Repentance has a bad reputation. For a long time, thinking of repentance brought up images of crazy people insisting the world was ending imminently, confessions of sins, guilt and other extremely negative ideas. Add on top of this that Christ explicitly tells his followers to call people to repentance as one of his final acts in the New Testament, and you get to add guilt for not telling people to repent to the list of negatives.
However, lately I’ve begun to think of repentance differently, all thanks to one simple idea. That idea was the realization that the importance of repentance comes not from the guilt nor even the forgiveness, but rather from it’s utility in promoting positive changes in our lives. This leads one to conclude that the main process for accomplishing repentance is to choose to make positive changes — to try to be a better person. When I changed my perspective in this way, the negativity associated with guilt was swept away, replaced by the recognition that we are always falling short of our divine potential, and can make incremental changes constantly in an effort to become better people. The awesome part about this is that whenever we are trying to do what we believe is right, and are trying to become better, His forgiveness makes it possible for us to push forward without the baggage of guilt for the past.
As I began thinking of repentance this way, I realized that although there may be occasions when a more formal confession-forgiveness type of repentance event is necessary, more often than not, what is required is an attitude of repentance — a penitent perspective. Again, though, it is important to slough the the negative connotations from those words and our attitudes. We might regret or be frustrated by our blunders and imperfections, but the key purpose of those emotions should be motivation to continue to try to be better.
The Atonement provided by our Savior makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins if we repent. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect after repenting. That means if we are constantly repenting and trying to be more perfect, even while knowing that we will never be perfect through our own efforts, that brief periods of perfection can be attainable, as the history of our mistakes is washed clean through the grace of the Atonement. Perhaps rather than aiming to be perfect, we should aim to repent faster than we sin.
The peace available through the Gospel comes from knowing that we are reconciled to God and that all will be well in the end. Learning to live habitually repentant can help us have this peace more often, regardless of the chaos swirling around us.
Repent! It’s awesome!
Our minds are always working, whether we notice or not. We are constantly making decisions, analyzing our surroundings, planning, creating, etc. Sometimes we are aware of these processes, sometimes we aren’t.
There will always be times when we are not aware of our thoughts, because the circumstances we find ourselves in require our concentration. What we do during those times depends almost entirely on the mental habits we have formed prior to those situations. These moments of habitual response are an insight into our character. If you don’t like how you respond sometimes, you can change your habits with what I am calling “thought training.”
Here are 3 principles of thought training that will help you become a better you.
- Be Aware of Your Thoughts
- Be Responsible for Your Thoughts
- Be Completely Honest with Yourself
I am a Mormon. I’ve grown up with a lot of these concepts and principles phrased in religious terminology. It’s all a part of our “eternal progression,” etc. However, these principles are universal and most people understand them already to one degree or another. My goal in pulling them together and labeling them in this way is to both make them more accessible and to provide terminology that will facilitate discussions that will help us all help each other in doing this more effectively. So, here is what I mean by “thought training.”
1 – Be Aware of Your Thoughts
The more activities and objects we have vying for our attention, the less capable we are of being aware of our own thoughts. Audio and visual stimulation, in particular, tend to be most intrusive for many people. Eliminate distractions, simplify your life, and find time for yourself. Prayer and meditation are great, but you don’t necessarily have to be doing nothing to listen to your thoughts. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Yoga and other exercise can be good times to think. Crafting, driving, waiting for the bus, etc. All of these are opportunities for you to be aware of what is going through your mind.
I have also found that breaking out of a habit for a day or even an instant sometimes forces me to be more conscious of what I am doing and more aware of my thoughts as I figure out what to do without that habit.
What works for you? #ThoughtAwareness
2 – Be Responsible for Your Thoughts
By “responsible,” I mean both accepting of consequences and intentional. Our thoughts are a reflection of who we are. That reflection may be something we hide from the world or we may constantly speak our minds. Either way, they are what we have to work with. We cannot change ourselves, our lives or our situations without changing our thoughts. The good news is that our potential for improvement here is limitless – literally. We can choose the kind of person we want to become and work toward being that person.
