We are all tempted. Some of us are tempted with food. Some are tempted with leisure. For some, the list is so long we could be here for hours listing them. Some temptations are good (tempted to leave work a little early to see your family?) while some are not so good (we won’t mention those here…) Whether the temptation is good or not, the act of being tempted, or rather, overcoming temptation, is a surprisingly important skill.
Picture in your mind your favorite dessert. If you don’t have a favorite, picture a turtle cheesecake (my favorite). For many people, if that yummy dessert was in the house or anywhere they could access it, the cheesecake would be eaten… completely…very quickly. Yes, you might regret all those calories later on, but you gave in to temptation. You have just made it easier to give in next time. You have just lost a little of your self-control. You have just made it harder to resist the next cheesecake and all the other temptations that will come. What were you thinking?
Don’t be too hard on yourself, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have your favorite dessert right in front of you and not eat it. You can have self-control. All it takes is baby steps and therapy.
Therapy (for fun and profit?)
If you have a phobia, one way to get over it is Exposure Therapy. In exposure therapy, you are introduced to the item or circumstance associated with your phobia in small steps until you get use to them and your anxiety decreases. So, if you have a phobia of snakes (I was there once myself…) a first step may be a picture of a snake on the other side of the room. Over time, the picture would get closer until you are holding it while experiencing little anxiety. Then, a real snake may be put on the other side of the room. By the time you are right next to the snake, you can be near one and even hold a snake with little or no anxiety.
Back to the temptation. How does exposure therapy help? Let’s say you want to limit your intake of cookies but when there are cookies available to you, they are quickly eaten. You know you can do better and have decided to take control. You decide on eating only one cookie per day. You now have a goal. Next is the therapy. You would remove all cookies from the house except two; one for today, and one for tomorrow. When you go to eat your one cookie, look at the extra cookie. Make a conscious effort to think about the cookie and how much you want to eat it. If you do eat the cookie, you will not reach your goal and it will taste just as good tomorrow as it does today. Over time, you will find it easy to say no to one cookie.
Stay with one cookie for a few days. Your desire for an extra cookie will slowly go away. Do this until you can think about that cookie all you want but have little or no urge to eat it. Now, add a cookie and repeat. Soon, you will have a whole package of cookies but not be tempted to eat more than one a day. Congratulations, your self-control just shot up. Next time it will be much easier to resist more than one cookie or dessert in the future. You are one step further from being controlled by temptation.
So, where are my cookie?
You might be saying to yourself that a few cookies really don’t matter that much. You would be right, but the temptation is the key. Let’s say you apply this to buying coffee everyday. If you buy the expensive stuff, limiting yourself to one per week could save over $24 (at $4 per day). Basically, that is $100 per month extra you could save because you are no longer controlled by that temptation. The key is the small steps. If you just decide one day to limit your coffee intake to one per week, you will have a much harder time. You will most likely backslide more often and have a higher chance that you will abandon that goal all together. By using a few simple steps to gain more control over temptation, you will be able to apply you new found self-control in a number of situations. There may have another task or goal you want to accomplish but you are tempted to go a different direction. Imagine the freedom you would feel not being controlled by your temptations.
Not all temptation is bad and can be a great tool if applied properly. It can be controlled but you have to have a system. You must have a goal and you must take baby steps. Your baby steps may be bigger or smaller than mine, but there have to be intermediate steps. As my mom likes to say, “The way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time” (thanks mom).
Now, go out and eat an elephant…