Building discipline and productive habits into your life is like declaring a hard and long war against yourself.
Our human nature makes it easy for us to lose focus and sink downward in terms of morality, character, and self-discipline. If we surrender to our nature, we will often end up in poverty and chaos.
On the other hand, we have a built-in mechanism that we can take advantage of. The designs of our spirit, mind, emotion, and body can work for us if we understand how they operate, and work with them.
It’s a double-edged sword. If we’re not consciously aware of how this mechanism operates, and therefore through ignorance force it to behave the way we think it should, it will be like hitting a hard wall. It will dwindle our willpower. We will become disillusioned, and confused.
In Part 1, I mentioned how I forced myself to stop gaming and got the opposite result. The negative emotions, resulting from me abusing my inner mechanism, had tormented me for 8 years. I called it the “vicious cycle of addiction”.
The ordeal was finally ended by a painful, yet spiritual experience that opened my eyes to new possibilities, and subsequently, my frame of mind in terms of overcoming addiction has been steadily transformed. Now, I have learned much more about how my inner mechanism works.
Let us dissect each part of the mechanism, and why they are vulnerable to forming bad habits that harm us if we don’t know how to manage them:
Most people believe there is God, angels, after-life, and a wide range of supernatural things and beings. If you’re one of the believers, then you should also believe that you and I have a spirit, or soul, and for the purpose of this post let’s just call it “spirit”. The spirit is the only organ through which we can communicate with the supernatural. The rest of our organs and senses have to do with the physical world mainly.
I believe moral standards and conscience are functions of the spirit. With the spirit, we’re able to receive spiritual revelations, which feel like eureka or an “ah ha” of the mind. In fact, the spirit receives messages from the spiritual realms and conveys them to the mind, and the mind treats the messages the same as eureka or insight from the brain, with a subtle difference.
Divine revelation is pure, gentle, and steady. It’s like the dawn. Sometime you miss the moment of the rising sun, and when you realize the change of the sky, it has already turned totally bright, whereas eureka or insight feels like an electric shock; you won’t miss it.
This poses a problem to most people. Most of us fill our lives with endless entertainment, worries, wants, ambitions, assumptions, and urgent minutiae. We don’t have the room and attention for divine insights. And if we do get a spiritual nudging every now and then, we fail to interpret or recognize it, so our minds got used to ignoring it.
If you want to know how to be free, you need an activated spirit to be your antenna. A fully functioning spirit can receive divine knowledge and guidance, and serve as your inner eyes that let you see behind the surface. It will lead you to truth, which will set you free from addictions and bad habits, enabling you to live life to the fullest.
If it sounds too abstract to you, let us use the vicious cycle (see part 1) as my personal example. How did I come to recognize the cycle? It’s by my spirit – the inner eyes. Although I have been a Christian for many years, my spiritual eyes were blocked by guilt, assumptions, struggles, and other negative emotions, and therefore I was locked in the treadmill that went in a circle.
With clear inner eyes, you will be able to discern whom are the right mentors you should listen to, what are the right teachings to follow, and which path to choose in the labyrinth of life.
The mind shares some functions with the spirit, such as consciousness, memory, and awareness. Its main job is to perform cognitive functions. The mind is like a super duper computer that can be re-programmed to an untold degree. I heard that a woman with half her brain gone due to an accident was able to live normally like any other person, because the rest of her brain learned to take over the job of the lost half. Another woman with one of her inner ears completely destroyed was able to regain a sense of balance with a sensor on her tongue. See the book “The Brain That Changes Itself” if you want to investigate more into the exciting secrets of the brain.
One of the most powerful faculties of the mind is the subconscious. It stores a vast number of automated rituals and patterns that we perform daily, such as heartbeat and breathing, which is something that we are naturally born with. It also forms new patterns as we learn something new, and repeat it through practice.
Do you remember the details of what you did yesterday? Probably not if your daily life is filled with routines such as brushing teeth, driving to work, taking a shower, jogging, and other routines. Activities that became natural to us are mainly performed or assisted by the subconscious. They don’t need a lot of conscious effort and willpower to maintain.
Picture your mind as a huge network of neuron maps. It never stops wiring or re-wiring itself. If your conscious effort is consistent, the subconscious will wire itself accordingly to assist you. But if you make changes to certain patterns or replace it with another consistently enough, the map will be rewired.
The flip side of this automation system is that it doesn’t distinguish between good or bad. It doesn’t know when to stop performing once the pattern is established. Your consciousness determines what is harmful or beneficial, and makes decision accordingly, but the subconscious tends to run its course. It’s a matter of momentum, and inertia.
A moving object will keep moving at the same speed unless external forces add to it or negate it, according to the law of momentum. A static object will not move unless external force is exerted on it – the law of inertia.
