Skillful Effort: Preventing Negative States of Mind

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 161-166)

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

  1. Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind.
  2. Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen.
  3. Strive for wholesome states to arise.
  4. Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen.

Preventing Negative States of Mind 

Mindfulness is the key to preventing negative states of mind.  To use mindfulness fully, we need to train the mind.

The training requires five practices the steps in the Eightfold Path:

  • Morality (from Skillful Speech, Skillful Action, Skillful Livelihood)
  • Mindfulness (from Skillful Mindfulness)
  • Wisdom (from Skillful Understanding)
  • Patience (from Skillful Thinking)
  • Effort (from Skillful Effort)

Putting these practices together — With morality as a base, you apply mindfulness (paying attention moment to moment to what is) as you increasingly remember to apply it.  The insights expand your wisdomPatience is required when you don’t feel you are making progress fast enough.  All of this requires effort!

Five Tips for Training the Mind

Tips for training the mind to prevent negative states from arising include:

  • Pay wise attention which means sticking to what you know right now rather than let your mind make up a story or go to the future (which generates fear) or the past (which generates remorse).
  • Don’t try to fix the small stuff as this can lead to mental proliferation.
  • Avoid associating with those who might lead you astray.  Associate with spiritual friends.  This does not mean that you should not have contact with unskillful people.  Just know that they are not your friends.
  • Learn to discern and avoid external stimuli that can lead to unwholesome mind states.  Know your temptations and stay away!
  • If you have a breakdown, practice patience and mindfulness.


  • Each day, re-read this talk and reflect on it.  Try out the practices to train the mind to prevent negative states from arising.
  • What do you note about the frequency and strength of the unskillful mind states arising?

Next: Skillful Effort: Overcoming Negative States of Mind I
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