"A man's evil inclination threatens every day to overpower him" (Talmud, Sukkah 52b).

Chassidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pershischa would tell his disciples that a truly spiritual person feels as if he is lying in a guillotine with the evil inclination about to lop his head off at any minute. A follower once asked, "And if a person does not feel this way?" The rabbi answered, "Then his head has already been chopped off."

Our judgments and fearful imaginings can plunge us into a whirlpool of depressionMany people associate "evil inclination" with only obvious sins, like cheating, lying, stealing, killing or addictive behaviors. In truth, the realm of the mind is a far more subtle area to entrap. Our negative self-evaluations and criticism of others can be just as destructive, wreaking havoc on our relationships and blocking our ability to experience love, joy and faith. Our judgments and fearful imaginings can plunge us into a whirlpool of depression, anxiety and resentment. Take the most common depressive thoughts:

  • I am not loveable, as I am fundamentally defective and damaged.
  • I will inevitably be abandoned, hurt and betrayed by those I love, or I'll abandon, hurt and betray the people I want to feel close to.
  • I will always feel broken and hopeless, so it's no use even trying to change.
  • All my efforts to be loving, healthy, happy and productive will end in failure.
  • I don't matter. I'm worthless. I have nothing to offer.
  • There is no G‑d. Even if there is, He couldn't possible care about me.
  • The world would be better off if I were dead. I'm just a burden on people.
  • Life is meaningless, unjust and senselessly tragic and painful.
  • Happy people are superficial, stupid and out of touch with reality.

Now, let's consider the ten most anxiety-producing thoughts:

  • I can't handle life; all the annoyances, irritations, frustrations and disappointments keep me in a constant state of anxiety.
  • I must be perfect, or at least act perfect to the outside world. If people would find out what a nutcase I am, I'd be rejected and ridiculed. I must never let anyone know that I have faults or limitations.
  • I must be an outstanding success. If not, I am a nothing. All mistakes, even the most minor, are indications of the fact that I am a failure. And since I cannot avoid mistakes, I must be anxious at all times.
  • What people think of me is extremely important. People who are critical of me see the real me. I must worry about what others are thinking of me.
  • It is my task to make everyone happy and make everyone like me.
  • I must worry about the future to prevent the things I worry about from happening, and must tell others how much I worry about them to keep them safe.
  • I must feel ashamed to have faults, doubts and negative feelings.
  • I am the only one suffering from crazy thoughts and negative feelings; even if others suffer, no one else suffers as much as I do.
  • It's dangerous to relax and be happy; if I do, something terrible will happen.
  • People are always hurting me deliberately, and with malice.

You don't even realize that you are speaking a language that harms youIf are habituated to any of these toxic thoughts, you have become convinced, with 100% certainty, that that they are true and reflect objective reality. You don't even realize that you are speaking a language that harms you and those around you as surely as cigarettes harm smokers and everyone in their vicinity. You adopted this language early in life, before you had a choice, from your parents, peers, teachers or siblings. And you keep repeating these beliefs throughout the day, reinforcing them constantly. You don't even realize that your spirit has been imprisoned, like "those who sit in darkness, shackled in affliction and iron" (Tehillim 106:10).

The more ingrained these toxic messages are, the more effort is needed to overcome them. Where to start?

The first step is to challenge your thinking. When a thought arises in your mind, get used to asking, "Is this thought helpful to me? Will it help me reach my goals? Will it help me become a more loving and productive person?" If the answer is "no," discard it from your mind. Then do it over and over again – for a lifetime! I suggest you keep a list of HRB's – Healthy Replacement Beliefs – such as:

  • "Despite my negative patterns, I am as worthy as any person on the face of this earth. I deserve love, joy and respect."
  • "Even if I'd like to be more like _____ (name the person), I can love and respect myself as I am, for I am precisely who G‑d wants me to be at this moment."
  • "Despite my childish tendency to over-value others' opinions, I can learn to take limited human opinions with a grain of salt."
  • "Even if I feel scared of the future, I trust that G‑d is always with me and will help me discover new coping skills."
  • "Even if I feel overwhelmed and down, I can make small decisions that prove my ability to take charge of my mental and physical health."
  • "Even though I've had many disappointments, I can bear the discomforts of life with faith, humility, compassion and patience."
  • "Even if I feel cheated and am not getting all I deserve from G‑d and people, I choose to know that G‑d gives me everything I need."
  • "Even if I sometimes feel overwhelmed and down, I can focus on constructive thoughts and actions."

Just as we don't wear the same clothes we wore at age five, we must not hold onto the same thoughts we had back then. As we replace toxic beliefs with HRB's, we gain serenity, stability and self-worth. Easy does it.