Physical actions are only a manifestation of thoughts in your mind. Every physical action and the result you experience are in fact an extension of a sequence of mental processes. Every conscious thought process leaves an impression in the deeper layers of your mind. These mental-impressions remain as latent tendencies in your mind. They are called samskaras in Sanskrit. Samskaras are not visible until they begin to arise into your conscious mind as sensations, desires, ideas and emotions. Thus a samskara is like a seed that sprouts at some point in the future into the tree of thoughts and emotions. Samskaras or mental-tendencies again propel you into actions that create new experiences which feed your mind with new impressions.
Mental impressions determine the way you respond to events, people and things in the world. Suppose you had experienced a number of setbacks in the past and you started thinking regularly, ‘everything always goes wrong and nothing works out well in my life’, then eventually you are going to create a strong impression of that belief. The next time when things work out well for you, although feeling happy you will also start to feel uncomfortable as the new experience conflicts with your underlying belief. Your sense of discomfort is a sign of resistance arising out your samskaras. Gradually your mental-impressions will counter-respond with thoughts of insecurity, denial, fear and worry that you will lose what you have gained soon because it is your old belief that things do not usually turn out well for you. It is not long before you self-fulfil your own belief!
Likewise if your underlying belief is, ‘everything will always work out fine and all is well in my world’, then even when you are going through a rough time your mind begins to find its way out of despair and focuses on signs of improvement more readily. You will feel a sense of support and encouragement as your mental-impressions respond to the situation with thoughts of positive anticipation, courage, confidence and even new ideas. You will be motivated by the belief that any unpleasant situation will soon pass and things will get better simply because you have always been accustomed to believe so! Eventually it is this kind of mindset that will help you to get out of even the worst predicament. This is the key to any person wanting to embrace self-improvement and self-healing, for it is your mind which can be both your greatest help and also your greatest hindrance as pointed out in the Bhagavad Gita.
Let a man lift himself by his own self alone, and let him not lower himself; for this self (mind) alone is the friend of oneself, and this self (mind) is the enemy of oneself.
And so it is not difficult to see why the sum-total of your mental tendencies defines who you are, for they are the seeds that shape your mindset and influence the way you respond to each circumstance in life. The more dominant tendencies tend to arise more frequently as thoughts and emotions in your mind and they generally display a distinct pattern of behaviour. Thus it is important to carefully watch and understand the thoughts and emotions that you entertain habitually.
You can learn a lot about yourself by studying the pattern of your thoughts and emotions on a daily basis. Observe also your regular moods and sentiments. These are also manifestations of samskaras. You will discern them better while sitting in silence for self-reflection and self-analysis. Self-reflection and meditation increases inward awareness of your mental world. You will be more equipped to consciously choose the thoughts that you wish to entertain and release those that are detrimental to you. Strengthen them with affirmations. Introduce new ideas to your mind to uplift your emotions. When your emotions are set to align with your goals, it becomes easier to steer your mind in the direction that you want.
These practices will gradually change the make-up of your mental impressions that appears on the mind. Mental impressions are not just the building blocks of your character but also your future! Thus Swami Vivekananda declares: “What we are every moment is determined by the sum total of these impressions on the mind.”