Habit Can Be a Prison, or a Powerhouse
Live Youthfully Now
Russell A. Kemp
Habit Can Be a Prison, or a Powerhouse
What would you think of a man who never went anywhere unless he had been there before? Friends exclaim about the Grand Canyon or the beauties of Yosemite, or the autumn color in New England. But he dismisses their enthusiasm with a weary tolerance. No matter who urges him to visit these places, he knows very well that he will never go, because he has never been to any of them, and he can’t go anywhere except some place he has already been.
“But,” you say, “this limits his possible experience in a ridiculous way. He had to go to some places for the first time, or by his own rules he would have absolutely nowhere to go now. When did he stop going to places he had never been before, and why did he clamp down on life in this absurd way?”
He could not tell you exactly when he reached this strange decision. He thinks it was one day when he suddenly realized that in order to go anywhere except where you are, you have to do two things. First you have to decide to leave where you are, and that implies that you don’t like where you are enough to want to stay there. That in turn means that you have been deceived in thinking it was a good place to be. And that in turn means that you aren’t as smart as you thought you were, or else how could you make such a mistake?
Now if you aren’t as smart as you always thought yourself to be in coming here, how do you know you’re not making a mistake right now in leaving here? At least, if you stay where you are, you never risk being accused of making a mistake in coming here in the first place. People will say: “He sure likes it here. Never goes anywhere else. He didn’t make a mistake in coming here.”
And in case the longing for a little change of scenery does become acute, you can always go somewhere you’ve already been. This would prove you never made a mistake, either, because if you liked it there enough to go back again, you did right in going there in the first place.
To this man, his reasoning is foolproof. He doesn’t know just when he reached these conclusions, but he’s satisfied. He never will live anywhere except someplace he has already been, and that proves he is a steady, dependable fellow who knew what he was doing when he did it.
How would you like to live in this way? Wouldn’t it be like being in prison? Wouldn’t it rob you of one of life’s greatest pleasures, the fun of doing something new, seeing something new, going where you’d never been before? Of course it would. The whole story is too far-fetched even to be humorous.
Or is it? Do you and I ever limit our possible life experiences in any way resembling this? Let’s see. First of all, we have lived a certain number of years, and we know that we have formed certain ways of thinking, certain ways of living, as a result of these past years, which pretty well make us what we are today. What we call our personality, our character and reputation, these are the product of our total experience as a human being during the years that we have lived. So, as a general rule, the way you and I live today, the way we think, the way we act and react, is likely to be based on habits formed through past experience, far more than we even suspect.
We all have these habit grooves that channel and direct most of our actions. And what we do not usually realize is that most of our actions are caused by our reactions. That is, we tend to act in certain prescribed ways, almost automatically, when any need for decision arises. There is a built-in chain reaction already established, a control mechanism, almost a master pattern, which automatically causes us to react in ways which we say are characteristic of us.
Now when were these controls, these automatic tendencies, established? Previous to the present moment, of course; at some time in the past. They were built in, established imperceptibly, as days, weeks, and even years went on. It is virtually impossible to say that there was any one point in time at which they were suddenly determined. All we know for sure is they are a product of the past. Grooved into the very substance of our brain, and probably also in the gray matter in other parts of our body, they now condition our thinking. They make our actions and reactions and our thinking and emotions fairly predictable by any shrewd observer.
Indeed, a specially trained person could look at us and tell with startling accuracy just how we would react in almost any phase of life experience. We have fixed the fluid stuff of mind into such definite patterns that it is now a part of our very body structure, and can be read by the trained eye. It shows in the shape of our head, the subtle proportions of our face, the angle of our jaws, and the height of our eyebrows. It shows in the whites of our eyes, and the slant of our nose.
Probably ninety percent of what we think and do today is conditioned and predetermined by what we have habitually thought in the past. So the story of the man who would never go anywhere but someplace he had already been is not so much a fable as it is a disconcerting fact. Most of us never do go anywhere mentally, except where we have already been!
