We often want a quick-fix solution in our search for happiness. The more materialistic among us will look for this in a new car, a more loving relationship, a more fulfilling career, or more free time. Those of us who are more spiritually inclined can be equally guilty however. Now the quick-fix becomes the latest book, idea, affirmation, or meditation technique. We may wake up with realizations like “the solution is to be more loving”, and then the next day “I just need to be more at peace”, and then a day later “I need to live in the present moment more”. All of this advice is probably good. In fact, any one of these beliefs would probably bring us long-lasting happiness if we implemented it fully. Unfortunately we often spend more time thinking about different ways to bring about peace of mind, framing the solution with different words each time, but spend very little time implementing these ideas.
This is summed up nicely in this article by Swami Vivekananda, who stresses the importance of focusing on the means rather than the ends.
An exercise I have found extremely useful is simply to reflect at the end of the day on what caused me to lose my peace of mind, and how I would like to change. I write down a one sentence summary, which I read again upon awakening. At the end of the following day, I evaluate how well I applied this advice, and where I can make further improvements. Sometimes I change the one sentence summary, and sometimes I leave it the same. The point of this exercise is to keep your spiritual practice closely integrated with your actual life and have definite goals that you hold yourself accountable to. Progress may be slow, but it is tangible.