In the new book,The Five Hurdles to Happiness, author and child psychologist Mitch Ablett sets off to describe five reactive habits of minds that were originally identified in ancient contemplative and meditative traditions. Though these habits evolved for important reasons—to keep us safe from danger, for example—many of us find them less than useful in our modern world, where they can wreak havoc on our well-being. These are those five habits (or hurdles) and how to overcome them.
Desire: craving pleasure is completely normal, but compulsive craving leads to excessive costs to our effectiveness and, in extremes, to the impairments and perils of addiction. To overcome this, stop what you’re doing for just a moment when you can tell you’re getting triggered by something in your environment.
Aversion: we get irritable and hostile when we perceive our life circumstances “shouldn’t” be as they are. It’s natural to want to “push” away from aversive situations, but this anger can spill over into other parts of life and become toxic for your well-being. One solution is to notice, with curiosity about, what is happening in your body and your mind. Witness the bodily sensations and flow of thoughts that come from aversion. Let them be born, live, and pass on their own.
Mental fatigue: a clouded, dull, sluggish state of mind that saps our concentration and ability to see others. When we’re mentally fatigued, we regularly tune out of the world, because we’re unsatisfied in some way. If you’re having trouble concentrating, allow these experiences to be just as they are, without judgment or attempts to control them. Try to recognize what’s happening in your body and mind without trying to change it.
Restlessness: our powerful human brain evolved to help us quickly and efficiently anticipate threats in our environment. Nowadays, it can also make us feel restless and anxious. To solve this, penetrate uncomfortable sensations in the body with full, deep belly breaths, and continue to breathe in this way until you notice your experience shifting and your negative thought patterns dissolving.
Doubt: uncertainty about our situation and ourselves that blocks our ability to see the way forward with flexibility. To move past doubt, prompt yourself to move or act with intention in the direction that feels most important and reflects compassionate care for others. Pause—and remember to be kind to yourself.