Thought Bite: Changing Our Emotional Habits

In his book The Art of Joyful Living, Swami Rama tells us that we have the power to change our personality and habits, so that we can live a more positive, joyful life.

We often think we are stuck with our negative habits and can't change. But Swami Rama says, " can gain conscious control over yourself by making an effort—using your human effort. A human being has the power to make an effort: he can change his personality and utilize the immense wealth, power, and brilliance buried within himself....If you learn first how to decide to change, and then how to determine within that you will not repeat something negative, you can change yourself."

Notice that Swami Rama's prescription requires awareness, choice, and volitional effort. 

First we cultivate awareness. Yoga teaches us how to direct our attention onto a focus, to concentrate on that focus, and to allow that concentration to turn into the effortless, flowing concentration called meditation. Over time, as we practice these skills, we become more aware, moment by moment, of our thoughts, emotions and actions, and this expanded awareness enables us to observe our negative habits of mind.  

Once we observe these negative habits of mind, then we can choose to no longer indulge in them. How do we do that? There are several options.

Let's imagine that a man has a habitual belief, stemming from childhood, that he has no talent. Whenever he wants to do something creative, this belief comes into his mind, and then he gets discouraged and gives up. Instead, if he is aware, when he notices the arising of that belief that he has no talent, he can do something to change the habit.  

One thing he could do is to simply observe that belief. Doing this creates a little separation between him and the belief, and this gives him an opportunity to realize that the belief is just a belief, and isn't true. 

A second thing he could do is to briefly accentuate the belief. So, for example, when, in his mind, he hears "I can't do this because I'm not talented," he can accentuate this by really getting into it, such as by saying out loud (assuming it's a safe place to say this out loud) something like, "I have no talent! I'm absolutely talentless! I have no creativity at all and can't create anything!"  When he does this, it's very likely that he'll realize the absurdity of his no-talent belief, and the belief will begin to dissolve.  

If the man doesn't want to accentuate the belief, another option would be for him to make up a new, more positive thought to say to himself, such as "I am very talented!" So, then, every time the old "I'm not talented" thought pops in his mind, he repeats his new thought, "Actually, I'm very, very talented!" Over time, he may start seeing the truth of his new thought and come to believe it. 

There are other options. However, the important point is that we can change our negative habitual beliefs and replace them with beliefs that are more positive and more accurately reflect reality. Doing so takes awareness, choice, and practice. It's worth the effort.


The author wishes to acknowledge Richard D. Carson, whose wonderful book, Taming Your Gremlin, introduces several of the ideas presented in this post.


19 Dec 2021;
07:00PM - 08:00PM
Full Moon Meditation 2020