Resist temptations, such an arduous task. It is a problem that we all face. The information age has only made things worse.
We all give in to temptations, some more than others. We do this despite our knowledge of the harm they can bring us. Moreover, we also judge others that give in to them.
Not only do we repeatedly fail to resist temptations, we expect others to be principled when dealing with them.
This slight hypocrisy is very common in most people and you can see it especially well in people that never fulfill their commitments and yet whine about politicians not fulfilling their promises.
If we cannot resist the temptations we have right now, how can we hope to do better once we do have more power and consequently more access to self-indulgence?
Just giving in to temptations can destroy entire lives and careers of people. This is why we must know how to resist temptations, especially if we want to move upwards in life.
“Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”―John Adams
The power that comes with rising up only magnifies temptations. As a famous quote of John Dalberg-Acton goes-
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.―John Dalberg-Acton
Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”
Is it then possible to resist temptations? Can we resist temptations not only in the limited scope in which we operate, but even if we do gain power and prestige?
What are temptations
To resist temptations we must first understand what they are. ‘Temptation’ is defined as the desire to do something, which is unethical or unwise.
It is also referred to as an urge or a desire, an impulse if you will.
Religious texts describe temptations as attractions towards sin.
An underlying assumption is that giving into temptations is not good for us and yet it is so hard not to give in.
This is because we are not looking at the big picture.
The reason temptation is compared to an impulse is that, when tempted, we are only thinking about instant gratification. We ignore the long-term consequences of our actions.
To resist temptations we must know the source of these temptations and have the willingness to stick to our long-term philosophy despite all the distractions that come our way.
“Fortify yourself with moderation; for this is an impenetrable fortress”―Epictetus
Dangers of our base nature
In our blog on How to be a Realist, we talk about Plato’s concept of the Tripartite soul. Plato believed that the highest form of our soul was our rational part.
It is what keeps the other two base parts of the soul (namely the appetitive and spirited part) in check.
Humans are rational animals and thus, our rationality makes us different from all other animals.
Beneath that rationality, however, our urges from the base parts of the soul reign.
Because they arise from our subconscious, we might not even be aware of them or if we are, we may think of them as something separate from us.
“I think we consider ourselves human, obviously we’re human beings, but I don’t buy that definition. I think that we’re actually animals, that we have an animal nature and we have to become human. And we become human by overcoming some of these deep-rooted animal forces within us.”― Robert Greene
Marina Abramovic showed a clear demonstration of this base nature in her performance called ‘Rhythm 0‘.
She placed 72 objects on a table with the instructions that she herself was an object and the audience could do whatever they wanted to her for the next 6 hours.
The selection consisted of objects that were not harmful like a rose or perfume to objects that were harmful like nails and scissors even a gun and a bullet.
As the performance continued the public that was kind and lovely at first grew more and more violent.
They tore her clothes, put rose pins into her body. After the time was over, at 2 am in the morning, she starts to move.
As she did that, everyone ran away. No one had the courage to face her after what they had done.
Why is it important to resist temptations
Humans are rational creatures however if we start acting according to our base instincts what different are we from animals.
Plato called humans that were in alignment with their rational selves as the highest humans. This is because they were free.
Freedom here means that they were not a slave to their base instincts. They could choose their response.
They knew they had the freedom of choice. Each human can participate in philosophy since it is a great equalizer.
“It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them”―Epictetus
Everyone is unique, but still what one can achieve, everyone else can too.
The importance to resist temptations is not just to have freedom of choice, although that would have been reason enough.
When we give in to temptations, we are letting those base natures into the driver’s seat.
This means that our actions would be motivated by a desire for pleasure, or greed.
We would make unprincipled decisions when it comes to gaining power or prestige, for sexual fulfillment, or even just a need for attention.
Such actions lack virtue and will slowly drift our lives towards a path of evil and debauchery.
It is a slippery slope since every time you act you get a short-lived feeling of euphoria that fades away.
To get the same feeling you train yourself to keep repeating it.
In the long term, this will not only harm you but also the people closest to you. No rational person wants to hurt himself or the people close to him.
As 2Pac sings in probably his most underrated song, ‘Resist the temptation’ that slipping down that path only leads to misery.
Steps to resist temptation
Only by being rational can we embrace our freedom. We can be truly proactive no longer acting under the influence of our emotions or controlled by circumstances.
“You have power over your mind- not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”―Marcus Aurelius
Until now, we learned how temptations could ruin a life and lead you to a path of regret and misery.
A life lived in such a way will be a life of unfulfilled potential. How can we resist these ever-present temptations?
- Prepare for them
- Know what you are thinking about
- 15 min rule
- Ask hard questions
- Beware of ego depletion
- Create a hard line you can’t cross
- Be honest and bold
- Learn to forgive
- Concentration and mindfulness
Prepare for them
If you are waiting around to see what you will do when you feel tempted, you are already too late.
In times when you are emotionally charged, it is much difficult to keep your calm and act rationally.
What you can do instead is to prepare for the temptations in advance. You can ask your friends for help being accountable.
A support system plays a crucial role in keeping you accountable in tough times and can even help them to recover from severe addictions.
Another thing you can do is to prepare for a circumstance in particular.
If you know you will be tempted to watch the basketball game when you should be working, you can prepare beforehand to record it so you can watch it later (Or maybe complete the work beforehand?).
Know what you are thinking about
Now we can’t prepare for all the temptations coming our way. Sometimes even a small thing can trigger cravings in the mind.