We act the way we do, because we think the way we do. And we think the way we do because we keep on thinking in the same old way we always have.
And we keep on thinking in the way we always have because it is the easiest, the most comfortable, the least challenging thing to do. Besides, we have the habit! Truly, habit can be a prison. We are prisoners of habit, but we need not be. With a fuller understanding of its nature, we can find that habit is a source from which we draw the power to free ourself from the very thought patterns that now imprison us! God never made the ideal man in us to be a prisoner of his own mentality. We can at any time, by the power of our conscious choice, expressed in deliberately chosen ways of thinking, start a freeing process that will deliver us from these prisons of habit. Many years ago I read the statement that old age comes to present-day man because he has the race habit of indulging in old age. The individual seems to be tied to the past history of the race. To do away with old age, we must break the bonds that hold us to race habits. Both old age and death are just bad habits.
Fortunately there is a way out of this labyrinth, this maze of mental tunnels in which the tiny shuttles of our thoughts continually weave the threads of our destiny tighter and tighter. We can challenge and upset the invisible government of habit. There is a way. But in order to do it, we must understand something more of the way our mind functions.
Psychology tells us that our mind works mostly on the principle of association of ideas. And this in turn involves memory. It is mostly memory that conditions our thinking and makes our reactions to any new idea or experience predictable in advance. The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” holds true in the working of the human mind. We tend instinctively to associate ideas with other ideas which we already have, either because they are similar, or because there is some connecting emotional link between them.
To show how this association of ideas works, and how it builds up habit grooves that effectively sidetrack new ideas, or keep us bound to past ways of thought and experience, let us suppose that at some time you had an unpleasant experience with a man named Joe. He got the better of you in a way that left you smarting with anger and thirsting for revenge. But there was nothing you could do about it at the time. You told yourself to forget it. And you tried hard to put the thought of it out of your mind. But it was difficult. Sometimes in the night, if you couldn’t sleep, you would go over and over the transaction. Or you would invent situations in which you got the better of Joe, or got even with him for what he had done to you.
After a time, you thought about Joe less and less often. When you did think about him, you didn’t seem to feel the same rankling emotions. Time was dulling the edge of memory. Now, perhaps, you can even smile about the whole thing when you remember it. You consider that whole episode a thing of the past. It is gone, forgotten, buried.
That’s what you think! Right now where you work there is a fellow employee who seems to you to be a person you just can’t trust, or be friends with. He seems agreeable enough. He tries hard to be friendly. And you can’t give any real reason for not trusting him, or not responding to his attempts to be friendly. You only know you don’t trust him, and you don’t want to trust him. But you don’t know why.
It is because something about him reminds you subconsciously of Joe. Your subconscious mind, or more accurately, your soul, hasn’t forgotten Joe. All the memories, all the hurt feelings connected with him arc still alive, but they are filed in the great memory bank of your hidden mind. What is more, because they are painful memories, your soul doesn’t like to think about them or relive them. It keeps them suppressed, out of sight. But due to the way the mind works, there are a number of things associated with these memories of Joe. The mind always remembers by the principle of association.
Let’s say Joe was fond of caramel candy. Oddly enough, this new man also is fond of caramel candy. Unknown consciously to you, caramel candy is associated in your mind with Joe. That is just one link of association. When you see or smell caramel candy, if the new man offers you some, your subconscious mind instantly associates it with Joe. You hate Joe. You refuse the candy. But you do not consciously know why. You just react. A hidden thought habit has ruled you. Through the principle of association your reaction to your fellow employee today is being affected by buried memories of long ago, totally unconnected with him. But you are not aware of it.
