When we resolve, “I will not do this,” the mind erases the “not”
We all have certain unhealthy habits that we resolve to give up. Yet, we frequently find ourselves relapsing.
Why does this happen? Because negative resolutions are prone to be erased by the mind. The mind is like a naughty child who sneakily erases the “not” from a resolution board that reads, “I will not do this.”
For example, when an abstaining alcoholic thinks of alcohol, even if it be to remember the consequences of drinking, their mind subtly shifts their focus from the consequence to the pleasure. And as they remember the pleasure, they feel an increasing sense of deprivation that weakens their resolution till they relapse.
In general, contemplation on any object, even for renouncing it, can unintentionally undermine our resolution for renunciation. That’s why we need a positive object for contemplation and positive purpose for action to fulfill whatever need that unhealthy indulgence fulfilled.
Stressing the inadequacy of abstinence-centered resolutions, the Bhagavad-gita (02.60) states that even those who are discerning and determined are felled by the formidable senses. Pointing to the solution, the next verse (02.61) recommends using whatever sense control we have to focus on the supreme reservoir of pleasure, Krishna. Thus relishing a higher happiness, we become free from the resolution-eroding sense of deprivation.
Undoubtedly, we need to abstain from unhealthy indulgences, but our focus needs to be on the positive purpose furthered by such abstinence, not on the abstinence itself. When we focus on that purpose, which centers on connecting with Krishna through loving service, we get the energy to persevere in actions that establish that connection. As that connection with Krishna gradually provides spiritual satisfaction and purification, our inspiration to connect wholeheartedly with him strengthens. With the resulting absorption, the resolution to abstain from the negative becomes fulfilled as a byproduct.