How Do You Resist Irresistible Temptations?
There are some temptations that can make you feel like you have no willpower at all. I mean seriously—no willpower, none whatsoever. Like this morning, you set a goal to lose weight, fix your eating habits, and stay of that sweet, white drug that makes donuts so yummy tasting . . . but by this evening you’ve already finished off a row of Oreos. (Dang you Nabisco!! Why do you tempt me with your deliciousness?)
Of course, you justified your indulgence by saying that a row of Oreos is really just one serving and you’re having milk with those Oreos which is good for you. Right?
However, if you are anything like me, after you finish that row of Oreos you feel sick, awful, and disappointed in yourself. You go into full shame spiral mode. It’s a mix of self-loathing and sorrow. You feel so low that you might as well finish off another row. You keep spiraling in your own bad behaviors and shame.
At some point, the shame spiral spits you out and you say to yourself, “This is my last one! I’ll never do this again!” You fill yourself up with hope and determination. You commit to yourself that tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow you will be stronger and finally resist those temptations!
And then tomorrow comes and you find yourself eating that last row of Oreos.
Sometimes, our temptations seem so big, so insurmountable. They seem like giants.
We All Have Temptations That Seem Irresistible
Does this sound like you? If it does, you are in good company. I’m there. Okay, I know I’m only just average company, but lots and lots of amazing people that struggle resisting temptations. In fact, many people you know have the exact same issue—and feelings.
I just want you to know that you not alone in giving into temptation. And you also don’t have to be alone in overcoming and dealing with your problem.
Now, your vice might not be food. Maybe you are trying to overcome procrastination. You want so bad to be productive and do what needs to be done, but you put those things off to watch “one more” episode of The Walking Dead. Or, just “five minutes more” of scrolling through Facebook, which always turns into one more season and five more hours.
The list of things that people struggle to change is endless: negativity, complaining, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, unbridled tempers, lack of patience, not showing enough love, messiness, and on and on.
We all have temptations that we struggle to overcome; sometimes those challenges do seem to be stronger than our willpower. No matter how much we want to overcome the issue, sometimes they just seem unstoppable.
They are our personal Goliaths. They are giants that loom over us, taunt us, and appear to be unbeatable.
That is until we become like David and slay our Goliaths.
How did David slay Goliath? He didn’t attack Goliath straight on; he didn’t try to outmuscle Goliath. He recognized Goliath had an advantage over him in size, sheer strength, and warrior experience.
So, he stepped back and fought Goliath from a distance. He didn’t get too close to Goliath, he stayed well away. Then he used his sling to hurl stones at Goliath, hitting Goliath in the head and slaying him.
We need to use this exact same strategy to overcome our bad habits.
3 Strategies for Slaying Giant Temptations
First, we need to cease trying to attack them straight on.
Stop trying to overcome temptations through willpower alone. Yes, you should try to increase your willpower (learn how here), but just as importantly you need to use a smart strategy to slay your giants.
Willpower is going to help you when temptations are staring you in the face, but you know from experience this is NOT the best strategy. You are leaving too much up to chance.
Second, get some distance from your bad habits.
What do I mean by attacking from a distance? Just that. Get physical, temporal, emotional, and cognitive distance from your temptations. Get space!
The closer you are to the temptation the stronger it is and the more alluring. This is the reason that AA members do not go into bars. They know being that close to alcohol is a recipe for disaster.
The more distance you put between you and the temptation, the less power it has over you.
Third, make a plan.
Now that you have some space, you can make a plan of attack that will help you overcome your temptations. The best way to attack a bad habit is to devise a strategy that leaves nothing to chance; a scheme that makes it impossible or at least very unlikely that you will give in to your temptations.
This is a behavior modification technique that psychologists call a “commitment device” and it is hands down the BEST way to overcome the temptation giants in our lives.
A commitment device does just what the name implies—it commits you to a course of action. And I don’t mean like a verbal promise. I mean that it binds your behaviors to a specific pattern. Once a commitment device is put in place, you almost have to do it. The better the commitment device is, the less control you have over your future behaviors. In act, the best commitment devices leave you no choice but to do it.
For example, in personal finances, if you want to be better at saving money, you set up your direct deposit system to send 10% of your paycheck directly to your 401k. Boom. The money goes to another account that the federal government won’t let you access without a huge penalty. Talk about a commitment!
If you have a problem with procrastination, you can set up time-limitation website blockers on your computer and phone. StayFocused is one that I personally use. You specify ahead of time how much time you will allow yourself to visit certain sites (I’m looking at you Netflix! And don’t think I don’t see you over there Facebook!).
At the end of the allotted time, your computer blocks those sites. You now have no way to waste time with those temptations and you might actually accomplish some work. Committed. (You can check out some great ones here.)
If you want to stop eating sugar, don’t give yourself access to sugar. Do not bring it into your home. Leave your wallet at home so you aren’t tempted to drive thru anywhere. If you are going out to eat, pay for it ahead of time, then leave your wallet at home. (Pro tip: you might not be able to pay the restaurant ahead of time, but you can give the money to your friend before you go out to eat.)
Whatever behavior you desire to eliminate, decide ahead of time to make it as difficult as possible, even impossible, to give in to your temptation(s). That is what it means to use a commitment device. In order for it to work though, you need to plan ahead. (Want to see a great talk about commitment devices? Check out Daniel Goldstein: The Battle Between Your Present and Future Self.)
You Will Stumble, But Don't Let It Stop You From Daring Greatly
Yes, you and I might not have much willpower at times. That is what it means to be human. We face some pretty big Goliaths. And we have lost to them tons of time.
But the fight is not over. We can slay our giants. I think Theodore Roosevelt said it best:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Dare greatly, my friends.