The nature of our mind is such that no matter how hard we try, we cannot stop thinking about things. The more we focus on a topic the more we think about it.
When I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, you cannot help but think about it.
This is why ‘thinking about resisting temptations’ is not going to help us. Instead, we should take some time and think about what we really want to do.
Whenever you do feel tempted take a moment to pause and reflect what you are thinking, then start to focus on what you want to do instead.
Say you do not want to smoke a cigarette, what you can do is focus on what you want to do. Maybe listen to a nice song, talk to a friend, have a salad?
15 minute rule to resist temptations
We now understand that temptations are short-lived cravings and impulses.
The good thing about that is that they do not last very long.
When you do feel tempted to do something, make a firm decision not to act on them for 15 minutes.
If you still feel those temptations after 15 minutes, try to go for another 15.
You will feel the temptations losing their grip on you.
Ask tough questions to resist temptations
If the previous step does not help you and you still feel tempted to act, think of the consequences that giving in to this temptation will lead to.
Ask yourself, how will indulging in these temptations hurt you or your loved ones?
Will you feel disappointed and miserable after the sudden euphoria? In the long term, what will this do to your Self-esteem?
Beware of ego depletion
Ego depletion (ego used in psychological not colloquial sense) is a theory that we have a limited supply of will power and self-control.
When we practice self-control, we tend to run out of it and this impairs our ability to control ourselves later on.
There have been plenty of experiments especially related to glucose intake.
Thus relying on parrying temptations based on self-control alone isn’t going to lead in good outcomes in the long run.
You will eventually let up on the conscious concentration and the subconscious mind will take over driving you to instant gratification.
To tackle that you will have to change your environment. Isolate yourself from distractions or change your surroundings.
If you know that, a route to the office has a shop that sells cigarettes then try using a different longer route.
Create a hard line you can’t cross
If you are dealing with temptations that have long held their grip on you, it is important that you make a clear separation from them.
If you have difficulty leaving alcohol then just one drink is a wrong attitude. Decide that you will stop completely.
You are building up in your brain a habit. Once you give in, your brain will make getting one more drink a priority.
Your craving for it now will only intensify. This is because of the instinctual drive in our brain that prioritizes pleasure response.
It is the tendency to give in to feel good that we talk about in our blog on dealing with Procrastination.
The good news is that once you stop having a drink even when you feel the urge to, it will train your brain to stop giving you those cravings.
Be honest and bold to resist temptations
When the source of temptations are your peers, it is easy to give in. The problem is you cannot always avoid hanging out with them as well.
You can try to be evasive or lie but the best policy I have found on dealing with this is to be honest and bold.
Tell them the struggles you have and exactly why you are refusing it.
Explaining to them that you are trying not to indulge in a temptation and the reasoning behind it can embolden you in your resolve.
This will even change the circumstances around you. I don’t smoke cigarettes, my friends who used to offer me before came to know and now never mention it.
Even when someone new offers me a smoke before I even say anything, they jump in and tell them “No he doesn’t smoke, and I won’t even let him”.
Learn to forgive
In a study titled ‘Personality and Individual Differences’ that we quote in our blog on procrastination researchers found that learning to forgive the self leads generally promotes feelings of self- worth and leads to positive mental health.
People that are hard on themselves often feel worse about giving in to temptations.
This makes them more likely to give into those temptations again to get rid of the negative feelings, which creates a vicious cycle.
Even if you do end up indulging, it is all right. You have just started trying and it is natural to fail a few times in the beginning.
Have compassion and empathy in your self-talk and motivate yourself to keep trying.
Most of our temptations are a result of negative emotions.
They arise from them and end up leading to more negative emotions after we indulge in those temptations.
These emotions are namely Narcissism, Materialism, Cynicism and Envy. Antithetical to all these emotions is the feeling of Gratitude.
When you feel gratitude, you become thankful for the things that you currently possess.
This is bound to decrease cravings for what we lack. We can practice gratitude consciously by maintaining a gratitude journal or even just by practicing mindfulness.
We go over this in much detail in our blog on the surprising benefits of Gratitude.
Concentration and mindfulness
The best way to have much more control over your temptations is if you can learn to focus your mind where you want.
As Dandapani teaches us in his ted talk above, your awareness can be focused where you want it to be.
To be good at it though, you have to practice.
You can watch the ted talk above. If you wish to learn more about being mindful, you can read our blog on How to tame the mind.
The best way to practice concentration is to keep your awareness on the things you are doing now.
“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.”― Epictetus
I recently re-read the book called Meditations. It is a translated personal diary of the king of Rome, which is a must-read.
The central message of the book is that we as people should not worry about things that are outside of our control.
A good man is one that lives in accordance with his nature and the only responsibility he has is to not let himself down.
He should only worry about things that lie in his control i.e. his intentions, his will, and his actions.
Marcus Aurelius was the king whose word is the law. He holds complete power over everyone and everything.
As we learned at the start, power and position tends to magnify our temptations.
We give in to temptations when we are operating in a limited scope and Marcus Aurelius, who has power over everything in his kingdom acts with moderation and sobriety in all things.
He talks the talk and walks the walk and this book is a testament to a person’s ability of restraining from self-indulgence.
It will be difficult to resist in the beginning but as with all things, you will get better with practice.
Giving into temptations can ruin lives and careers and if you can overcome one of your temptations, you can overcome all of them.
We urge you to find more about what true callings are, you can read our free guide called The Perfect Beginning to find them.
I hope you have a good day and a good life.