Happiness comes from within. If you want your life to reflect this feeling you must first examine your inner reality. An excellent way to do this is through self-examination, or introspection.

Looking within can be a scary thing, like peering into the dark – just as if you were a small child again, afraid to sleep with the lights out. The most important thing to remember is that you must suspend all judgment. Being human means making mistakes. So don’t be hard on yourself when you discover errors made in the past and especially when you encounter the ones you’ve made repeatedly. Have compassion for yourself, just as you would a child or an abandoned animal. Judgment has no place in introspection, only compassion.

What things should you examine? There are four main topics you’ll want to explore: thoughts, words, feelings and actions. In other words, what you think, what you say, what you feel and what you do.

A good rule of thumb is to examine your behavior every day. Be honest about what you perceive. Everyone has many shades of darkness which can vary greatly at different points in their life. Tell yourself, aloud if necessary, there is nothing to fear. All you are looking at is another part of yourself. How can you be afraid of yourself? Observe each issue that flutters into your awareness. Hold it in your mind and contemplate it. Look at it from all angles. It may not be pretty, it may be downright ugly, but it should not be scary. Why should it be? After all, it is only you, a fallible human being. Again, compassion is vitally important.

After examining everything you find in your hidden recesses, think about what it would take to change each item you find. Would it take a new action, a (positive) thought, a few gentle words, a new way of feeling or a combination of these? What would it take for you to feel and behave differently? The answer is easy: change the offending thought, word, feeling or action to a positive thought/word/feeling/action by using your imagination. For example, if you said something unkind to someone, visualize the scene in your mind and reconstruct the conversation. However, instead of replaying the unkindness in your mind, replace it with caring, pleasant words. Do this for any actions you regret, any inappropriate feelings, unkind words or selfish, judgmental thoughts.

Practicing introspection on a daily basis helps to undo negative behaviors by replacing them with positive behaviors. Eventually, the new way of behaving will become a habit – a positive one.

Self-examination does not take hours, only minutes. The more you practice it, the easier it will be. Step out of the shadows and into the light. You can do it!

All changes begin with a small step. Change only one thing about you or your situation. Master it to where you have infused your consciousness with it so it is truly a part of you. Make it a habit. Then you can move to the next small step. And before you realize it, your situation, your issue, your self will be different!

The within holds the key to without. Each moment we choose what to experience. What will you choose now and for the rest of today?

Excerpted from the book The Little Guide to Big Changes. Copyright © 2009 Sarah M. Collins. All rights reserved.