We all have been tempted at one point or another. From the subtle: new gadget that we don’t need, a sweet indulgence or a few minutes of extra sleep, to the outright harmful and dangerous: an extramarital affair or a burst of road rage.
Most of the time we end up regretting what we did or didn’t do. Sometimes guilt and shame emerge before we’re even done sapping the joy out of the most delicious indulgence.
We associate temptation with weakness, excess, being tested and challenged. Temptation is the seductive devil—the dark side of our desires and conduct.
The other side of temptation
We hardly talk about the reasons we are faced with temptation. It is there because we attract it, knowingly or unknowingly. There is an inner desire to prove something or compensate for what we perceive as lacking.
Think of what tempts you.
Take infidelity for example. It can represent a desire to compensate for feeling you’re not getting enough attention from your partner or you’re with the wrong person. Or paradoxically, it can reflect self destructive behavior because at a deeper level, you feel you don’t deserve the partner you have so you screw up the relationship.
You can draw the same conclusions about any other excessive behavior and desire: overeating, alcohol and substance abuse, laziness and inaction, overspending, not spending enough, explosive anger and so on.
Every temptation is rooted in us, not the outside world. No one or nothing is trying to test you and undermine your success. It is a sign that something is out of balance in your life.
What is temptation trying to tell you?
Here is an example. I have been avoiding exercising and choosing to spend my time doing other stuff (reading, Twitter, forums). I don’t need to lose weight but I do need to build up my strength and stamina. My needs are not urgent or life threatening, so it’s easy to be tempted and avoid exercise.
In my attempt to understand my own temptation, I decided to have a conversation with it. I imagined it would go like this:
Me: Hi laziness. What’s up?
Temptation: Not much. You called me up saying that you can’t workout any more. So I’m here to accommodate you. To prove that you are right. You are not disciplined enough and won’t follow through with your workout program.
Me: OK so if I listen to you and not work out, what would happen next?
Temptation: Well, you succumb to my alluring power and then feel like crap.
Me: So when I feel like crap, you will go away.
Temptation: I think so. You won’t need me any more. You will do just fine tormenting yourself without my help.
Me: Tell me. Why can’t I have the discipline to workout?
Temptation: Why do you need discipline to workout? How do you feel when you workout?
Me: I feel great. I have energy and motivation to make the best of my day.
Temptation: There you have it. What does discipline have to do with it?
Me: I realize now that whether I have discipline or not, I want to work out because it makes me feel good. So why would I replace feeling good with feeling bad?
Temptation: I don’t know you tell me.
Me: Self sabotage from doubts about my ability to keep going.
Temptation: You asked the questions and answered them.
Me: I’m not sure I’m convinced that I will work out because it feels good. I will get bored.
Temptation: Why do you get bored?
Me: Because I don’t like to keep doing the same thing.
Temptation: Define bored for me.
Me: Not feeling up to doing something because it’s not exciting. It is routine.
Temptation: Do you get bored when you’re on Twitter or reading? Are you trying to tell me that if you’re100% focused on what you’re doing, completely with it, regardless of what it is, you will be bored?
Me: I see now you’re trying to put mindfulness in the middle of it.
Temptation: I just have a hard time believing that if you were fully present, you won’t enjoy even the most mundane of routines.
Me: You’re full of wisdom, aren’t you?
Temptation: I’m only here because of you. So I’m only reflecting your own wisdom.
How do you deal with temptation?
Anastasiya—author of Balance In Me wrote a valuable guide on how to resist temptations. It provides detailed action steps to help you in resisting temptations. If you are the type that can resist, then go ahead and apply the advice in the article.
If you don’t have the will power or the desire to resist (like me), then keep reading.
5 simple steps to understand and deal with temptation:
1. Find your triggers for the temptation. Are you losing momentum? Are you getting bored? Do you need more attention? Are you trying to prove something?
2. Talk to your temptation. Dig deeper. What is missing or out of balance in your life that you are trying to compensate for?
3. Reframe your own beliefs and behavior. Find other meanings and outcomes that challenge your view. This is how you shake deeply rooted beliefs. In my example above, I convinced myself that exercising is boring but reading and Twitter are not. The difference is I’m fully immersed in the experience when I’m reading, but not when I’m exercising.
4. Take action. Take powerful action. In my case I will start working out and be more mindful when doing it.
5. Let go of judgment. You don’t need to judge yourself for your past or for the thoughts of temptation. Move on and give yourself a break. If you do something you regret, don’t use it as an excuse to stop. Keep going and focus on your strengths and what you learned about yourself in the process.
You can deal with temptation in different ways. The most important thing is: remember that you are in control—always. You are the creator, even of the most enticing temptations in your life.