For most of us, temptation can arise in various forms. We eat too much fast food or sweets, drink too much, sleep in too late, spend too much money, don’t get enough exercise, put off important matters, etc. However it shows up, temptation frequently gets in the way of our goals, and the more major and distant the goal, the more temptation looms before us to distract us from that goal.
Resisting temptation means being able to control ourselves. Psychologists agree that the capacity to resist temptation (self-control) is directly related to success. In fact, that skill is related to self-esteem, better interpersonal relationships, health, more professional success and satisfaction in an improved life. In short, personal and professional success is synonymous with self-control.
So how can we increase our control or resist temptation?
The ability to think about abstract and distant things, in other words, the “why,” will help us to resist more than through the lens of our concrete and short-term thinking, which is the “how.”
For example, instead of thinking about how you’re going to respond to your partner, who has just hurt your feelings or accused you of something you haven’t done, it would be preferable to think about what you would like to achieve in the long term (what kind of relationship you would like with your partner), which will give you a greater ability to control yourself and leave you the time to calmly reflect about the situation without your emotions overwhelming you. The ability to resist reacting impulsively on the temptation to get revenge, and instead think about your long-term objective (the quality of the relationship) will surely be the difference between harmony and a possible separation in a few years.
More specifically, this ability to resist temptation applies for both:
- finances: buying that big tractor right away by thinking about how you’re going to pay for it (concrete thought) versus what your long-term financial objectives are (reducing your debt = abstract thought);
- exercise: what time and with whom to do exercise (concrete thought) versus exercising for your health (abstract thought).
To summarize, the following definitions may also help you to increase your self-control and resist temptation:
Big-picture thinking: seeing the forest (abstract thought) and not only the trees (concrete thought). Consider your choice in a more overall plan rather than acting out‑of‑context.
Abstract thought: avoid looking at details only, and view the option offered to you from a broader perspective. For example, exercising helps you to refocus on yourself.
High level of categorization: for big projects, it‘s easy to get lost in the daily details and lose sight of your main objective. Instead, categorize into steps. Categorizing tasks or creating steps can help you to stay motivated and avoid temptation at first sight.
Finally, stop yourself on a regular basis during the day, and take the time to ask yourself if what you are doing right then or are planning to do will help you to reach your objective or, conversely, serve to distance you from it. Pay close attention to the answer.
Good luck with your self-control.
Work Psychologist, professionnal speaker, author and business coach