A man I know had an unpleasant experience with another man, who drove a certain make of car. Now, ten years afterward, he does not like that make of car. He listens to the glowing advertisements for this car today but they arouse in him only resistance and prejudice. He would not even think of looking at one in a showroom. By the law of association this car is forever banned in his eyes. Its very name triggers off danger signals in his memory. The highly efficient computerlike brain systems connected with the painful memories of the man who drove that make of car flash into his mind whenever its name is mentioned. His mental attitude is thoroughly conditioned with respect to this make of car. It would take a very great inducement, some extremely powerful motivation (such as a big price cut, or a strong endorsement by a trusted friend), to persuade him even to take a ride in one.
I have gone into this in detail to show how your mind works, how buried memories can prejudice your judgment and condition your thinking without your suspecting it. This principle of association of ideas, and the linking up of memories with other associated ideas, is of supreme importance in connection with cultivating youthfulness.
In Chapter IV we spoke of the incessant, automatic renewal which goes on in the cells of the body. And we said that while renewal is automatic on the physical level, there is no automatic renewal where the mind is concerned. Mind is a law unto itself. Mind can make itself stale, it can make itself old, or it can make itself young. It does this because of its creativeness, because of its own laws. Or to be more accurate: Mind can think in a way which is characteristic of age, or it can think in a way which is characteristic of youth. And it can very quickly get accustomed to thinking in either way. The power of our own mind to condition itself, to form habits of thinking and reacting and to be bound by these habits, is absolutely spectacular. But it is also wholly unsuspected by the average person.
If you want to experience rejuvenation, if you long to be reborn, to cast off the burden of the years and feel ten, fifteen, or twenty years younger, you can do it. But it will involve some determined effort and mental discipline on your part. There are ways of using your own mind which will cleanse and renew your mind, just as the breathing in and breathing out of the breath of life cleanses and restores your bloodstream.
The buried contents of your mind can also be renewed, by being gradually brought to light. If then they are examined by you judiciously, you can either consciously release them to be forgotten, or decide that they should be retained. In this way you can experience rejuvenation of your memory. Such a renewing of your subconscious memory files will cause a corresponding feeling of renewal in your physical organism. It is difficult to express the feel-ing of lightness and pleasure at the way your mind works as a result of such renewal.
I knew a man who experienced such a renewal. He was not even middle-aged, but he really felt old and stale. Life for him had degenerated into an adventureless routine of eat, work, and sleep, in order that he might keep on eating, working, and sleeping. The sparkle, the lift, was gone from life. He was stale mentally and physically, and he knew it.
Fortunately he knew something of the laws of mind, and he felt that it was both wrong and unnecessary for him to be in this condition. He was sure something could be done about it. In response to his deep desire, and his faith in the power of God to help him escape from this prison of lukewarm living, his own innate intelligence showed him that there was a way to cooperate consciously with the renewing life force within himself. It seemed such a simple way that at first he didn’t realize that it was a form of self-analysis.
What was it? He was just to watch his characteristic thoughts and expressions. He was to make a mental note of how long he had been using this or that pet figure of speech. Particularly, he was to ascertain the age of his favorite jokes. How old were they?
His first reaction to this last item was to exclaim, “Why, my mind is an old joke’s home!” That pet expression, this often-told joke or favorite wisecrack, certain habitual expressions of disapproval, had been used over and over for years. He resolved to use the cleansing, dissolving action of mind to wash all of them out of his mental life. He determined to refuse expression to any thought or word that was a familiar reaction.
It wasn’t easy. Because of the law of association there were well-established habit tracks to these old thoughts. Time after time they occurred to him throughout the day. Then he would use this affirmation:
God’s cleansing life renews my mind and frees it from this old thought. Then he would take care to avoid saying the familiar words, or thinking the well-worn thoughts.
After a time another idea strengthened his determination. He began to reason along these lines:
Birds of a feather flock together. All of these old ideas and expressions are linked up with the idea of oldness. Therefore they are centers of aging influences in my mind. If I can eliminate them from my consciousness I will feel younger and my mind will be renewed.
It seemed as though a dull gray film had been coating his brain, and now it was being dissolved. His mind seemed to take delight in working more quickly. His mentality became more and more alert. He began to have original thoughts.
