The belief is old habits die hard. What if I told you this need not be the case. Let us look at ways in which you can replace old habits with new good habits, in the process, get a new perspective on your beliefs and pave your way to liberation.

At some point in our life, each one of us aspires to be free from all kinds of shackles. We imagine ourselves in that freedom, that we’ll be blissful, happy, and fulfilled. We’ll be leading a life of meaning and purpose. This is not necessarily freedom from the people around us but how and what we feel in the present moment. 

True Liberation.

As the British Novelist, Iris Murdoch said, “Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture.”

We are forever doing one thing or the other to remain relevant in this world, to keep the frame together, to look like the picture we have of us in our minds. What does it take to shatter that frame and shift the focus from “human doings” to human beings? How do we stop controlling every aspect of our lives and sometimes let the chips fall where they may? In other words, how do we liberate ourselves? First up, a little story:

In a certain city, a renowned businessman, who was the wealthiest trader in the region, once heard that listening to the glories of God brought about liberation to one’s soul. That’s easy, he thought, I can hire someone to recite the scriptures and be delivered. And so he approached an orator who recited Srimad Bhagavatam for a living. The orator, on his part, sat all attentive knowing that the richest man in the town was in front of him. Here was his chance to make some money.

“Is it true,” the man said, “that I’ll gain liberation if you narrated the Bhagavatam for me?”

“Absolutely,” the orator said. “King Parikshita heard it once and was emancipated, but, due to your bad karma, maybe you should hear it seven times. That’s sure to grant you nirvana.”

“How long will that take?”
“Nirvana!?”
“No! Hearing it seven times, I meant.”
“Forty-nine days.”
“I’ll hear it eight times then, just in case.” the trader said.

An agreement was made on a handshake.

Every day, the man was paid a visit by the narrator who would recite the scripture while he went about his business. A month passed like this when one day the trader said, “I don’t think this is working.”

“How you mean?” the orator said.
“Forget liberation, I haven’t experienced the slightest transformation in me.”
“It takes time.”
“Time, my foot! When my customers pay me, I deliver the goods right away. That’s how things work in the world.”
“But, this is not a business!”
“Preposterous! I am not paying for your services!”

A bitter argument ensued and the businessman refused to pay a dime. The matter was referred to an old saint who lived on the outskirts.

“O holy one!” the trader said, “this man here promised me liberation if I heard the glories of God as mentioned in Bhagavatam but let alone moksha, I have not experienced even an ounce of change in me.”
“Maharaj,” the orator said, “everyone knows these things take time.”

The saint said the issue could be resolved provided they agreed to follow his instructions. Both parties consented and the holy man tied their hands separately with a piece of rope. He then asked them to untie each other. They tried in vain. The orator complained it just wasn’t possible.

“How can I free him,” the trader said reeling with frustration, “when my own hands are tied?” 

“Exactly,” the saint spoke in a calm voice. “How can the one who’s ensnared himself set anyone else free? You, tied by your craving for liberation, made a mockery of the sacred Bhagavatam by turning it into a business deal. Even one word of it when internalized can set you free. And enmeshed in the desire to make more money, the orator here tried to fool you. Without devotion, no amount of listening to any scripture yields any result or liberation.”

Somewhere, we are all tied by the rope of our desires and beliefs. How far we can venture out is limited to the length of the lasso. Truth be told, we only need to snip this rope to set ourselves free. This act of snipping, however, is not a sudden affair. And even when it is, one has to see it through with a persistent and prolonged follow-up of right thoughts and actions.

This brings me to the crux of the matter: what does it take to liberate oneself? In my humble view, there are only two things needed to get past your limitations. Whether we seek guidance from self-help books or scriptures, gurus, or speakers, ultimately, it’s a change in the following two aspects alone that will do the trick.

Habits

We may be whoever or whatever, we remain creatures of our habits. You can’t redefine yourself unless you make a conscious and mindful effort to break the habits that define you.

Whether it’s gorging on ice-cream or chocolates when you are stressed or lashing out indiscriminately when frustrated or procrastinating when you have an important task at hand or letting the frog croak, your habits create your actions.

Your actions fill your day and your days make up your life. It’s as simple as that. Excessive or negative thinking, being lazy or a workaholic, these are just habits. I would say even being jealous is a habit, for, a jealous person will find one reason or another to repeatedly experience (and justify) this emotion. It’s remarkable how much of what we think and do is driven by our habits.

One definitive way to self-transformation is to write down the one habit you wish to drop and make a deliberate effort to do so over the next forty days. Whether you are building a new habit or dropping an existing one, the amount of effort and time required is roughly the same. So, don’t start both at the same time. Either resolve to shed an existing one or take the time out to build a new one, but not both concurrently. For each habit you renounce, a bit of the old you, the undesirable you, will disappear. And, for every new one you inculcate, a part of you will transform.

The art of breaking or modeling habits, however, requires willpower and the willingness to see the world (and yourself) differently, which leads me to the second point.

