How to overcome a strong desire? Just D.E.A.L with it.
All of us, at some point in our lives, have felt as if we don’t have enough control over our minds. We think we control our desires, but really it’s our desire that controls us most of the time.
Not all desires are bad, of course. There is a desire to do good, for yourself or for others, and there is a desire to experience pleasure, which has got nothing to do with others. We are talking about the latter.
The kind of desire which creates an imbalance in our lives. The kind of desire which begins as an escape and gives us temporary gratification, but soon turns into an inescapable trap. The kind of desire which becomes an addiction for our minds and our bodies, and eat away at the things that we cherish.
Why does desire play such a strong role in our lives? Why do we desire to abuse substances, spend money we don’t have, or to dominate others?
Desire is often such a strong force that we find ourselves helpless in the face of it. Especially, the desire for power or sex. Its seduction is so compelling, that before we know it, we get dragged down a path we did not intend to. This temptation of short-term gratification is wordless, without argument, and insurmountable.
To understand how to overcome a strong desire of any kind, we first have to understand how it works.
How does Desire work?
Desire begins with an image. Advertisers know this better than anyone. Attractive women selling cars is a great example. You can ask yourself why are nerdy scientists not selling cars? They are as relevant to transportation, as are beautiful women. The reason is obvious.
Advertisers aim to plant a desire in you for the product they are selling. They connect it to the desire they bet you already have, the sexual desire. By juxtaposing both desires side by side, they aim to confuse your mind into thinking you want the car shown in the commercial. Why else did cars come to be known as “sexy”?
Though, it’s not just the advertisers. Sometimes even we search for an image to trigger a specific desire in ourselves. The image we see gets identified from a previously stored memory. Once the memory is recollected, the thoughts we had when the experience last happened, also begin to arise. These thoughts, in turn, create a physical response in our body.
But how does our body respond to mere thoughts? For example, when you have a pleasurable thought, why does your body undergo chemical changes? For example, why does our heart rate rise, or our palms sweat?
Why does our body react to what thoughts our brain is having?
Think about the above question for a minute. Can the body, ever not react to the thoughts inside the mind? Can a strong desire arise in the mind, without there being a physical urge to do something?
To answer that question the relationship between thoughts and physical sensations has to be understood.
Thinking, by itself seems unrelated to bodily sensations, yet it has a substantial effect on what the body feels.
This is so because our body heavily relies on our sense of sight, hearing and physical touch to understand its surroundings. The only way for our body to know its surroundings is through what our eyes, ears, and skin are telling our brain.
Our brain, however, sees, hears or feels not just through sense perceptions, but also through the process of thinking. For example, you can close your eyes right now and imagine standing on top of Mt. Everest, even though you are not actually there. Your physical eye sees nothing, but your mind’s eye can see mountains, clouds, open skies, and the deep snow-covered valleys.
If you were to look down from Mt. Everest, you’d find that your palms begin to sweat.
The body has evolved not by challenging the brain, but by obeying it.
We survived harsh droughts, winters and deadly predators only by unquestionably trusting whatever our brains were thinking. This tendency has allowed humans to become the most dominant species on the planet. We are consciously as well as sub-consciously seeking opportunities and neutralizing threats in our environment.
This has gone on for 3.5 billion years. It’s not going to stop now! Our very existence has depended on it.
In short, we are programmed to act as if whatever we are seeing, hearing or feeling, whether imaginary or real, is actually happening and that we should act on it, otherwise risk death or starvation.
In short, our body reacts to our brain, because it has absolutely no choice in the matter.
If so, then the question becomes, how exactly can you not act upon desire? How can you overcome any desire, if your mind is built to, or designed to act upon it without questioning?
How to overcome a strong desire?
First, let’s look at how desire works.
- You seeing an Image. (In your mind, or in the real world)
- You recollect it from memory.
- You remember the past experience associated with that memory.
- You have a physical reaction in your body. Eg, increase in heart rate, shortening of breath, excitement etc.