Best of all, he did feel younger. It was easier for him to tackle new projects, such as enrolling in an exercise class that toned up his body. He looked for new ways to do familiar things, and tried to cultivate new interests. He talked to people whom he had formerly ignored and sought out new acquaintances. He tried eating foods he had formerly avoided. He read books that challenged his opinions. Although he knew nothing of boating and cared less, he bought magazines on boating and read them. In as many ways as possible he challenged himself to do something different, to change his ways and habits.
And it worked! This man shed so many of his mental years that soon people who were younger in years were saying: “You couldn’t possibly remember that. You’re much too young!” This gave him considerable quiet amusement. In two years he moved to a larger city, to a better job, and went on from there to still newer and bigger things. Why not? He had cooperated consciously with the urge of the divine creative life force within him, to make “all things new.”
Do you really want to be renewed? Why not try this out for yourself? Start right now. Check up on your pet expressions. Suppose you say “I mean” or “You know” or “Like I say” a great deal. Try to remember when you started doing this. Was it a year ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago? How old is your favorite joke? Refuse to tell it again. How many years have you been repeating such things as “Well, I never!” “For goodness sake!” or old-fashioned sayings such as “My stars!”?
And above all, how old are some of your pet grievances? Write them down and date them. How long ago did that humiliating experience happen with So-and-so? How many years ago last Christmas did your aunt give you that dirty look? These “old” grievances generate oldness and stiffness and dreary dullness in your mind and body. Weed them out. Throw them out. Deny them expression. Dredge them out, and then dredge new channels for the expression of new ideas and new life in your mind.
Memorize this statement, and affirm it instantly when any old thought tries to think through you:
God’s cleansing life renews my mind and frees it from this old thought.
By this means you will actually dissolve and cast out old brain cells and body cells, and build in new cells, to register and embody the new life you have affirmed.
Does it seem preposterous to claim that you can actually change the cells in your body and brain by the words you speak and the thoughts you think? It is not preposterous, but true. Charles Fillmore, who will some day be honored as one of the great spiritual scientists of this age, said, “Thoughts are things. They occupy space in your mind.”
He also taught that man’s mind has the power either to destroy or to construct. By using the dissolving action of the mind, usually called denial, man can actually break down and cast out from his body the very cells in which any thought has been embodied. By using the constructive action of his mind, called affirmation, man may build into his organism new cells, expressing the character and quality of the thoughts affirmed. This is one of the elementary principles of mental science. By its persistent use man can gradually reconstruct his physical organism.
We can see now a greater meaning in the story of the man who never went anywhere except to some place he had already been. We are that man when we refuse to think any new thoughts, but keep on thinking only the thoughts that are familiar to us. By the simple principle of association of ideas we deepen these established habit grooves, and thus embody the essence of the passing years in our mind. Gradually focal centers of aging influences are formed. Unconsciously the weight of these slows down our mentality. And whatever slows down our mentality tends to depress our life forces, thereby slowing down our body.
Now, please do not deprive yourself of the benefits to be enjoyed from using this simple practice, just because it is simple, or because you are not paying fifty dollars an hour to use it. It is one of those seemingly simple things which in reality embody a deep spiritual wisdom. The only real existence that past years have is in your memory. For instance, you cannot consciously remember what you were doing five years ago today, or ten years ago today, can you? But if there was any significant emotional reaction to something that happened five years ago, part of you not only remembers that, but actually embodies it.
If you are slowing down, if your knees crack when you bend them, if they are getting stiff, you need to renew your mind. You may have had your knees for thirty, forty, fifty, or seventy years, but remember, the cells in them have been renewed countless times throughout the years. And they are not really old at all. The life force in them, the blood coursing through them, has just been renewed with your latest breath. So how can they be old? They may seem to be stiff; that isn’t the same as being old. One can be young in years and yet be stiff. You must learn to think clearly on these points.
