Everyone experiences temptation throughout their life. For some it is a constant battle with food. For others it is the precursor to an occasional indulgence. Temptation can be minor, as in the case of a illicit bite of chocolate, or it can ruin lives. So what does temptation mean? How can you deal with it?
Miriam Webster defines temptation in two ways:
- “The act of tempting or the state of being tempted especially to evil.”
- “Something tempting : a cause or occasion of enticement.”
“The temptation was too much, I had to have it.” “It looked delicious, I was very tempted…” “The temptation to leave him was strong.”
Fighting Temptation with Willpower
Feeling tempted is a state of mind which is personal to the one experiencing it. One person can look at an enticing dessert and feel nothing or even repelled, while to another it is irresistible.
This is the moment that you call on your willpower. You aren’t hungry, far from it, but the action of certain hunger hormones and chemical reactions are telling you that you really need that morsel, that tempting delight. For a moment you imagine the creamy sensation of the first bite melting in your mouth. You reach out, but then your willpower asserts itself. You turn away, feeling relieved, yet cheated out of a reward. You feel strong, but oddly depleted as if the action of resistance took a lot of energy.
That’s because it did. Willpower is a finite resource. Many of us don’t have too much of it. Research shows (Baumeister & Tierney, 2011) that we have a ‘tank’ of self-control which goes from full to empty, even by saying no to one small temptation. Thus the likelihood of saying yes to the next one is high. Later you feel bad because you couldn’t resist. You berate yourself for being weak willed and pathetic.
Willpower in the face of temptation is highly overrated.
Temptation and the Ego
The ego is said to be an enemy of the true self. Your ego has a vested interest in your failure. Your failure keeps it in control. It allows it to bully you, nag you and keep you feeling miserable.
The ego makes bad choices. It will persuade you, put pressure on you, and beguile you into having an affair, to lose your temper with your children, to put off completing that presentation. It tells you that you can get back on the diet tomorrow. It tells you that you deserve a break. It entices you by telling you no-one will get hurt if they never find out what you did.
Temptation and Resistance
We mentioned resistance a couple of times above, yet in earlier articles resistance is cited as a negative action. It’s true, resistance as in exerting willpower is negative. It’s futile. You might have the ‘resistance’ to refuse to stray off your diet but as soon as you reach target, willpower goes out of the window and the weight piles back on. Note: we’re using food and diet here as an obvious example, but temptation can apply to any unwanted desire or addiction.
Yet an important point to understand is that temptation is resistance. When you give into temptation you are resisting your good. You are resisting the opportunity to curb your eating. You are resisting the chance to become healthier, fitter, alcohol-free. You are resisting the path of becoming a better you. The ego thrives on your resistance.
How to Fight Temptation
Don’t. Turning temptation into an adversary is setting yourself up for failure. Your willpower isn’t strong enough to fight a force which you have built up to epic proportions in your mind.
Avoid the Triggers of Temptation
First steps are to avoid the triggers that put temptation in your face. Avoiding those situations from the off is far easier, and removes the opportunity for the temptation vs willpower battle that will inevitably rage within.
Don’t walk to the dessert table. Don’t drink that glass of wine if you know it will make you reach for salty, carbohydrate-heavy snacks. Better yet, don’t buy the bottle of wine in the first place. If you are unable to stop yourself reaching out for the cookie jar, don’t walk down the supermarket cookie aisle. Your kids can live without them too. And certainly don’t follow your gorgeous neighbor into the kitchen at the party.
Remember if you don’t buy it, you can’t eat or drink it. If you don’t put yourself in the position of being seduced, then you can’t be seduced. This is thwarting temptation before it can raise its nasty, ego-satisfying head.
Temptation is Weak
Adopting the idea that temptation is a weak force is helpful. Look at it dispassionately. What is it really? It’s nothing. It’s a small nagging voice which you can dismiss with a mental wave of your hand. Like Jesus during his 40 day sojourn in the desert, instead of building the enticing suggestions of Satan into an irresistible urge, he simply dismissed them. You can do that too. Say, “You are nothing. I am better than your silly attempts to derail my intentions, so go away, I have more important things to do than listen to you.”
Look Temptation in the Face
When you are unavoidably placed in a tempting situation, and you will be, look right at temptation. Look at it and see it for what it is. It’s not outside you. It’s not the prospect of neglecting your work for an hour on FaceBook. It’s not that gallon of ice-cream calling to you. It’s your puny ego voice, trying to nudge you off track. Look at it. It’s nothing. It’s pathetic and weak. You are more than it. You are a divine, love-filled being.
Avoid Rewards for Self-control
Many lifestyle advisers will recommend rewarding yourself for exercising self-control. Don’t do it. It elevates temptation, and your self-control, to a higher status. By all means buy the dress if you want it, but don’t tell yourself it’s a reward for being virtuous. It’s a dress. Clothes, you need them. You don’t need a prize for being best in class for defeating temptation.
Your choices, whether related to healthier eating, a loving relationship, a fulfilling career, attaining your degree or whatever it is that will make you happy long-term, are just that, choices in the moment. Choose well or choose to resist your path of wellness.
Your reward will come in the way you feel. You’ll feel energized, whole, and full of love for self and others. Temptation will no longer be able to spoil your day – or your life.