How to Get Rid of Bad Habits
Especially at the beginning of a new year, one question that frequently comes up is how to get rid of bad habits. There is no such thing as good habits and bad habits – all habits are bad. Habit means doing things unconsciously, automatically. For example, there are basically two ways of brushing your teeth. You can do it consciously, which means you adapt the length of time and intensity to the requirements of the moment. That’s how it should be. Or you can do it according to a fixed regimen, that for three minutes, you have to wear out your teeth. If you were conscious, you would eat and sleep as necessary for the body on that day. In fact, you would do everything as necessary. But now, a lot of your day-to-day activities follow a habit or prescription – when you should wake up, when you should go to bed, what you should eat, what you should not eat. If everything is by prescription, it is slavery – whether it comes from your doctor or a slave master. If you do not know what you really need at any given moment, it is due to lack of consciousness.
Classifying habits into good and bad ones is like saying there is good unconsciousness and bad unconsciousness. If you consider something a good habit, it is like saying you are unconscious in a nice way, which in a way means being dead in a nice way. The fundamental difference between being alive and being dead is being conscious versus being absolutely unconscious. Being partially unconscious is being partially dead. Do not establish any kind of habit. The fundamental idea of withdrawing into retreats or coming to a spiritual space is to find a supportive atmosphere where you can do everything consciously. You somehow established habits to manage your day-to-day life. When you come to a spiritual space, you are supposed to pay attention to the requirements of your body, your mind, your emotions, and your energies. You need to consciously pay attention to what this life naturally longs for. If you are unconscious, it’s a crime against yourself. If you are doing something that you think is spiritual because of me, it’s a crime against me. You better not do that.
If you want get rid of habits, do not think you have to get rid of unconsciousness. The prefix “un-” suggests that something is non-existent. Consciousness is. Un-consciousness is the absence of consciousness. You cannot get rid of something that does not exist. To use an example – suppose the room is dark. Trying to expel the darkness would be an insane effort. To get rid of darkness, you just have to light it up. If you light it up, darkness is gone. Darkness is not an existence by itself. It is the absence of light. Similarly, unconsciousness is not an existence by itself. It is just absence of consciousness. If you become conscious, you will not need to fight with unconscious habits. You need to work on becoming conscious. Being conscious is the essence of life. You know that you are alive only because you are reasonably conscious.
To become more conscious, you have to raise the intensity of your energies. That’s what we are working on. Your physical body has gathered inertia – that’s why the hatha yoga in the morning. Your mind has gotten into habitual patterns – that’s why the Inner Engineering class aspects and certain meditation practices. Your energies have gotten into their own patterns – that’s why sadhana. The idea is to break the cycles of unconsciousness and become conscious. When you become conscious, at least initially, it looks like you are in unknown terrain – it seems difficult. When you do things habitually, it seems easier, but there is no awareness, no growth.
When I went to conduct a program in the Coimbatore prison for the first time, almost twenty-five years ago, I observed that this set-up is something a whole lot of people are seeking in their life. This is a place where someone always opens and closes the door for you; they turn the lights on and off for you; food comes bang on time. This is what a whole lot of people want in their life – organization, systems, and efficiency. The only problem is that it is forced upon you – that is why people suffer it. If you enter the prison, there is suffering in the air. No matter in which prison I conducted a program, not once have I stepped out of the place without tears in my eyes because the amount of suffering in the atmosphere is unbearable. What a human being suffers most is not lack of comfort, wealth, and other things – it is lack of freedom.
Prison life is far simpler than going to work, getting stuck in the traffic, and all these situations that you face on a daily basis. As a prisoner, you are a state guest. If you are looking for a thoroughly organized life without surprises, this is it. If every little thing that happens causes you stress and tension and throws you off balance, prison life is perfect. Everything is in order, no surprises. Even the menu for the next seven days is displayed and will be strictly followed – they will serve nothing more, nothing less. Everything is according to plan. Those who are looking for an orderly, uneventful life, prison is the best place. But human beings suffer immensely when there is no freedom. Habit means you have created a little prison for yourself, which you will eventually suffer. Initially, it looks like efficiency. After some time, it is imprisonment. A prison is in many ways an epitome of efficiency. But efficiency is not what this life is striving for. This life is striving for the freedom to expand. When this is taken away, one’s face will become long and joyless in spite of a perfectly organized life.
This reminds me of a conversation with a very well-known management expert from the US, who propounded his management principles that were based on rigid processes. Everything was fixed down to the last detail in order to increase efficiency. It looked like a prison cell to me. To give you another example – there are manicured gardens, which look perfect. And there are forests, which look like chaos. But if you don’t manage the manicured garden for one month, it will be ruined. Forests have been managing themselves for millions of years. Obviously, forests are far better organized and far more efficient. To take this example further, enlightenment means you transform from a manicured garden into a forest that sustains itself without any outside support. No one needs to water it, manure it, or trim it. Everything happens within itself. It will sustain itself because there is efficiency of chaos.
We call something chaos because it doesn’t fit into our logical framework – that doesn’t mean that it is inefficient. Habit means you have become a slave of your own logic, and after some time, it becomes an automatic, unconscious pattern. To get rid of habits, you have to become conscious. If you become more conscious, there will be no such thing as habits. You will do what is right for you and the situation around you in this particular moment. Intention does not bring transformation – only consciousness does.
Editor’s Note: Isha Hatha Yoga programs are an extensive exploration of classical hatha yoga, which revive various dimensions of this ancient science that are largely absent in the world today. These programs offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore Upa-yoga, Angamardana, Surya Kriya, Surya Shakti, Yogasanas and Bhuta Shuddhi, among other potent yogic practices.