If you have years, prepare to shed them now!
It can be done. And since others have done it, you too can do it. But you must enlist the aid of your feelings to be successful. Keep painting in your imagination the rewards of practicing these principles and becoming more youthful in your appearance, in your actions, in your thinking, and in your work and recreation. Use your imagination. Instead of daydreaming, or reading your daily paper minutely from front page to back, take the time really to enter into the feeling of being ten years younger.
As a child you could always enter wholeheartedly into pretending that you were something or other. And you have not lost this ability. It is still yours, but you have let it go to sleep by not using it. Bring it back to life, now.
Start pretending, secretly and privately, that you are ten years younger.
All right, now that you are ten years younger, how do you feel? What are you doing, how are you acting, as a result of this? What difference does it make in your appearance?
Use your creative capacity, in the form of playful pretending, to make your goals more realistic, more tangible, to yourself. Bring this idea of becoming younger out of the realm of airy fancy and abstract ideas, and get together with your inner Self to work at it.
Ask yourself: Do I really want to look and feel younger? Do I really believe that I can? Am I interested enough to find out?
It is a fact that determined, enthusiastic effort, directed effort, plus the mental discipline needed actually to do the work, and do the things recommended in this chapter, will make you look and feel younger. How much do you want this? Are you persistent enough to stick with the practice of watching your thoughts and words, and weeding out the old ones, for thirty days? Can you motivate yourself to stay with it until you experience the thrill of success? If you want your life to take on new interest and meaning, if you want to have again that glorious feeling of being in charge of your life that you had at a certain time of youth, then by all means try this out, and see.
There is a familiar saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Why not help yourself to the spirit of new life? For instance, there is a dynamic thrill of new life flashing through all of nature at sunrise. “At sunrise, every soul is born anew,” said Walter Malone, in his famous poem “Opportunity.” Just what did he mean? Is there actually some mystical or spiritual influence available to man at the moment of sunrise, which is not to be felt at other times?
Perhaps there is more to this than just a poetic metaphor. Sunrise is a tingling moment to witness, and even more to experience, if one is out of doors at the time. Fishermen, hunters, sailors, farmers, all those who rise early know the thrill of the rising sun. If it is spring or summer, the birds wake early; they sing even before the dawn. But I have observed that just before the sun appears over the edge of the earth, everything seems to become still. The birds stop singing. It is as if a momentary hush is observed, as if everything is waiting for the first golden segment of the sun to emerge. The moment it does, there is a sudden chorus of song, as if all were moved by a common impulse of happiness. The golden king of day, radiant in the east, has returned, to shed light and warmth and cheerfulness to all of us. It causes something to sing in us, as well as in the birds.
What has this to do with youthfulness? Just this: At some time, in order to be rejuvenated and have the energy and strength you want, you may have to ignore a seeming lack of results from your efforts. It is natural to encounter a period when doubts assail you, but it is at such a time that you must persist all the more. The results that you want are being prepared within you. This is when you can use some extra inspiration, some real lift and renewal. So why not try getting up early enough just once to experience a sunrise for yourself?
Now is the time to do something different, to get out of the rut. Your daily paper probably lists the time of sunrise and sunset. Should you ever come to one of those times when you feel discouraged and gloomy, set your alarm clock early enough to get up, be dressed, and get outside somewhere, so that you can not only witness but be a part of this supreme moment, the birth of a new day.
Fill your mind with this thought:
Another clay of life renewal for myself and the world is beginning.
Open yourself to the wonder of it. Try to use each one of your senses. See, hear, smell the wonderful freshness of the air, touch the grass or a tree or a flower. If there is anything you can taste that will recall some moment of youth to you, take it along and nibble on it while you watch. I defy you to be unaffected for the better, if you try this.
What about the end of the day? Hundreds of people watch the sun set, for every one who sees it rise. To some, there is a feeling of gentle melancholy associated with the sunset. Watching the sun drop out of sight and the shadows darken tends to depress them.