Perspective

Most of what gives us grief stems from our perspective. In fact, grief is a perspective in its own right. Pain and painful incidents can be real, suffering, though, is mostly how I have chosen to analyze and accept my pain. Change your perspective and everything changes.

As Einstein famously spoke, “We can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them in the first place.” Only that he never said so. Instead, his words were, “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” Either way, the idea is simple: we must change the way we think if we want to change how we feel and act.

And the easiest way to shift our perspective is to look at the brighter side of life, to be grateful, but that doesn’t always work. That leaves us with the second-best option, which is to expose yourself to a new way of thinking.

We do so by challenging our beliefs and viewpoints with different, even contradictory, perspectives. Traveling, interacting with people from different backgrounds, reading all kinds of literature, and listening to speakers and philosophers who present a fresh way of looking at life modify our thought processes and break our thinking patterns.

In those crumbling old habits and thoughts lie the seeds of brilliance and awakening. One good way to start is to see which belief makes you most susceptible to anger, hatred, and negativity. Usually, such beliefs originate from our ego, religious ideas or moral orientation, and sometimes, Heavens forbid, all three. Putrid beliefs thrive in stagnant and closed thinking. Let go, let go, let go. You won’t know what glory awaits you unless you step out in the sun and embark on a journey to see yourself, to know yourself. 

Which view of yours rattles you the most in the face of non-conformity? Start with that. Ask yourself, what if I tried the alternative, what if my views on what I’m entitled to or how life should be are impractical, if not invalid altogether? It takes great courage to question what we believe in. Then again, self-transformation is not for the faint-hearted. If someone wishes to sit at the fence and just do what they have always done, that’s their choice. The truth is, you can choose to run away from being vulnerable but then by the same token, you deprive yourself of self-discovery.

Goldberg went to visit his aging mother in her new flat. At the street entrance, he pushed her bell and heard her voice crackle over the intercom.

“Press the ‘unlock’ button with your elbow when it buzzes,” she said. “Then push the button marked ‘3’ on the lift with your elbow. Then just push the handle on my flat door with your elbow.”
Puzzled, Goldberg said, “That’s all clear mother, but why do you keep telling me to use my elbow? Why can’t I just use my hand?”
There was a pause and then came the reply, “You’re coming empty-handed?”1

So it is with our beliefs and habits, we just take them for granted. That’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s how I’ve always been, but it’s true, it’s a given, how can it be anything else, that just doesn’t make sense, I can’t do it and so on and so forth.

The truth: most of what we know is based on our observations and assumptions. The rest has been fed to us by people who learned it from other people and who in turn had either observed or assumed it.

Discard one habit and one belief. You are off to a great start then. Formation of new habits leads to the transformation of the self. And, gaining a new perspective gives you a fresh pair of eyes (figuratively, of course) to look at the world. Both are in your hands. You choose. 

On a different note, I’m pleased to announce The Book of Kindness published by HarperCollins. It’s a quick read and represents the essence of what I stand for. Here are the relevant links to get the book:

  1. Amazon India
  2. Amazon.com 

Peace.
Swami

 

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Change is hard, and when the change in question is our old habits, it becomes harder. Here are nine ways in which you can learn a thing or two about changing old habits and how to replace them with good habits.

How can I quit old habits and change for the better in life?

So often we make plans and resolutions to be a certain way, to act in a certain manner, to do certain things, but one wave of temptation, one small argument, a tiny conflict and whoosh…everything is washed ashore. We forget our promises and go back to square one. We then brood and curse ourselves for not coming through. We feel bad, feel guilty. And then we make a resolution again, with little less confidence this time, and yet we break it again.

Why do most people find it incredibly difficult to change themselves? Why are promises so hard to keep? Why do we often fail to stick to our resolutions? Find the answers here.

Can meditation help in quitting my old habits? If so, where do I start?

Allow me to share with you the six fundamental principles of meditation:

1. Recollection: Don’t pursue thoughts of the past.

2. Calculation: Don’t pursue thoughts of the present.

3. Imagination: Don’t imagine what may happen in the future.

4. Examination: Don’t analyze your thoughts.

5. Construction: Don’t try to create an experience.

6. Digression: Don’t wander; simply stay in the present moment.

Read more here.

I get angry easily, and I have been trying to change, but old habits die hard. How can I overcome my anger?

Let me elucidate the three practices that will help you in understanding, controlling, and overcoming your anger.

The practice of mindfulness to overcome anger.
Write a journal
Write a journal… Read more on each of these practices here.

The belief is old habits die hard, is this why we call once a cheater always a cheater. Can a cheater ever change?

They cheat because it is their habit. Only a certain degree of self-discipline, self-reflection can help one to discard their undesirable old habits. You can never change anyone’s habits except your own. It is only when your partner decides to change and act towards it will he change.

