An effective way of moving from the slavery of vice to the freedom of virtue comes from recent psychology. Your brain consists of both a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. As referred to in previous posts, there are two selves within your subconscious mind: the higher self and the lower self.
The higher self is guided by love and reason and the lower self is motivated by desire for pleasure, power, etc. Because of our fallen nature we incline towards the lower self. However, if through the regular practice of virtue one builds up the higher self, then in times of temptation one will feel an aversion towards sin instead of an inclination to it. This will help us increase in moral efficacy, the ability to succeed in specific moral situations and achieve our moral goals.
Recent psychology offers some helpful techniques on reinforcing the higher self towards virtue. Lou Tice, founder of the Pacific Institute, popularized studies on self-efficacy written by Stanford psychologist, Dr. Albert Bandura. These studies show how one can direct the subconscious towards self-efficacy, which Bandura defines as “one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.” This post will offer some practical methods to apply Bandura’s methods to the realm of morality.
The first step to reinforcing the higher self in moral good is visualization, which Tice describes saying, “You will never accomplish all that you dream, but you will seldom accomplish anything that you don’t envision first. So, think in terms of ideals; compare your ideals with your current reality; establish what you want; find models of what you want to become; and visualize yourself achieving your desired end result.”
To put this into practice, think of the sin that is your Achilles heel and envision yourself embodying the opposite virtue. If you struggle with gluttony, then envision yourself as a temperate person. Finding a role model of the particular virtue you chose to work on is extremely helpful as you will have someone to envision yourself as and to imitate. Jesus Christ is, of course, the perfect role model of virtue, but you can also look to the lives of the Saints, or to a person in your life that exemplifies that virtue. Here is a list of the deadly sins and their counteracting virtues for reference.
|Deadly Sin||Counteracting Virtue|
|Gluttony||Temperance (natural virtue)|
|Greed||Generosity—sub-virtues--contributive and transcendental identity as well as gratitude|
|Lust||Chastity – sub-virtues--covenant romantic love, respect for others, plus temperance|
|Sloth||Zeal – sub-virtues--contributive and transcendental identity plus fortitude (natural virtue)|
|Vanity||Modesty –sub-virtues-- contributive and transcendental identity and respect/humility|
|Anger||Forgiveness and/or Patience – sub-virtues--gentle-heartedness, respect, and compassion.|
|Envy||Gratitude—sub-virtues-- contributive and transcendental identity respect for others and humble- heartedness|
|Pride||Humility – sub-virtues--contributive and transcendental identity, respect for others and compassion|
Once you have identified what virtue you most need to practice and an example(s) of that virtue, the next step is affirmation. According to Lou Tice:
“Affirmation means the exercise of faith and belief in your inherent potential, imagined ideal, desired result, and set goal. You affirm them as if they were presently realized in your life. Affirmation applies to every step: You apply positive, proactive thinking to create vision, shift attitudes, see options, seize opportunities, expand comfort zones, and build teams and organizations.”
If you say to yourself over and over again that you cannot perform a task, then most likely you will fail at that particular task. However, if like the trained athlete you enable the concept of mind over matter, then you will be astonished at what you capable of achieving. Thus, in order to affirm what you have visualized, place your chosen virtue in a positive affirmative sentence and repeat it to yourself. If you are working on chastity, for instance, then you should come up with a list of positive affirmative sentences about chastity. For example:
“I am chaste to respect the dignity of others.”
“I am chaste in imitation of ______________.”
“I am chaste to respect myself as a child of God.”
“I am chaste to please the Lord I love.”
“I am chaste to respect my spouse.”
“I am chaste to respect my children/parents/etc..”
“I am chaste to be in the company of the saints.”
“I am chaste because it is the right thing to do.”
These affirmations must be said two times a day and in times of temptation. The objective of this exercise is not only to reinforce the virtue in the subconscious mind, but also to associate the virtue with a positive emotion which frequently comes from a noble cause, a sense of integrity, admiration for a role model, and love of Christ.
In conclusion, reinforce the subconscious towards virtue and see how far you can go. So that the next time you are tired or stressed and your resolve toward virtue is weak, the decision to choose the good will be ingrained in you. It is much easier to do right if you silence the devil on our shoulder and enable the angel on the opposite shoulder to fulfill its purpose in guiding you towards righteousness.
For more helpful tips and tricks on writing positive affirmations, read Fr. Spitzer’s article, Moral Conversion and Resisting Temptation.