Changing our actions can help us change our thoughts if you want to think of people more charitably, try acting more charitable towards people, and bring your thoughts along for the ride. When you are aware of a negative thought associated with what you feel is a good action, find a more positive thought to replace it.
Another extremely helpful tool in this arena is a mantra. Find a mantra that helps you break out of bad thought habits. I often choose scriptures or concepts from scriptures as a mantra. It can be something you strongly believe, something you desire, or something you know you need to believe – as long as it is helpful to you to guide your thoughts in the direction you want them to go. Here are a few that people I know have found helpful, and some I have used myself.
- “I am a good person.”
- “I am beautiful.”
- “God loves me.”
- “I am a child of God.”
- “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” (D&C 121:45) This is the one that lead to the train of thought that prompted this post.
- etc. #MyMantra
3 – Be Completely Honest with Yourself
Thought training is not about deceiving yourself. A mantra isn’t designed to trick your brain into believing something is true that isn’t. Thought training is a process for using your agency (free will) to live intentionally and overcome the natural Darwinian human instincts. A mantra reminds us of what we have chosen to value.
We are not defined by our occupation, or our family, or our possessions, or our appearance. We are defined by the thoughts we allow to control our lives. Change these thoughts, and you change everything. You can decide who you want to be in terms of your character. This does not change your capabilities or your talents, but it can motivate you to do so. However, in order to make significant change, you need to understand the discrepancy between who you are and who you want to become. This requires regular honest introspection.
It is important to note that we have full control of who we want to be as a person, but much less control over what our role is in society. As people, we have character and values, goals and dreams, and those cannot be given or taken by external forces. Our roles in society are often a matter of circumstance and chance. Do not confuse one with the other when deciding what will make you happy. Happiness comes from contentment with who you are, not what you are and what you have. #ThisIsWhoIAm
As I said, I did not invent these principles, I’m just lumping them together and giving them a name. I expect that re-framing them in this way will be helpful to people. I’d love your help in promoting better thought habits. Please use the hashtags defined in here along with #ThoughtTraining to help us all work together.
I’m really not one to diet, but even if I were, I would not go for a cleanse or detox diet, as it is just way to extreme for me. However, the concept of the cleanse diet became useful to me recently.
Life is messy. We all make mistakes. We all have vices and weaknesses. Sometimes we just get into a little rut that is out of character with who we are regularly, or who we want to be. I got into just such a rut recently. It occurred to me that a spiritual “cleanse” – the spiritual equivalent of these diets – might be just what I needed to snap myself out of it.
The general idea of the diets are centered around cleansing all of the toxins out of your body by eating or drinking ONLY a particular food or beverage for a period of days. For my spiritual cleanse, I decided I needed to identify several things that I really wanted to do more consistently, and several things to avoid. I would do my best to stick to this plan for 7 days. Here was my list:
- Church callings
- To bed by 11pm
- Read Book of Mormon
- Aimless web-browsing
- TV (except w/ family)
- Video games (except w/ family)
My main concern was to avoid idle diversions, but I also wanted to apply that time toward things that uplifted me. I needed to pull myself out of the rut I was in and determined this was how I was going to try to make that happen.
And it totally worked. I didn’t even hit all of my goals consistently, but I hit enough of them to keep me focused on the attempt. It got me out of the rut, and helped me improve incrementally beyond that. I didn’t get as much done from the “Do” list as I would have liked, but that was a secondary purpose anyway.
This process came to me in answer to a sincere, repentant prayer. I can’t tell you if this will help you with any rut you’re struggling to get out of, but I can tell you the principles are in-line with the Gospel, and that it worked for me in this situation. Our Savior wants to help us, but we need to do the work we can do in order to metaphorically take the offered hand.
I am truly grateful for the forgiveness available through our Savior’s atonement. Because of it, my rut was only a bump on my road, and not a wrong turn, and I can keep my focus on the road ahead.