(A chapter from Dr. Philip Shapiro's book, Healing Power: Ten Steps to Pain Management and Spiritual Evolution)
How to Eliminate Bad Habits
The thought manifests as word;
The word manifests as deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.
A cocaine addict, a working person raising a family, a seeker practicing meditation and service, and a highly conscious sage all have the same motivation: the core drive. We all want avoidance of suffering and permanent Love, peace, and safety. What separates us is our habits. Habits rule destiny. Our life is a sequence of habits that determine our course and evolution.
We all have a mix of good and bad habits. Bad habits cause untold suffering. Good habits serve us in the cause of our liberation. To understand how we got where we are and how to change direction, we need to understand the formation and transformation of habits. The seeker will need to release the energy captured by bad habits and transfer this power to liberating good habits.
Any pattern of thought or action repeated many times results in a habit with a corresponding neurosignature, or brain groove. The brain is composed of approximately 100 billion cells, called neurons. A brain groove is a series of interconnected neurons that carry the thought patterns of a particular habit. Attention feeds the habit. When we give our attention to a habit, we activate the brain groove, releasing the thoughts, desires, and actions related to that habit.
The good news is that the brain is malleable. We can change our thoughts and behavior by recruiting new cells to form new brain grooves. Every thought and action is recorded within the interconnected nerve cells, and each repetition adds new depth to the brain groove. If we repeat a thought and action enough times, a habit is formed. Continued repetition strengthens the power of the habit. Inattention and lack of repetition weakens the power of the habit. These principles apply to the formation of both good and bad habits. Positive thoughts and actions create good habits. Negative thoughts and actions create harmful habits.
We can use these principles to eliminate and replace bad habits with good ones. We can gradually starve bad habits to death by not giving them our attention. As we pay more attention to forming a good habit, the new brain groove slowly gains power. Eventually, the new positive brain groove dominates the negative groove, and good habits drive out the bad. Without this transformation, spiritual growth is impossible.
When we are assigned painful problems in the school of life, we need to do the homework. All too often, however, we play hooky by escaping into the pleasures of a bad habit. If we repeat this behavior, at some point we get addicted. We end up with the original problem and a host of additional difficulties associated with addiction. Addiction leads to wild emotions, mental storms, paranoia, rage, humiliation, chaotic relationships, job loss, disease, and death. We can avoid this by doing our homework, by learning how to be good pain managers. Learning how to manage our suffering is critical on the spiritual path. However, most of us slide down the path of bad habits early in our lives in our attempt to avoid pain.
Bad habits include smoking, use of drugs or alcohol, excessive eating, compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, addiction to the internet, computer or television, addiction to sex, money, fame, work, activity, power, or dependency on others at the expense of independence and individuality (a condition known as codependency or relationship addiction). Although bad habits are pleasurable in the beginning, their eventual evolution into emptiness and torment is inevitable as they force us to act in ways contrary to our true nature. We want to express Love, compassion, kindness, patience, and courage.
To begin the process of transforming bad habits to spiritual power, we must recognize that the pain of the bad habit is worse than the pain of healing. Cultivating good habits is difficult, but it is more difficult to maintain bad habits.
There are hundreds of good physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual habits. These fall into three categories:
1. Constructive activities related to health, work, relationships, recreation, or hobbies.
2. The habits of a seeker: the spiritual methods described in this and other spiritual books.
3. The habits of a sage: spiritual qualities such as Love, compassion, forgiveness, courage, strength, and others listed in the spiritual
The time to create these positive habits is now. Every time we repeat a thought or action of a bad habit, it maintains or gains power.
Procrastination weakens our will to the point that we think we cannot change. Before we know it, the habit has locked us in a prison of our own making. We may not even know if a habit already has enough power to imprison us for decades: we only discover its power when one day we try to stop it and find out we cannot.
Assume a virtue if you have it not.
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence, the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either lodge the devil or throw him out
With wondrous potency.
Following is a technique for replacing bad habits with good, spiritual habits:
2. Avoid everything associated with the bad habit
3. Affirmations and will
4. Constructive meaningful activities
5. The habits of a seeker
6. The habits of a sage
Make a list of the habits you would like to change. Examples of bad habits include smoking, substance abuse, gambling, compulsive eating, addiction to sex, computers, money, power, work, and codependency or addiction to people.
2. AVOID EVERYTHING ASSOCIATED WITH THE BAD HABIT
People, environment, routines, and our own thoughts are the breath that gives life to the brain groove of a bad habit. With continued stimulation, a bad habit grows, our will weakens, and we slide off the spiritual path. However, the neurocircuit for the bad habit remains dormant in the subconscious if we give it no thought or attention. We can gain power over a bad habit by avoiding exposure to everything associated with it. Stay away from the negative environment, people, and actions that supported the habit, until the new brain groove is strong. Avoid thinking about the bad habit as much as possible. We are subject to craving in an instant, if not careful. Even a passing thought or image of the negative habit can awaken desire. The more we let the idea play in our minds, the more at risk we are of recurrent addiction. Starve the bad habit to death by inattention.
3. AFFIRMATIONS AND WILL
Review the lessons on affirmations and will to see how thought power and will power can erase even the deepest grooves of long standing habits. The mind has the key that can unlock the door of a bad habit, as a single thought or visual image can stimulate craving. We need to choose our thoughts carefully. Thoughts associated with our bad habits do pass through our consciousness against our will, however. To prevent these thoughts from becoming action, we must work against them. As soon as we become aware of the unwanted thought, we can knock it out with will and affirmations. We can invoke our will at full power, deploy our favorite affirmations, and turn to good and spiritual actions. These include constructive meaningful activities, the habits of a seeker, and the habits of a sage.
