I recently read James Allen’s 1903 book Out From The Heart and, as with many of Allen’s books (his most famous being As A Man Thinketh), it gave me much food for thought. In it, the philosophical writer addresses 7 basic yet powerful disciplines to follow in order to live the ‘higher life’.
In this blog post, I share with you Allen’s advice on mastering these often neglected disciplines.
He shows us how our mental processes and habits are common barriers to our personal development and success. While many of us try to skip ahead to master more complex practices, Allen argues that without overcoming some basic ingrained mental habits, which contribute to unproductive behaviour and unhappy work and personal lives, we will not be able to find strength of mind and character, live in line with our purpose, and fulfil our true potential.
Here is a summary of James Allen’s 7 basic ‘vices’, which many of us still struggle with 100 years after the publication of his book, along with his advice on how we can discipline ourselves in order to overcome them:
Disciplines Of The Body
Although the following two vices are manifested in the body and behaviour, they are actually in the mind – a result of built-in mental habits:
1. Indolence (or idleness)
This is the first and (according to Allen) easiest step. Without overcoming indolence, we will not be able to overcome the next 6 steps. Indolence includes giving the body more sleep and rest than it requires, procrastinating, and neglecting to do the things which require our attention in the appropriate moment.
Ways to overcome indolence:
- Create the habit of waking up early
- Only give your body the amount of sleep it requires for complete recuperation
- Complete each task promptly and vigorously as and when it comes along
- Never take food or drink to bed.
- Never lie in bed (in ‘ease and reveries’) once you have woken up.
2. Self-indulgence (or gluttony)
If we eat, or consume anything in any form, for the sake of mere ‘animal gratification’ without considering the true purpose of that consumption, if we eat/consume more than we require, or if we are always craving (and satisfying our craving) for sweet, rich, or unhealthy dishes, we are guilty of at least a little self-indulgence. This step of course applies to our food diet, but also more and more to our modern consumer habits for the possession of material things.
To overcome this, and bring an ungoverned appetite under control, we must discipline ourselves to:
- Reduce the quantity of food eaten and the number of meals per day (reduce the quantity of material goods we buy and the quantity of shopping trips we go on!)
- Eat at regular set times for meals and avoid eating at other times (go shopping only when we need something)
- Avoid eating after 7pm as it leads to heavy sleep and ‘cloudiness of mind’
- Eat a simple and ‘uninvolved’ diet (lead a simple and modest life with minimal material possessions)
We will have accomplished these first two disciplines when we learn to control and firmly guide our bodies; when we promptly do the tasks that need to be done instead of putting them off for later; when we enjoy rising early in the morning; when we practice frugality, temperance, and abstinence; when we become content with what is put before us; and when we stop craving food and material goods to satisfy short-term superficial desires.
Disciplines Of Speech
What comes out of our mouths is first created in our minds. Allen advises that if we can break habits of negative thoughts about ourselves and others, such as the 5 listed below, we will be able to clear our minds and make way for more useful and purposeful thoughts and behaviour.
3. Slander (defamation)
Slander includes inventing or repeating evil things about others, exposing or magnifying the faults of others, and introducing unworthy insinuations. When we engage in slander, we entertain thoughtlessness, cruelty, insincerity, and untruthfulness. If we want to live a healthy and happy life, we must refrain from disparaging and condemning the absent friend and from saying of another something we wouldn’t say to him. It’s important to recognise and check these cruel words of slander before they leave our mouths and then with time work on eliminating the thoughts which gave rise to them.
“We must refrain from saying of another something we wouldn’t say to him.”
4. Gossip and Idle conversation
We’re all guilty of being led down this path every now and then. We might indulge in discussing the private lives of others, talking merely to pass the time, or engaging in aimless or irrelevant conversation perhaps to fill an uncomfortable silence. As James Allen says, ‘such an ungoverned condition of speech is the outcome of an ill-regulated mind’.
To achieve a strong healthy mind and lead a virtuous life, Allen recommends we learn how to restrain our tongue, make our speech strong and pure, and either talk with purpose or remain silent.
5. Abusive and unkind speech
We must overcome this step if we are to have peace of mind and find the right way in our lives. All outwardly projected negativity towards others stems from within us and therefore prevents us from living a fulfilled and content life. We must only speak words that are useful, necessary, pure, and true.
6. Levity, or irreverent speech
When we repeat course jokes or tell vulgar stories with the sole purpose of gaining an empty laugh, when we speak of others in a contemptuous or irreverent way, or when modesty, gravity, and dignity are eliminated from speech, we have already lost our way. To have a healthy and happy mind, and be fortunate enough to be surrounded by likeminded people, we must be careful that what we do or say does not sacrifice our dignity for the passing excitement of momentary laughs or admiration.
7. Captiousness or fault-finding speech
This vice involves magnifying and harping on small or apparent faults of others, foolish bickering and hair-splitting, and pursuing vain arguments based on groundless suppositions, beliefs, and opinions. Rather than always being on the watch to catch the words of others in order to contradict and controvert them, we should be ever on the watch to check our own words in order to soften and purify them. This will conserve our energy and maintain our composure of mind.
“Rather than always being on the watch to catch the words of others in order to contradict and controvert them, we should be ever on the watch to check our own words in order to soften and purify them.”
According to Allen, we will have accomplished these 5 disciplines when our speech is well controlled and wisely subdued; when selfish impulses and unworthy thoughts no longer ‘rush to our tongues’; when our communication has become harmless, pure, gentle, gracious, and purposeful; and all words are uttered in sincerity and truth.
Once we see these behaviours for what they are and understand the damage to ourselves as well as others, we will stimulate our mind and create new thought patterns, which, with practice, will lead to a change in our behaviour. Only then can we start focusing on developing our ‘higher’ virtues in order to become truly happy and successful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Francis is our content writer and a facilitator at Growing Organisations.
For more information about personal and professional development or to discuss your business goals, contact the Growing Organisations office.