Morality is not always an absolute concept. What may be moral for you, maybe immoral for them and vice-versa. So, how do you know whether your act is moral or immoral, whether you are cheating or if you simply made a one-off mistake? The answer is quite simple in fact. First and foremost, your conscience always guides you onto the path of light and truth. If you can follow your conscience, you will know right from wrong. Secondly, all else being equal, if you truly believe you did not do anything wrong or that it was an innocent mistake, you should be able to go up to your partner and confess. Read more here.

What does it take to ditch old habits, and how can one start new and good habits?

Most of us give up too easily, too soon. When you want to build a new habit, expect no results in the beginning. If you are serious about mastering a new skill, just keep inching towards your goal. One step at a time.

Acquiring any skill or habit is akin to the Chinese Bamboo tree. You plant the seed and you keep caring for it, regularly, steadily, carefully. And once a strong foundation is in place, you will soar high in practically no time. Read the story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree and the three golden rules of building any new habit here.

I desperately want to quit smoking, but old habits die hard. Is it even possible to quit smoking?

To come off any form of habit or addiction, be it smoking, drinking, drugs, or any other, there are three methods. As follows:

The Rusty Iron Approach to Quit Smoking
The Rusty Iron method is the slow and steady approach; do not resolve to quit smoking forever. That makes it a lifelong challenge. Just decide that you are not going to smoke for a week, or ten days or a month. Start with a shorter duration first.

The Rotting Fruit Approach to Quit Smoking
If you are someone who can stand by his resolve, this is the method for you. You just have a remember that it is impossible for a cigarette to fly to your mouth on its own. In fact, you have to make an effort to buy it. Vow that you may die but you are never going to smoke again.

The Flat Tire Approach to Quit Smoking
Imagine you are driving your car and you get a flat tire. Clearly you cannot drive on three wheels. So, you get out of the car, open the trunk and pull out the spare tire. You replace the tire and get going. That is the key: replacement. Replace your desire to smoke with something else, be it coffee, tea, juice, water, milk, chewing gum, candy, anything for that matter except another tobacco product. Read more on each of these methods here.

Breaking New Year’s Resolution is one of my old habits. What can I do to keep my New Year’s Resolution?

When we make a resolution but don’t keep it, our self-esteem takes a hit, it weakens our self-confidence. Your conscious mind, your habits, want you to break your resolutions. They’ll create plenty of noise and will exploit every thought, every idea, every possibility to have it their way. If you don’t stick to your resolution at that time and give up, it becomes a lot more difficult to honor your promise the next time. That’s because your conscious mind has won over you, it thinks I can do whatever I want since this person foregoes his stance if I persist.

Here are three golden principles of making and keeping your new year resolutions:

Do it for you
Be Specific
Be Disciplined… To learn how to apply these golden principles and change old habits go here.

The belief is old habits die hard, is this why we call once a cheater always a cheater. Can a cheater ever change?

They cheat because it is their habit. Only a certain degree of self-discipline, self-reflection can help one to discard their undesirable old habits. You can never change anyone’s habits except your own. It is only when your partner decides to change and act towards it will he change.

Morality is not always an absolute concept. What may be moral for you, maybe immoral for them and vice-versa. So, how do you know whether your act is moral or immoral, whether you are cheating or if you simply made a one-off mistake? The answer is quite simple in fact. First and foremost, your conscience always guides you onto the path of light and truth. If you can follow your conscience, you will know right from wrong. Secondly, all else being equal, if you truly believe you did not do anything wrong or that it was an innocent mistake, you should be able to go up to your partner and confess. Read more here.

Why do people lie? Is it a case of old habits die hard? How can one try and get over this habit of lying?

It appears some lie for no reason at all, while many lie with great reasoning, some lie for a cause, and many build a cause to lie. It is not always about the flip side of truth. Sometimes, a lie stands on its own two feet. Upon deep examination, you will find that lying is a complex act, a complicated aspect of one’s personality, it is more than a habit, almost a natural human trait. When you repeatedly do the same thing over and over again, it becomes your habit. Perfection, carelessness, lack of detail or attention to detail etcetera are all habits as are telling the truth and lying.

Read more here to learn about the three primary causes of telling lies.

How to quit old habits and become someone who sets and achieves goals?

Do you know your greatest strength in attaining your goals? Your habits. And your greatest weakness? Your habits.

“Oh! How beautiful,” sighed Mulla. “Right now, I would not trade places with anybody for even a million dollars.”

“How about for a hundred million?” asked his friend heightening the appeal to insane levels.

“Nope. Not even for the combined wealth of the whole world would I give this up!”

“Well, how about three? I can give you three dollars right now to leave this place.”

“Hmm…Three? Alright, that’s different. Now you are talking real money,” said Mulla sitting up with the intention to move.

This anecdote underscores a beautiful message: your mind does not take even the most lucrative dreams seriously but it is willing to act on the tiniest of real possibilities of rewards, of gains.

You eat real food, you work real jobs, you wear real clothes, why not have real goals? Reality does not always mean that you need to aim low, it means you genuinely believe it to be practical. Read more here to learn what it takes to break old habits, create new habits, and achieve goals.

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