A common query I receive revolves around people’s inability to carry out their resolve, their vow, to work right to the end, till their goal is accomplished. They are motivated, they have wisdom, resources, and capability, yet they let distractions overpower them. 

Understanding Distractions

Such distractions cause a tide of emotions to rise, a tsunami of desires, shaking their resolve, and crushing their strength to stay the course, to stay firm. Yogic and Vedic texts talk a great deal about vikshiptata, distractions, and how they are great obstacles. They can make all the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure. You may want to read – The Practice of Resolve. Let me help you understand distractions and ways to overcome them. They are of two types as follows:

1. External distractions triggering inner reactions

Let us assume, you committed to being a vegetarian and giving up alcohol. Everything is going fine until you are invited to that get-together you can not afford to skip. Platters of your once-favorite non-vegetarian dishes as well as vintage wine adorn the dining table. You feel tempted. Further, the folks around you force you to have some. You are given all sorts of reasoning and arguments to partake of what is at hand and not worry about your vow. Under social pressure and your own latent desire, you give in to temptation.

In this case, an external environment, the sight of delicious food, triggered a whole heap of thoughts that weakened your resolve. Up until you arrived at this party, you were at ease, but now, suddenly your inner world is in turmoil and you let your heart rule your mind. In every likelihood, a sense of guilt will drape you soon after the party. Guilt weakens one’s consciousness.

There are two ways to emerge a winner while battling against external distractions:

a. Remove yourself physically

A conducive environment helps a great deal in executing any plan. In the present example, avoid going to such places, parties, where it is but natural that you will be offered everything contrary to what’s good for you. After all, the chances of emerging spotless from working in a coal mine are but remote. Unless of course, you exercise great caution and extraordinary care.  If changing your physical environment is not possible sometimes, follow step b, as below:

b. Make yourself clear

Granted, some people may think you are arrogant, that you no longer care, or that you have changed, and so forth. Let them. Trust me, let them. If they really love you, they will not think any of these things and if they do not, does it matter anyway what they think?

Ultimately, it is you alone who will be bearing the consequences, paying for your choices, at that time, no one else will be able to help you. So, stand by what you stand for. This always worked for me; before I renounced, for years I attended events of all sorts but never even once did I compromise my own principles. People around me understood and accepted it.

2. Inner thoughts triggering external actions

Distractions of this type can be equally hard to manage. For example, let us say, you recently quit smoking. Day-in-day-out, you were living up to your own expectations and you did not smoke for ten days. One day, out of the blue, you happen to recollect the image of a cigarette, you try hard to not think of smoking but the cigarette keeps coming back to your mind. You experience restlessness and the compulsion to smoke. The thought of smoking overpowers you to the degree that you get up and buy yourself a pack. There are two ways to overcome a distraction of this type:

a. Take your mind off it

Do not think about not doing the prohibited, instead just take a deep breath and focus your mind elsewhere. You cannot overcome thoughts of non-action by thinking about not acting on them. You must simply, gently, shift the spotlight of your thoughts. Change the scenery, get up, move around, win over a distraction with another one, a better one, if necessary. Do whatever it takes but do not give in to the temptation.

b. Exercise patience (postpone)

This method is more powerful than you might think. Just give your mind some bait, tell your mind that you will revisit the idea after an hour or two hours or something like that. Just let the storm of distraction pass, let your thoughts settle, let your mind calm down. If you can rein in the horses while distraction comes attacking, you will remain focused and win the battle. You will emerge a winner; a stronger and more confident person.

Now, regardless of the nature of the distraction, let me share with you the two most potent questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision, always. Yes, always.

1. Is this my best move?

A chess grandmaster unfailingly asks one question before making each move in chess, and that is, is this my best move? That often prompts the player to think more, think better, think out of the box, and come up with extraordinary moves. Before you give in to temptation, just before you decide to do something, a moment before taking action, ask yourself: is this my best move, or, can I play better? If you are honest with yourself, you will find it easy to dissipate your distractions with minimal effort.

2. What is the most that will happen?

Remember, in the case of self-doubt, the best question was, what is the worst that can happen? Well, in removing distractions, you have to ask exactly the opposite. Let us say you are distracted and really want to drink alcohol, ask yourself, what’s the most that will happen? An ephemeral pleasure of a few hours, if that? Is that it? Is that enough to justify you compromising your resolve? And if so, is that your best move?!

Do you know who your greatest friend is, the one who can always stand by you and help you make the right decisions and make sure you tread the noble path? You. And your worst enemy? You.

Ātmaiva hyātmanō bandhurātmaiva ripurātmanaḥ… (Bhagavad Gita, 6.5)
You alone are your best friend and your own worst enemy.

A slave, however well paid, however well kept, remains a slave.

Go on! conquer yourself and be the king of your own empire, a master of your own mind, a captain of your own ship, and live on your own terms. Discover yourself, your own truth.

Peace.
Swami