All behaviour can be broken down into three elements: the thought, the word, and the action. All of our habits were once just thoughts, which then turned into words, which finally became actions. As the sage says:
“Thought precedes action, as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.”
Unsurprisingly, people who are trying to form new habits tend to begin at the level of thought. However, to change a habit that has already been formed, it is necessary to move in the opposite direction, which is to say, from action, to word, to thought. This process is a kind of reverse engineering.
How does this work in practice? First, consider the action. Here, you have almost total control. Jerking off is exactly the type of thing you can choose not to do. It is probably not the case that someone is forcing you to touch your penis so as to receive sexual pleasure, so there is no excuse for doing it. It is necessary to take full responsibility for any lapses in discipline.
Next, let’s look at the word. Here, too, you are largely in control. You can refuse to talk about sexual things, make sexual jokes, or use vulgar language, which is usually sexual in nature. Moreover, you can make an effort not to speak negatively of the journey or hate on those who are on the same journey as you. If you fall into an old habit, it is not that difficult to reign yourself in.
Finally, there is the thought, which is the final frontier. Generally speaking, your thoughts do not fall within the domain of choice. It has been said that it’s easier to control the wind than to control your thoughts. Indeed, the mind is tricky and prone to suggestion. There is no surer way to have sexual thoughts than to tell yourself not to have sexual thoughts, which is why it is almost always a mistake to try to force your mind in the same way that you forced your body and your words. But if you can get a handle on your words and actions, eventually the mind settles down and begins to align itself to your new way of life.
By contrast, trying to control your thoughts before you’ve managed to discipline your words and actions is something like trying to study calculus before you have mastered basic arithmetic: a frustrating strategy that can only result in failure.
Thought—word—and action. It really isn’t more complicated than that; it is a kind of procrastination to pretend that it is.