How to Stick with Your Virtues and Good Purposes

How to Stick with Your Virtues and Good Purposes

1. Motivating reflections

  • Reflect on the benefits to yourself of living from a virtue or purpose; do things to keep those benefits in mind (e.g., post a list of reasons on a bathroom mirror or the fridge).
  • Reflect on the benefits to others of living from a virtue or purpose; really try to have positive feelings about those benefits, not just a passing thought.
  • Consider the costs to yourself and to others of not living from virtue or purpose.
  • Allow yourself to feel appropriate remorse for not living from a virtue or purpose.


2. Commit yourself

  • Privately “take precepts,” give yourself admonitions, or make a vow to yourself or to God.
  • Declare yourself publicly and commit yourself to others. For instance, make a solemn promise to a significant person that you will stick with a commitment (e.g., routine exercise, no junky sweets, less alcohol, daily meditation) unless you specifically tell him or her that you have changed that commitment.
  • Get a little angry at the tendencies, addictions, sloth, etc. that arise in the mind to divert you from your virtue or purpose.
  • Write a letter to yourself to be read if you start to fade in your commitment.
  • If it works for you, imagine a friend, teacher, group of people, body of teaching (e.g., the Bible, Buddhadharma), or perhaps spirit or God, who stand for virtues or purposes you want to live by, and basically, do what they tell you to do.
  • In general, surrender to your highest virtues and purposes. Give yourself over to them and let them run your life. In a deep sense, real will is surrender to a higher purpose.


3. Setting virtue and purpose before the mind

  • Do things that remind you of your highest intentions. For example, in the morning, write out some key purposes for yourself for the day. At the end of the day, write in a journal, perhaps in a structured format (e.g., How did I live by my highest purposes today? How did I not? What do I want to focus on tomorrow?). Post intentions, admonitions, inspiring quotes from others, motivating pictures or collages, etc. where you will see them regularly. Name your highest commitments to yourself just before sleep and upon waking.
  • Notice the benefits of your virtues and purposes; really soak in the experience of those benefits so that you will naturally be attracted in that direction in the future.
  • In general, surrender to your highest virtues and purposes; give yourself over to them; give up, and let them run your life.
  • If it works for you, imagine a friend, teacher, group of people, body of teaching (e.g., the Bible, Buddhadharma), or perhaps spirit or God, who stand for virtues or purposes you want to live by, and basically, do what they tell you to do.


4. Making it easy for yourself

  • Seek “good company.” This includes: friends who support you; an exercise buddy; mentors/ teachers who inspire you; communities of like-minded people; routine involvement in a church, synagogue, runner’s group, meditation class, etc.
  • Prime the pump: do things that put yourself in a place where it is easier, or you are more inclined, to do the right thing (e.g., go to bed sooner, meditate or read inspirational/spiritual literature in the morning).
  • Create routines that embody your virtues and good purposes – like a blessing before a meal, a regular volunteer commitment on the first Saturday morning of each month, or ten minutes of yoga after coming home from work – and which are woven into the fabric of daily life so they’re easy to do, and so the people you live with expect you to do them.
  • Remove temptations (e.g., don’t bring alcohol into the house, stay out of the dessert aisle at the supermarket, put the alarm clock across the room from the bed so you have to get up to turn it off).
  • If feelings or desires come up that would divert you from a commitment – like a craving for a food or the urge to turn the alarm off and skip the gym this morning – notice them as an experience . . . and then just ignore them. You could think or say to yourself things like: “It’s just a craving, it’s just sloth or laziness . . . SO WHAT?!”
  • As a broad principle: do activities that intensify the will, like concentration practices, exercise, intense physical activity, or doing at least one thing each day that opposes a habit or tendency in yourself.
  • Take things one day at a time. Or make an agreement with yourself that you will do things a certain way for a specific amount of time, and then reevaluate.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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