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Dear Gramps,

I have a habit that I cannot get rid of! I’ve tried everything I could think of, even everything the bishop can think of, and I still don’t seem cured! Most of them work at least for a few days then I start feeling like I’m cured & that’s when I start the habit again! I’ve prayed long & hard about this, to no avail! Is there anything you can tell me or should I just give up trying to break it?

Anon. from Nevada

Dear Anon.

If you really have the desire to break a habit, you must never, never give up!! As a matter of fact, I think that that may be part of your problem. You made the statement, “then I start feeling like I’m cured & that’s when I start the habit again.” Sounds to me like once you think that you’re about on top of things you feel that you don’t have to try anymore. As you have proven to yourself, that doesn’t work! Some ingrained habits take a long time to overcome, and the temptations that lead to undesirable practices and habits are normally ever present.

Let’s spend a minute trying to analyze a habit. Habits are the result of repeated actions; and the habit may become so ingrained that it is performed subconsciously, like buttoning a shirt, for example. Although you have probably buttoned a shirt thousands of time, you most likely don’t even know how many buttons there are on a shirt-haven’t been thinking about what you’re doing. Every action starts in the mind-either in the conscious mind or in the subconscious mind. One of the problems in overcoming an undesirable habit is that we tend to leave it in the mind and concentrate only on controlling the action-it never works! To control a habit you must control your thoughts. The thought pattern leading to an undesirable action is much easier to stop at the very beginning of the thought pattern than it is at the brink of action. In every case there is a point in the thought process where one loses control, and though regretting what will inevitably happen, commits the act. Let me illustrate-

The engineer of a freight train traveling at a certain speed must apply the brakes at a given point in order to stop within a given distance. Let’s say that the train is approaching the end of the tracks in Boston. Depending on the length of the train, the loading of the cars, the friction between the wheels and track, and the speed of the train the engineer must apply the brakes at a given point, otherwise the train will run into the barrier at the end of the track. Let’s say that the engineer’s attention is diverted and he drives past the critical point without applying the brakes. He still is a long way from the end of the track, but no matter how hard he presses on the brake, or how he wrings his hands, or how much he wishes that he was paying attention, the train will crash! That is an exact analogy to process necessary to prevent a sinful act. We simply cannot afford the luxury of vicariously living a sinful act in the mind if we are to control the action. The minute an unclean thought comes into our mind, it must be attacked without delay. Battles are won in the headquarters of the general, not on the field of contest. Battles with sinful actions are won in the headquarters of the mind not on the field of contest.

There are many techniques used to control our thoughts. You cannot eliminate a bad thought by trying not to think of it. It can only be eliminated by replacement. It is well to have some powerful positive and uplifting thoughts on hand to be used specifically for the purpose of pushing off-stage the undesirable unclean thought. As one example, the minute an unclean thought comes into your mind you might try repeating and reflecting on the meaning of the following statement of the Savior-

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not (D&C 6:36)


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