Let me start off by saying that I’m not a doctor, motivational speaker, missionary, or expert of any kind. None of what I’m about to say is based on research or clinical studies, unless you count my own life as a never-ending experiment in personal resistance. That said, I can easily say ‘no thanks’ when dinner dates offer up a spoon to share their dessert. Plus, I am so skilled at talking myself out of buying new clothes that I sometimes forget that I actually do need the odd basic.
How do I have such enviable willpower? Weirdly enough, I’m a recovering alcoholic. I used to be the opposite of in control, but to stay sober I’ve learned to rewire my thinking. In giving up booze, I’ve unintentionally strengthened my ability to say no to all kinds of things in the process. Here’s how to resist temptation like a pro…
1. Stop Equating Resistance With Suffering
That sounds like a bad Alanis Morissette lyric, but I promise it’s not. Whatever your temptation is, if you tell yourself that it’s a gateway to happiness then you’re already losing the battle. How can any other activity compete? The key is to start seeing the act of sacrifice in itself as something powerful, desirable, and character building.
If life was a choose-your-own-adventure book, “Temptation” would be the easiest door to open. The feelings on the other side of the door, likewise, would be predictable and boring. You’d never want to read that story. But what’s on the other side of the “Resist Temptation” door? It’s impossible to say. Venturing into unknown territory with your willpower as your weapon is like a modern-day hero’s quest with a yet to be defined journey for personal growth as your new-age Holy Grail. Cheesy? Sure… but your life is your story, so be the hero of it.
Jim Carrey, who’s deeper than he gets credit for, once told Playboy that he thinks resistance is actually integral to human experience while yielding to temptation limits feeling: “Heaven is on the other side of that feeling you get when you’re sitting on the couch and you get up and make a triple-decker sandwich. It’s on the other side of that, when you don’t make the sandwich. It’s about sacrifice and about giving up the things that basically keep you from feeling. That’s what I believe, anyway. I’m always asking, ‘What am I going to give up next?’ Because I want to feel.” Next time you think you’re missing out on anything, from getting tipsy to the thrill of a new purchase, remember that resistance has its own set of exhilarating emotions attached to it. They’re just for a more refined palate.
2. Tell People What You’re Resisting
If you’re the only person who knows what you’re trying to give up, then it’s a lot easier to give in. British humourist Franklin P. Jones once said, “Nothing makes it easier to resist temptation than a proper bringing-up, a sound set of values – and witnesses.” Other people will help you stay accountable. Friends can also help keep peer pressure to indulge to a minimum, too… unless they’re the kind of people who want you to fail, in which case they’re probably not worth having around. If a mutually loved vice makes for the strongest part of a bond you share with someone, perhaps it’s not a healthy friendship to begin with.
3. When An Urge Strikes, Envision Past The Immediate Future
When I first gave up drinking, I found it hard to even walk by a restaurant window because the sight of friends laughing over a bottle of wine made me want desperately to join them. I’d imagine that feeling of having my cares washed away and I’d be instantly nostalgic for booze and heartbroken over my loss. To stop having these feelings, I started imagining the moment in the future when regret would hit me the hardest. I’d envision the headache, nausea, dizziness and shame that I used to feel. Just giving myself an imaginary taste of the aftermath made it easier to return to the present and feel more satisfied about saying no.
Now, I do this for everything – not just booze. Thinking of buying a new shirt I can’t really afford? I picture the shirt six months into the future after it’s gone through the washer and dryer and has perhaps even faded out of fashion and is just like all the other clothes in my closet. It seems far less exciting if I stripped it of its immediate ability to provide delight. When it comes to junk food, I imagine feeling bloated, tired, and guilty after eating whatever it is that’s tempting me, and suddenly the five minutes of pleasure don’t seem worth hours of crappy emotions.
4. Replace Temptation With A New Passion
Some temptations are so powerful they’re almost a way of life. Instead of feeling like you’re squashing a passion, find a way to redirect toward something fulfilling. In my case, I picked up creative writing because it was something that could easily replace any night of drinking, and it was something that drinking had always seemed to get in the way of. Sometimes the new passion can be rooted in the old, more detrimental one.
If you’re trying to give up shopping, for instance, perhaps challenge yourself to learn to sew. Your creativity will thrive in the process. Want to give up junk food? Learn to cook more health-minded meals by taking courses, reading recipes, and experimenting in the kitchen. You’ll get a better diet, save money, and perhaps pick up entertaining friends as a bonus. Lane Olington once said, “Those who flea temptation generally leave a forwarding address.”
Successfully resisting temptation isn’t about running away from temptation. It’s about staying right where you are and rebuilding. You might end up becoming a more impressive person than you ever imagined you could be in the process, and Temptation will be the one left out in the cold.
Share with us in the comments below how you resist the temptations in your life or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.