The heart of living consciously is understanding that we control our choices in each moment. We are in control of how we respond to what we experience and what we feel. When we react unconsciously, without considering whether our choice is a good one or how our choice will affect our serenity and other people, we surrender our control.

Conscious choice isn’t easy. We’re accustomed to reacting immediately when someone angers us or hurts our feelings. We rely on our old protective measures, whether that’s anger, humor, or withdrawal. These habits may have served us in the past but they clog our ability to make better choices now.

Changing this habit requires integrity and honesty, most importantly with yourself. You can’t discuss a conflict with someone else unless you acknowledge to yourself that the conflict exists. You can’t resolve it until you understand how the conflict makes you feel and why.

For complex feelings, acknowledging these conflicts and emotions requires even more practice. Many of us – me included – carry secrets. Wrongs that have been done to us, mistakes we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, humiliations public and private.

How does this relate to writing?

If you can’t be real with yourself, you can’t be real in your fiction.

Self-awareness, self-honesty, and emotional integrity are key to creating stories and characters with depth. You cannot portray the rich, complicated inner world of another person – even fictional – unless you are comfortable within your own. Digging deep into your own experiences and emotions will provide you ideas and insights for your writing. Examine your emotions, name them, and process through them, and you’ll be able to do the same for your characters.

For today’s practice, set aside some uninterrupted time to think about a secret you’re keeping. Write it down. Where did it come from? How have you hidden it all these years? To what lengths would you go to keep this secret? How has it affected your relationships?

Lean into this as far as you’re able, but only that far. Self-honesty doesn’t mean self-harm. If and when you can, go deep. Reflect on your secret without judgment. Discover its layers.

Use your experience with this exercise in your writing. When crafting your next character, consider what secrets they’re keeping and ask the same questions. This secret might be integral to your story or it might be something only you know about your character. Approach this person with curiosity and compassion, but don’t hold back your inquiry.