Dealing with Temptation 2: Resistance

In this life we are going to be tempted to do things that are physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful for us. And in our contemporary American culture we are going to be tempted a lot. How do we handle it? This post is the second of three posts planned to address this question. See Part 1 here.

Avoidance is my number one strategy for managing temptation, but it’s not always practical. Even if I could manage it, as a Christian, I shouldn’t be trying to completely remove myself from the world at large. My task is rather to learn how to live in society while honoring God and, hopefully, being a little light in the darkness. This calls for me to resist many of the temptations the world holds out.  I tend to use four key methods for resisting temptation – prayer, distraction, thinking beyond the moment, and enlisting aid. Here’s how they work for me.

Let’s imagine that I am arriving at a dinner party. It’s a festive occasion – there are 20 guests mingling, an open bar, trays full of appetizers, a dinner buffet to come, and multiple rich desserts after that. Sounds fun, but I’m trying to stay healthy so I don’t really want to drink much, perhaps a single glass of wine, and I don’t want to eat too much either. This can be tough to handle because everyone else is eating and drinking freely, and I’m going to be here for several hours. Time for my four strategies.

First comes prayer. I try to pray when facing temptations, even “small ones” like eating too much. Here I might pray, God please let me have a good time while eating what I want to eat and not what I don’t want. Help me not to overindulge. Because this will be a long party, I may pray something similar over and over again throughout the evening. Suppose I’ve done well all night but dessert is being served; I might pray God, I really don’t want to eat the cake. Please help me to live in a way that’s healthy for me.

Typically I feel internally stronger and less desire for the “forbidden fruit” immediately upon praying. (Not always though.) In other situations I might specifically identify the undesired behavior as sin. God please keep me from falling into sin. Protect me. Perhaps eating sweets doesn’t sound like “sin” to you, but I think it can be. (How many people, including Christians, seem “enslaved” to their appetites?)  I find naming it as sin more powerful than not.

Once I’ve prayed, then it’s time to think about something else. If I can just distract my attention, get my mind elsewhere, the temptation fades. At the party this may mean moving away from the food and beverage stations and striking up an interesting conversation. Out of sight, out of mind. This really works. With luck (or God) the tempting opportunity might even be gone when and if my mind returns to the subject. For example, the cake is so popular that there is none left after my conversation ends. Problem solved.

But what about when temptation’s staring me in the face and it’s not going anywhere? I may have prayed, but I’m still struggling internally to control my actions. This is when I try to think beyond the moment. How will I feel after giving in to the temptation? What will it get me? Yes there will be some very transient pleasure from giving in, but then what?  Feelings of guilt, disappointment, perhaps shame. Less health, or at least a step backwards on my health improvement plan.  I find that linking the behavior with these ultimate negative outcomes in this way is a very powerful way of motivating me to stick to my plan.

Lastly, there’s enlisting aid. Even just telling someone else I’m trying not to eat desserts seems to help. It’s not my secret struggle any more. Maybe they’re trying to do the same, and we can help each other through the moment. Or I might be explicit, Can you help me stay away from the dessert table? I don’t want to eat any of them tonight. I don’t expect them to tackle me if I head that way, but they can remind me of my true desire and engage me in a distraction maneuver. You said you didn’t want any dessert; let’s go sit out on the porch.

Overall, these four techniques are working for me. As in Part 1, I’ve used overeating as my example because: a) this is a pretty common struggle, b) this blog is about a living a healthy lifestyle, and c) I don’t want to discuss my other weaknesses on the internet. But I find that these methods work on my more serious temptations too.

What techniques have you found helpful?

Comments

  1. Thanks, Pete, for providing more tools to stay healthy.

    I’ve found that imagery of a goal met can be motivating. “If I stay away from the cake tonight, I’ll be that much closer to my goal, the new slender me, energy abounding and positive living taking hold.”

    Likewise, envisioning how indulging the cake may bring me closer to losing my “goal momentum” and drag me to a place I’m trying to flee (once and for all) can also be motivating. “How long am I willing to keep doing the same thing, day in and day out, get heavier, have a more difficult time breathing, aaagghh! Something has got to change!!!”

    Another mind game I play is attaching athletic performance to diet. For example, if I have a goal of mixing a nine minute one mile run into my 3 mile walk tomorrow, it’s much easier for me to eat clean tonight. Even if my time is satisfactory, the cake and wine will just trigger respiratory responses I don’t need.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Bill,
      Good ideas. I’m right there with you. The game is in the mind. If we can win in the mind, the body comes along too.
      Pete

  2. Michelle says:

    A tol that works for me is when I call to mind the times I have over eaten the sweets (my temptation) and felt bloated, indigestion or worse.

  3. Jeff Wood says:

    Pete, I like these. I’d add in, using your example of food and party, if possible, eating some healthy food before going. I keep a healthy smoothy ready to go in the refrigerator, and that ready to go part is important premeditation helping me when I am weak, so that my appetite gets curbed. Another thought, is not binding oneself to the mast or putting in ear plugs to resist the Siren’s song, but listening to a superior song. So, while seeing the negative consequences is really valuable, seeing the superior consequences of following your plan is also really valuable.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Jeff,
      Those are good ideas. Personally, I tend not to have something to eat beforehand because being too hungry is not usually why I’m tempted. (The eyes want it but the stomach is fine.) Hearing the superior song, or focusing on the greater goal is helpful.
      Pete

  4. Ray Traylor says:

    Hi Pete, great insight. There seems to be very little taught or preached about resisting temptation anymore. I am reminded of Titus 2:12: “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” Denying ungodliness means saying “No” to temptation. Verbally committing to deny temptation is biblical. Here is an example. Psa 101:3 “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” Additionally, the Psalmist verbally commits to godliness in Psa 101:2 “I will give heed to the blameless way. When will You come to me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” More information about this subject can be found in my newly released book, Dirty Secrets, Dirty Lies Escape the Web of Deceit That Holds You Back. It is available in Christian book stores everywhere. Morgan James Publishing. Hope this is helpful.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Ray,
      Thanks for your comments and especially the Bible references. I’m looking forward to reading your book!
      Pete