Noticing a thought that accomplishes the opposite of what it says should be accomplished is going to raise your skepticism. You are going to stop and look at that thought, and that is enough to make a small change.
In that moment of skepticism you aren’t going to believe the “you aren’t practicing gratitude as much as you should”. You are going to notice it is the Judge character in the mind, and not at all helpful like it is pretending to be. This step in skepticism is the beginning of breaking that thought so it no longer runs in that mind. If you break this self-judgment thought, then you can break the next one.
Noticing where you fall down is a kind of step forward. It is step forward because it tells you something is not right in the state of your mind. That can be helpful. Noticing the backwards messed up thoughts of resistance to the exercises is an excellent way to see false beliefs at work. The other exercises provide the practices to really break them down and change them. It’s a lot easier moving forward when you can see the things you are tripping over.
If you notice that you are failing at the exercise in some way you are achieving a success in awareness. The success is that you get to see how automatic and unconscious your thoughts, and beliefs, and behaviors are.
You are becoming conscious of how un-conscious small actions are. That is a clue that you might be in unconscious automatic pilot in other areas. You might also become aware that if you are unhappy, it is because you aren’t aware of the unconscious automatic thoughts and behaviors you are doing to create the unhappiness. If you become aware of this, then you have a chance to change these thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. A lot of little small changes like this one, and you travel a long ways down a pathway to greater happiness in your life.3