It’s an annual ritual at the beginning of each year. We try to give up things that aren’t serving us like coffee, booze & white carbs, or negative habits such as smoking and overspending. With immense determination, we strive to give up our bad habits once and for all. Well guess what? This year I’m telling you to ditch your resolutions. Go ahead and drink 3 cups of coffee a day, swipe that over drafted credit card and smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. Strange right? Well let’s hear me out.
Studies have shown that 25% of people give up their resolutions by the end of the first week (so right around now) and 60% of them keep the same resolution the next year.  The thing is not that you lack willpower- it’s that renunciation without purification simply cannot succeed. We need to differentiate between suppressing our desires and subsiding our desires.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with suppressing your desires. You swap coffee for tea, cigarettes for e-cigarettes, hard booze for wine, or crazier, you quit cold turkey, meditate and hope for the best. Well let just say we’re very good at suppression. We keep the burning impulse from surfacing up our consciousness by replacing it with a less intense model. In other words, we feed the Monkey Mind what looks like a banana but not a banana. Eventually we’re so tired of this counterfeit fruit that soon we binge, resent and regress.
Subsiding desires, on the other hand, is not about controlling our cravings- it’s to reach a state where cravings don’t even exist. If you don’t want chocolate, what is there to resist? For sure it’s not easy. It requires us to look within what is truly keeping us from our goals. Personally I’ve discovered 3 main reasons why my desires keep coming back:
1) Self Love. You see, desires come in all shapes and forms. Some are benevolent, but some stem from a deep lack of self-love. There were times when I didn’t love myself enough. I chose junk food over health, impulse shopping over financial freedom and unhealthy relationships over independence. My desire for temporary relief was in the long run ruining my overall health and wellbeing.
Remember the opposite of self-love is self-destruction.  If certain desire keeps rising up, take a look and see what is the underlying cause? Perhaps our need for more friends is a reflection of insecurity and we lack money because we’re scared of pursuing our dream job.
2) Purify. When I tried to give up coffee last year, I had spent more time thinking about coffee than I had consuming it. It was exhausting. Every time I made it to a week- ‘Look at me, I’m giving up caffeine!’- It was an ultimate ego trip. Finally, I was in New York studying with Sri Dharma Mittra. The training was intense and I found myself consumed in spiritual work. My mind was busy with chanting, satsang and asana, I wasn’t even aware I hadn’t had coffee for days! That’s what renouncing is about- it’s a release, not self-denial.  Purifications such as meditation, chanting, asana or reading scripture are great tools to flush the cravings out of our system. Another great guide is the 8 Limbs System or Ashtanga Yoga. This system comes from the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, it outlines the 8 sequential ways to purifying the mind and ultimately reaches Samadhi (Bliss).
3) Knowledge. As Einstein said: ‘more the knowledge, lesser the ego. Lesser the knowledge, more the ego.’ Understanding how desires work is not only powerful but also liberating. We need to acknowledge that there are good desires that elevate us and then there are bad ones, the goal is to decipher the two. Like all of our other practices, we engage in a trial and error system. We need to experiment with renunciation and then question, “Am I ready for this?” If you are then the process is painless and effortless, the desires simply fizzle out. If not, maybe keep it the way it is. The key is to bring as much consciousness to our actions without reacting to them.  Here’s an interesting experiment by Ram Dass- Pick something you usually give into everyday- like, say smoking cigarettes- and for one day, don’t do it. Then on the next day, have twice as much as you normally would. (I trust that you will choose something you won’t overdose on.) Observe your reaction and feelings toward the desire on the first day and second day. Instead of driven by desires, play with them. Again bring consciousness into your actions and eliminate reactions. Realize that with knowledge comes power- the power to liberation.
This year let’s free us from desires by living truthfully. Commit to changes that we are truly ready for and be compassionate for ones we’re not. Continue to learn living with ourselves based on love, purity and knowledge. Chances are we will ‘fail’ and that’s not the worst of it. In fact, each time we give in is an opportunity to learn more about our mind. In the end, it’s better to raise our consciousness than to give up chocolate.
 Statistics from various studies cited in Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). If at first you don’t succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677.
 Watts A. Podcast: The Spectrum of Love. Allan Watts. 2015.
 See Ram Dass, Paths to God: Living The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2004) P.136
 See Ram Dass, Paths to God: Living The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2004) P.157