Skillful Effort: Overcoming Negative States of Mind I

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 167-178)

As the Buddha noted, we can direct our effort in four ways:

  • Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind.
  • Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen.
  • Strive for wholesome states to arise.
  • Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen.

Overcoming Negative States of Mind

Our states of mind (thoughts) arise selflessly (uncontrolled by us).  Once a negative thought arises, we can use Right Effort to overcome it before it proliferates in the multiple negative thoughts.

Overcoming the Hindrances

The Hindrances include greed, ill-will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt

There are various steps to take:

  • If it has just arisen, just notice it as a negative thought and often it will fade away.
  • If it has already gained strength, use complete mindfulness (paying attention moment to moment to what is).
    • Pay attention to bodily sensations and all thoughts.
    • Pay attention to the impermanent nature of the thought.
    • Know that it will fade away and change over time.

Alternative methods include:

  • Ignoring it – this is hard to do unless you can know the impermanence of thoughts.
  • Diverting the mind to something else – such as thoughts or counting (below)
  • Replacing the Hindrance by its opposite (greed-generosity, ill-will-loving kindness, dullness and drowsiness-energy, restlessness and worry-patience, doubt-patience).
  • Reflecting on the nature of hindrances to have multiple causes – know that you can’t always know the cause or causes.
  • With clenched teeth, pressing the tongue against the upper palate to apply all of your energy to overcome it.

If all else fails, resort to a counting concentration mediation by counting the breaths from 1-10, then 10-1, then 1-9, then 9-1 and so on.


  • Each day, re-read this talk and reflect on it.
  • When a hindrance arises, try the methods above to overcome it.
  • What do you find?

Next: Skillful Effort: Overcoming Negative States of Mind II
: Skillful Effort: Preventing Negative States of Mind