Conscious effort and willpower are prerequisites for rewiring the subconscious – think of willpower as a powerful thrust and consciousness as a rudder.
In Part 1, I asserted that willpower alone was useless in saving ourselves from bad habits; instead it could fuel our bad habits if we fail to use it properly.
It’s like flying a plane, you need a navigation system and proper skills in order to control the thrust and rudder, or you will crash.
Unfortunately, most people don’t spend a lot of effort in making conscious choices, and don’t know what their willpower can, or cannot do. They allow their subconscious to develop according to the path of least resistance. As a result, the wiring of their subconscious becomes cluttered and messy. I myself was guilty of that too.
Robert Friz, in his book “Path Of Least Resistance”, used the traffic system of Boston as an analogy to illustrate our cluttered minds. When they colonized North America, they built roads over cow’s paths that were already there. The traffic of Boston has been screwed up because of that. It turned out that the old cow paths that colonists used were ancient paths that buffalo herds had traveled for thousands of years. The herds simply picked their path in relation to the natural landscape and thoughtlessly chose the next easiest step to stampede toward.
Do you want your mind to be a network of cow paths? Or do you want to build 4 ways super highways that are many times more effective?
Like the mind, emotions are programmable. You can be addicted to emotions too. If your mind thinks about depressive thoughts, you will feel depressed. If the mind thinks happy thoughts, you will feel happy. Thinking always precedes feeling.
This relationship can become very complex and sophisticated. If an emotion, such as anger, is attached to a piece of memory – maybe a hurtful experience, this angry feeling can be triggered whenever you replay that memory in your mind. When you replay it too many times, you can become addicted to the feeling of anger, and as it expands, and contaminates other parts or relationships in your life, anger will start to have a life of its own, and feed on anything that it meets in its path.
You can build triggers that tap into all kinds of emotions. The trigger can be a piece of memory, a ritual, a signal, an argument in your head, a segment of music, a picture, or any specific activity. In that respect, we are similar to a bull, which gets mad when it sees red.
When I was studying in the University, I became obsessed with trying to become productive, and self-disciplined. Every time I felt I didn’t meet the goal, my mind would argue that any failure must be eliminated right away, or my future will be doomed – that I will not get the dream girl, that I will grow old without growing great, that I will miss out opportunities, and that I will regret it for the rest of my life. I remembered the first few times I used these arguments to warn myself of a doomed future I didn’t sense any deep emotions, but as time went by, I became perpetually tormented by heavy senses of depression, guilt, regret, and fear. I couldn’t focus on my studies, and for the longest time I didn’t know why. It wasn’t a coincidence that my grades were going down when my peers’ grades were going up, as my year of University progressed – it was because my negative emotions got worse each year, which burnt out my energy and focus!
Chemistry also plays a major role in our emotions. Air pollution, water pollution, processed food, and mass produced poultry and meats contain heavy metals, pesticides, neurotoxins, altered genes, growth hormones, refined sugars, MSG, and vaccines that will end up in our body through consumption and osmosis. These substances are scientifically proven to have negative effects on our mood, health, and intelligence.
I didn’t know what was happening during juice, or water fasts that I had done in the past. But my mental awareness became clearer, and I experienced emotions on a deeper level that I had never reached when I was on a regular diet. Until recently, I started to investigate the raw food diet, and the experts reported similar experiences after they transited to a purer diet, and now I realize it’s the chemicals that we’re exposed to and consume that had influenced my mind and emotions.
The body has memory. You probably have heard about the “muscle memory”. You should have also heard about the withdrawal symptoms the body experiences if regular consumption of a substance is suddenly reduced or depraved from the body.
The withdrawl effect is more common than you may think. It’s not only limited to consumption of drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol. People who go through detox dieting, or transition from standard food to vegetarian or vegan, often report symptoms that are similar to that of drug withdrawal on a minor scale, which suggests that our bodies are “addicted” to the unnatural, chemical ingredients in our processed, regular food.
Our body can also get addicted to stimulations such as sexual arousal, adrenaline rush, sleep hormones, and excitement of the visual/audio senses by TV, and electronic games.
The key to correct the addictions of the body is to get through the withdrawal period. Once it’s got through that window, the craving of the body wanes. It will be difficult during the beginning, but as long as you can stick it through, everything will become easy afterward. The first few days are the hardest.
The real difficulties lie in the mind and emotion. If the battles of the mind and emotion are lost, the victim will fall into relapse.
Coming up next
Phew! Now that you have an overview of the inner mechanism that we all have, in the next article I will talk about how to use this information to overcome addiction and build productive habits that replace the bad ones.