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How to Overcome Distractions
Many people write to me regarding their inability to carry out their resolve, their vow, to work right to the end, until their goal is accomplished. They are motivated, they have wisdom, resources, capability, yet they let distractions overpower them. Such distractions that cause a tide of emotions to rise, a tsunami of desires, shaking their resolve and crushing their strength to stay course, to stay firm. Yogic and vedic texts talk a great deal about vikṣiptatā, distractions, and how they are great obstacles. They can make all the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.
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 was going fine until you were invited to that get together you could not afford to skip. Platters of your once favorite non-vegetarian dishes as well as vintage wine adorned the dining table. You feel tempted. Further, your 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 into the temptations.
In this case, an external environment, sighting of delicious food, triggered a whole heap of thoughts that weakened your resolve. Till you came to the party, you were at ease, but now, suddenly your inner world is in a 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 winner while battling against external distractions:
- 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, chances of emerging spotless working in coal mines are but remote. Unless of course, you exercise great caution, extraordinary care. If changing your physical environment is not possible sometimes, follow step b, as below:
- Make yourself clear. Granted, some people may think you are arrogant, or 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 on 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 upto your own expectations and you did not smoke for ten days. One day, out of the blue, you just recollect the image of a cigarette, you try hard to not think of smoking but cigarette is what 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 distraction of this type:
- Take your mind off. 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 it! 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 into the temptation.
- Exercise patience (postpone). This method is more powerful than you might think. Just give your mind a 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 the horses while distraction comes attacking, you will remain focused, winning the battle. You will emerge a winner, stronger and a more confident person.
Now, regardless of the nature of 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.
- 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 a temptation, just before you decide to do something, a moment before taking an 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.
- What is the most that will happen? One is often not attached to the distraction but the pleasure they get from the fulfillment of such deviation. In removing distractions, you have to ask yourself the golden question- “what’s the most that will happen?”. Let us say you are distracted and really want to smoke, 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 on your resolve? And if so, is that your best move!?
Do you know who is your greatest friend, 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.
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