But if you know how to observe the sunset, this reaction will never be yours. Always think of sunset as a time when all the flood of energy that has been poured out upon the earth is being absorbed in the peace and the benediction of beauty that you are watching. Mentally become very still, and think of assimilating it. Now is the time appointed for the renewal of your energies by rest, and later, sleep.
Morning always comes. And with it sometimes comes a much needed flash of insight, some new idea to solve a problem. A beautiful line is engraved beneath one of the murals in the capitol at Denver: “Beyond the sundown lies tomorrow’s wisdom.” Tomorrow will be a new day, bringing with it new ideas and new energy. “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day,” said the Master. We do not fear to let today come to an end, because we can look forward to tomorrow. Another day will come to us in glory, with the rising of the sun.
Some people like to clear up and order their thoughts before sleeping. This is a good time to bless some old memory and erase it from vour mind. We may feel it is not right to give up old but cherished memories of loved ones and other days, and we are not called upon to do this. It is probable that we could never erase from our soul things that are dear and meaningful to us. Their essence has become a part of us. We are not required to give up any good thing to go forward spiritually.
We are only required to deny and erase from our memory that which is painful, that which has hurt us or harmed us, that which is bitter or discordant.
Deny and seek to dissolve anything that rankles, anything that has become old or stale or trite. Surely nothing worthwhile can be lost by erasing and forgiving such memories as these.
Quit embalming those past years in the fluid substance of your thoughts. Stop being a prisoner of automatic thinking. Why should you be bound by the dead past? It is only a record. It need not be a force in your life. Use these simple methods, and step out of the prison of habit which is gradually taking more and more command of your life.
The most divine thing about you is your power of choice. You can actually choose to think in new and different ways, ways that will give you an appointment with youth every morning, and an appointment with renewal every night. Drill this thought deep into your mind: I always have a choice of how to think.
Through your power to choose what kind of thoughts you will think, you can think in ways that will gradually convert the prison of habit into a powerhouse of freedom ana newness in mind and body. Make the right choice now. Choose to dwell with enjoyment on declarations like these:
God's Spirit within me is eternally alive with the life and youth of God. This Spirit is the spirit of youth. The spirit of youth in me, responding to these thoughts, now frees me from all belief in age, because age is unknown to its nature.
The spirit of youth in me keeps any part of me from subconsciously preparing for old age or death. No part of me is picturing a previous experience of age or death through established race memories or habits, because I divinely choose that it shall not do this.
Using my divine power to choose what I want to experience, I now declare: Any habit tracks of race belief in old age are now erased from my subconscious mind by the intention and spirit of these words. I am now convinced of my spiritual origin and nature. I am now convinced that I can use my o wn mind to cleanse and renew my mind.
Say every morning:
I have an appointment with youth this morning. Another day of life renewal for myself and the world is beginning.
Say every night:
I have an appointment with divine renewal tonight.
Thank God for this marvelous health and enjoyment of living, which my youthful maturity gives to me constantly.
In 1960 Harriet E. Rowe of Worcester, Massachusetts, at the age of 75, was busy with roller-skating and ice-skating, ballet, modern jazz dancing, and mountain climbing. Eight years before that, Miss Rowe had fractured her ankle in a roller-skating mishap.
She took up ballet dancing after the bone healed, to strengthen her ankle so it would be in shape for mountain climbing. No “three-score-and-ten syndrome” for her!
In 1963, Arthur Reed of Oakland, California, a retired farmer, rode his bicycle to church on Sundays. He was 103 years old. He could remember back to 1865, when a Union soldier gave him a bugle.
Mrs. Edith Dornan of Phoenix, Arizona, asked to be excused from jury duty because she would not be permitted to wear slacks in the courtroom.
She said the slacks were a necessity, because she had trouble riding her motorcycle while wearing a skirt. Mrs. Dornan at that time was 77.