We can’t let ourselves be guided in life only by our irrational desires. If we let them express themselves, they would follow one another and we would never be truly fulfilled and always in search of new pleasures. If it is necessary to unload temptations to advance serenely, it is not necessarily a question of giving in to them but at least of understanding them.
Imagine how your life would look if you increase your willpower and resist all the things that tempts you. Think about how your willpower would make it so that these things are no longer important and you could resist them. How would you live your life?
You may find it difficult to resist certain foods, so increasing your willpower might mean less food splurges and impulse purchases, less procrastination and less drinking. It means not being bound by behaviours that make it difficult for you to achieve your goals.
Willpower: The Multipurpose Tool
We never move toward our goals, as if a huge rubber band is trying to pull us backwards all the time. It’s hard to change. When you have dreams, some temptations seem too strong. We manage to get away from them for a while, but then the rubber band gets stronger and pulls us back to where we started. And sometimes it’s even worse!
Our minds go straight to food when we think about resisting temptations, but food isn’t the only area where exercising willpower would come in handy. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, upping your willpower would help you resist distraction. If you’re a shopaholic, upping your willpower would help you resist unnecessary purchases. If you give in to a few too many glasses of wine at night, upping your willpower would be just what you need to resist the drinks or imbibe wisely. And if you’re wanting to start a new habit like consistent exercise, upping your willpower would help you resist the excuses that’ve been holding you back.
So there are lots of reasons why resistance training for the mind is valuable; you learn to resist the things that tempt you the most. You also learn to bust bad habits and create good ones.
Let’s do it.
Get Desensitized: The Graduated Exposure Method
In the field of psychology there’s a form of behavioral therapy called graduated exposure. It’s used on those who have phobias in order to desensitize them to the thing they fear most. Here’s how it works: A person who has an extreme aversion to something will be exposed to that thing in very tiny doses; then in moderate doses; then in larger doses until she gets to the point where it’s no longer something that makes her skin crawl. She loses her phobia as she becomes desensitized to it. And after she’s finished with the therapy, she no longer has a strong reaction to the thing that once caused her phobia.
A similar method can be applied to those who are strongly attracted to and tempted by something. Through gradual exposure to your temptations, and with continual resistance to them, you become more adept at resisting them while becoming less and less sensitive to their presence.
This is not a quick-fix by any means, but if done mindfully, its impact on your willpower will be everlasting. Here’s how it works should you try it. (Specific examples to follow.)
Step 1. Pick the thing you’re wanting to resist.
Step 2. Minimally expose yourself to it (maybe walk past it) without indulging in it.
Step 3. Give it some time. Think about what you did and how it felt to walk away. Envision yourself doing it again.
Step 4. Repeat step 2 until you’re totally comfortable resisting that amount of exposure. (You’re practicing resistance training.)
Step 5. Moderately expose yourself to your temptation without indulgence. Give it some time. Think about what you did and how it felt to walk away. Envision yourself doing it again.
Step 6. Repeat step 5 until you’re comfortable walking away from that amount of exposure. Practice the resistance training.
Step 7. Fully expose yourself to your temptation without indulgence. Envision how you walked away in the past. Walk away again. Take note of your ability to do so.
Repeat the process until you are totally comfortable acknowledging and being in the presence of your temptation without feeling any strong desire for it. If at any point you feel a strong desire for it, then limit your exposure and go back to the point at which you’re not tempted. This may even mean zero-exposure for a while.
Don’t rush. You could spend a few weeks at step 4. Really take your time with this process if you’re wanting the results to last.
Desensitized or Deprived?
Once you get through step seven with ease you’ll be desensitized to it. The more you get used to being around your temptation without partaking, the less it’ll tempt you. At some point in the process you just get used to it being there without feeling the urge to join in.
Would you consider this deprivation? Is a shopaholic who decides not to purchase more couture bags depriving herself? If you have everything you need to live a happy and healthy life, then passing on the things that are holding you captive does not make you deprived.
People who are not addicted to Cinnabons can walk through a mall, appreciate the smell of Cinnabons and not indulge. They don’t feel deprived by not eating one because they’re not addicted. And full exposure (i.e. watching a friend eat a Cinnabon right in front of them) wouldn’t make them feel deprived if they decided to pass on it.
Graduated Exposure: Minimal, Moderate, and Full
Depending on what you’re trying to resist, the levels of exposure will mean different things for different people. Here are examples of graduated exposure for different circumstances:
Eat little, but often
If your blood sugar is low, you lose your willpower. That’s why experts advise against skipping meals: having plenty of energy is one of the best ways to maintain the willpower needed to adopt a new habit – quit smoking, start a diet or a new exercise program.
TV and Procrastination
If you’re trying to resist procrastination and you’re tempted to watch hours of TV instead of getting to work, minimal exposure for you could be walking past the TV when it’s off, and getting straight to work. Moderate exposure could be walking past it when it’s on and someone else is watching it, then going straight to your office for work. Full exposure could be watching a couple minutes worth of TV, and then turning it off or leaving the room.
If you have trouble resisting impulse buys, minimal exposure could be walking past the front window of your favorite store without going in. Moderate exposure would be entering the store without purchasing anything. Full exposure would be going in, looking around, maybe trying something on and then leaving empty handed.
If you’re a junk food addict, minimal exposure could be seeing the junk food at the store and not buying it. Moderate exposure could be walking right past the goodies your family has out on the counter and grabbing something healthier instead. Full exposure could be sitting with those who are eating it and saying, “No thanks.”
Resisting temptation doesn’t mean you’re not enjoying life. You can take a look at a treat, appreciate the smells, and turn down the offer to have some because you know how it’ll make you feel afterward. And if the repercussions of eating it outweigh the benefits, then your life will be better without it. If they don’t, then have at it! You may be a Giada.
This is not a call to anorexia or deprived living, this is just a method of trading in fleeting pleasures for long term success and fulfillment. This is a way of giving up the stuff that does you no favors.
If it’s hard to resist temptation, there’s a unique trick to help you overcome those sudden cravings. The next time you find yourself salivating over a piece of cake, squeeze your biceps or clench your fist for a minute. It may sound strange, but this technique is really effective for working your willpower.
Resistance Training For Life
Every time you resist little temptations, you’ll make it easier to do so in the future. Just like weight training at the gym. The first time you pick up a weight, it feels heavy and awkward to move, but little by little you become stronger and more proficient; the things that were once very hard to move around then become very easy. Your mind works the same way.
The more you resist impulses, the easier it’ll get. But it takes consistency and it’ll mean being honest with yourself.
And here’s the catch: if you know you can’t resist something even at minimal exposure, don’t expose yourself to it. Don’t walk into your favorite store if you’ll probably buy stuff you don’t need. Don’t walk down the ice cream aisle if you won’t be able to resist putting it in your cart.
And just to recap, because this is paramount to the process — when you first resist something, really take note and internalize how that felt. Envision doing it again. And the next time you’re faced with that temptation, see if you can resist again. Recall what it felt like to do it before.
The cool thing is if you’re a cake, cookie, or sugary-snack eater then resistance training via desensitization and graduated exposure will eventually get you to the point where you no longer see these things as food. Just like how a person with a spider phobia will no longer see a daddy-longlegs as a life threatening abomination.
Going without your temptations will be a breeze.