- You decide to act upon those feelings.
- You take the action. Eg. You click on the “buy” button, or open that “forbidden” website.
- You store this experience in your brain, such that it can be easily recalled again.
All the above stages of desire are often over within a blink of an eye, making it seem as if it was one leap, from 1 to 6. The key lies in understanding that this is not a single step process.
The faster your desire turns into action, the more powerless you are in its wake.
Remember that any desire sustains itself, on these four things.
- Lack of a Deterrent
- The triggers in your Environment.
- Lack of intense Self-Awareness
- and lastly….because you fight it.
So how to overcome a strong desire?
Just D.E.A.L with it
- Creating powerful Deterrents: When I was getting over my desire to eat sweets and sugar, I threw away all sugar and chocolates from my house and made it a point to never buy them again. I never picked up anything sweet from a shop again for the next 6 months, until I was totally free of the desire to eat sweet foods.
It’s an easy battle to win because you only need a temporary burst of will-power to put a deterrent in place. Then you can watch it go to work. Often desires and habits circulate around a particular substance, a time of day, or a place, or a specific action. What I mean is, if you excessively use the computer or the internet, various desires which arise out of the internet will always strongly influence you. A deterrent then is keeping your computer or your cell phone away from you once you go home from work. Or, if you don’t need it, turn off your wireless modem in the house. This means, for a few hours, you cannot access the internet, even if you try to. This deters the desire from arising, and even if it does, it creates more time between Step 1 and 6, as mentioned before.
A deterrent ensures that you don’t have easy access to the things which help sustain a specific desire.
Examples of deterrents include, but are not limited to, switching off your cellphones at certain times of the day, going for walks without your gadgets, throwing away all the fatty foods or sugary foods from your house, giving away your iPads, deleting your online social media accounts or even asking your family to engage, or not engage in certain behaviors to help you get over your desires. For example, ask your mother to not cook that favorite but unhealthy meal of yours for the next 6 months!
- Changing your Environment: Go on a retreat, take a vacation, and get away from your normal predictable routine. Live with your best friend or parents for a few days, or invite them over to stay with you for a few weeks.
Desires and addictive behaviors thrive on your loneliness.
Changing your environment, and spending more time with your loved ones is possibly the most important and powerful thing you can do to break old habits or form new ones.
This is why addiction retreats and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are so effective and popular. They change the environment in which you live and help to curb your cravings and urges even before they arise.
- Developing your Self Awareness: As I have said multiple times before, nothing works without a strong sense of self-awareness. Unless you begin observing your mind as a habit you will not know what is transpiring inside it. Observing not just the conscious, but also the subconscious mind is necessary.
Your subconscious mind is where your desires gestate.
Once you begin to observe the mind, you begin to see certain patterns and tendencies you have. For example, you may realize that when you get really tired and bored, you are more prone to certain desires than when you are energized and thinking.
You may notice that reading a book gives you a certain clarity which keeps unnecessary desires at bay. You may notice even that the food you eat may cause you to become lethargic and hence become bored, which leads to other desires. You may realize that playing a musical instrument keeps you happy, while binge-watching on Netflix makes you feel dull and spent.
A strong self-awareness greatly helps you from not taking hasty and incorrect actions when faced with a particularly strong desire.
- By Letting go of the need to suppress desire: The surest way to make a desire stronger is by fighting it.
Remember, you cannot fight your desires. If you fight them, they become stronger, because of the concept of mirroring. Basically, if you want to get rid of something, you first have to specify it in your brain. The very act of specifying it, reinforces the already existing thought about that thing, defeating the entire purpose. This is why the more you try not to think of someone or something, the more those thoughts solidify in your mind.
Anything you force out of your mind is bound to become stronger, but anything you allow to be, becomes powerless after a while. If you neither suppress not encourage it, it leaves as easily as it came. Desires then feel like waves hitting the beach. They come at regular intervals, but don’t really do much. In fact, they can be quite peaceful to watch….you just need to know how.
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