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Working with Habits

Habit can be terribly powerful. When people get caught in some bad habits such as smoking or drinking, they find quitting those habits almost impossible – it appears that habits have a power bigger than theirs.

The key in dealing with habits is understanding that even if habits can’t be rejected, they can be replaced. Whatever habits we have, they serve some need. To the extent we cultivate a positive habit that fulfills the need fulfilled by a negative habit, to that extent freeing ourselves from the negative habit becomes easier.

The power of habit is value-neutral. That is, if we do something repeatedly, that creates impressions within our mind, and those impressions then propel us to do that thing again and again. The particular action being done doesn’t matter to the mind – repetition creates an impression that leads to the proposition for further repetition. Therefore, rather than being alarmed by the power of our negative habits, we can use habit’s value-neutrality to power our positive habits.

The Bhagavad-gita (02.60) acknowledges that giving up our lower habits of sensual indulgence is extremely difficult. But then it (02.62) recommends that we replace those habits with the habit of devotional contemplation. When we learn to fix our mind on Krishna, we get a higher pleasure that enables us to resist lower pleasures.

Habits of sensual indulgence serve our need for pleasure, though, of course, they give a lot of trouble eventually. When we see that our need for pleasure can be fulfilled in a healthier and more enduring way by connecting ourselves with Krishna, then we start habituating ourselves to positive devotional things. And the power of that devotional habit will work for us. By steady cultivation of such a habit, its power can become a terrific power that frees us from our sensual habits.

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