4. ENGAGE IN CONSTRUCTIVE MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES
Make a list of activities related to your work, chores, relationships,
leisure, recreation, hobbies, and self-nurturance. These activities are a
part of your repertoire of positive habits. You can use these activities to
ward off the thoughts and impulses related to your bad habits. Such a
list might include playing and watching sports, listening to or playing music, television, the Internet, movies, reading, writing, studying, exercise, arts and crafts, board games, crossword or jigsaw puzzles, gardening, paying bills, shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking a nap, getting a massage, and so on.
5. CULTIVATE THE HABITS OF A SEEKER
The habits of a seeker include any spiritual technique that leads to the growth of spiritual qualities. For our purposes, these are affirmations, will, surrender, contemplation, breathwork, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, practicing the presence of God, service, prayer, yoga, and the transformation of emotion.
6. CULTIVATE THE HABITS OF A SAGE
The habits of a sage are the spiritual qualities listed in the spiritual alphabet. These include Love, compassion, understanding, forgiveness,
courage, strength, endurance, peace, and joy.
If constructive meaningful activities, spiritual practice, and spiritual qualities keep the door of the bad habit locked, craving is kept at bay. We are safe. On the other hand, if despite our best efforts, the door of bad habits opens, the seductive music of craving may bring us to the brink of relapse. If this occurs, we must surround ourselves with people who will protect us from negative actions.
We need to surround ourselves with people who support our spiritual goals. Friends and family associated with our bad habits often try to pull us back. When we move forward, they take it personally. Moreover, we are afraid of finding new people. We must get through
this fear to create a supportive network of people with like-minded goals who act as our spiritual bodyguards, protecting us from ourselves in moments of vulnerability.
To heal completely, we need to practice discipline when we are alone. This is a tall order. Many of us are afraid to be alone and of the unknown. With continued practice, however, we will gain the necessary courage and self-control to resist craving even when we are alone. Then we do not need bodyguards. Eventually, craving ceases.
Change is difficult. Some strong bad habits may take years to break. Tests, trials, and temptations come. Setbacks occur. Back and forth movement between old and new patterns is a natural part of the process. Do not give up. When you slip and fall, be sure to create the mental habit of gentleness with yourself, while using the remorse,
regret, or disgust you may feel as an incentive to push you on to greater efforts.
Keep feeding the positive habit to make it stronger and starving the negative habit to make it weaker. Give the best of your effort, concentration, and attention to the new habit until it takes over and becomes a natural, effortless, and automatic part of your repertoire. Keep battling and you will win. Craving ceases. Peace and strength
deepen. Life becomes easier and more natural.
The ego, in its drive for immediate gratification, gets us into trouble with addiction and attachment. Not only do we lose pre-existing strength, but spiritual qualities cannot grow. On the other hand, our souls yearn for Love, and are willing to pay the price of work and patience. As we practice the methods of a seeker, we reinforce the neurocircuits containing spiritual qualities such as Love, compassion, understanding, strength, and courage, until these become unconditional habits. In the end, we realize our true spiritual identity by reconditioning our brain with soul qualities. We do not have to think about our practice. We express the habits of a sage, the Love qualities, automatically, naturally, and easily.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
In the beginning of our spiritual work, it may be difficult to get
traction. We can gain momentum by setting reasonable goals, taking small steps, achieving modest successes, and building from there.
The next step in our spiritual development is in the immediate moments of our lives. However, when we do not like what is going on, we leap out of the moment and back into an unhealthy habit. We hypnotize and narcotize ourselves in order to avoid unpleasant feelings. Instead, choose constructive, meaningful activities and the spiritual methods of a seeker to develop the spiritual qualities of a sage.
Break bad habits of thought, attitude, emotion, desire, energy,
and action so you can emerge from the past and find yourself renewed: fresh, spontaneous, and in the moment.
I can eliminate any bad habit.
I expand my will power through practice.
With my expanded will power, I escape from bad habits.
One by one, I eliminate all bad habits.
Nothing can stand in my way.
Nothing can touch my will.
Nothing can shake my resolve.
My will power grows stronger each day.
My mind is set.
Nothing can stop me.
I will succeed.
Old friends who would have me indulge my bad habits are out.
With will and thought, I conquer every bad habit, one at a time.
I am not my bad habits. My true self is free to be warm, compassionate, loving, and kind.
I am stronger than any negative desire or temptation.
No matter how many times I fail, I will rise and conquer.
As I strengthen my body through physical exercise, I strengthen my will with mental exercise.
With will and thought, I cast out this bad habit from the neurocircuits in my brain.
With will and thought, I cultivate the habits of a sage: Love, peace of mind, compassion, and strength.
1. Make a list of your good and bad habits. Which habits would you like to change now?
2. What barriers keep you from changing your bad habits?
3. Make a list of constructive, meaningful activities that you will use to avoid bad habits.
4. What spiritual methods would you like to practice?
5. What spiritual qualities would you like to develop?
6. What will you do when craving for a destructive habit returns?
7. Practice the ten steps for replacing bad habits with good and spiritual habits.
8. Keep a log. Each day you can inspect the status of your habits. Give yourself credit for your successes. Recognize your slips, but do not dwell on the bad habit; this only reinforces the associated brain groove. Instead, cultivate the mental habit of being gentle with yourself while you focus on the good habits you are creating. In the next section, we will study five techniques that comprise a morning and evening spiritual program. These techniques are progressive muscle relaxation, breathwork, contemplation, meditation, and prayer.