Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “We gain the strength of the temptation we resist”. Waldo was a 19th century American essayist and philosopher whose ideas on ‘self-reliance’ is widely followed. In this quote, Waldo points to several important life lessons: the power of resistance, power in believing oneself, self-control, and the downside of giving in to one’s temptations. It ultimately argues for the virtues of self-reliance, will power and determination.
Most commonly, temptation is understood as a desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threatens long-term goals. In the context of some religions, temptation is the inclination to sin. Temptation also described as the coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act, by manipulation or of curiosity. In the context of self-control and ego depletion, temptation is described as an immediate, pleasurable urge and/or impulse that disrupts an individual’s ability to wait for the long-term goals, in which that individual hopes to attain.
Generally individuals experience temptations in both positive and negative terms. For example, there is an individual who may experience temptation in the form of fearing the potential negative implications and consequences that can arise, whether it is in the context of standards or accountability related to the self, society, including condemnation. Another example, is when an individual may view their experience of temptation as an opportunity for growth, it could be intrapersonal growth, interpersonal growth, or transcendent growth.
Controlling temptations: will power and self-dependence
Temptations wear us down. They gnaw at us and even overwhelm us. Temptations are, as one great spiritual writer has pointed out, the raw material of our glory. Whenever we resist temptation, we grow in grace. Controlling our passions and cravings was emphasised by the ancient Stoics and Buddhists, for example, and virtue derived from self-restraint is a cornerstone of the Judeo-Christian and Hindu traditions. In one way or another, all cultures have regarded the ability to discipline ourselves as central to what defines us as human. Yet most of us fail to rein ourselves in as much as we would like, at least in some part of our lives. In one way or another, failures of willpower are at the root of countless problems in our society - obesity, addictions, violence, consumer debt, to name just a few. For this reason, the science of willpower, as a subset of the larger domain of self-regulation has emerged.
In Stanford in the early 1970s, an experiment was conducted by the APS President Walter Mischel where four-year-olds were left in a room with a bell, with which they could summon an experimenter who, they were promised, would give them a single marshmallow. But they were also told that if they could hold out and wait for the experimenter to return on his own, they would receive two marshmallows. In other variants, the children had the first marshmallow in front of them from the start and had to resist this immediate temptation if they were to reap the larger reward. The principle underlying the challenge is sometimes called temporal discounting: To a small child, one marshmallow right away may seem more valuable than two marshmallows in some indefinite future.
A single marshmallow, like a single trip to the gym or a single impulse purchase, may seem trivial, but over the course of life, our successes and failures in the area of self-mastery add up to predict a lot about our success and failure in many areas. People high in self-control are healthier, have better relationships, and are more successful in school and work than those low in the trait.
There are many effects on a variety of outcomes from temptation:
·The health and well-being of an individual. There is also the relief of stress that an individual may be experiencing.
·For example, undesirable, or failed resolution of the experience of temptation will likely have facilitative or debilitative effects on myriad aspects of physical health, mental health, and well-being.
·An individual’s experience with temptation may influence a person's future experiences, predict future possibilities, and outcomes.
·When an individual is attempting to address or resolve a complex experience of temptation, mindfulness, humility, prayer, meditation, and other spiritual, psychological variables may be facilitators.
Responding to temptation
·Recognise - Temptation is all about self-control, and tempting situations are often about the conflict between immediate gratification and long-term goals.
·Remove - Make it easier to deal with temptation by getting away from what tempts you. For instance, if you're trying to quit smoking, avoid places that you frequently smoked. You may even want to avoid people that you usually smoked with.
·Visualise - In this approach, picture yourself acknowledging or touching the temptation before putting it down and walking away from it. Imagine this experience in as much detail as you can.
·Think – It’s easy to think of immediate gratification when you really want something. Take a minute to think of the longer term consequences before giving in to temptation.
·Plan - Make an intentional plan for yourself. Declaring these plans for yourself in concrete, specific terms can help you focus on your long-term goals, rather than immediate gratification.
“Temporary happiness isn’t worth the long term pain” – when we conquer a short term urge, a temptation, we take a step towards gaining its strength, long term satisfaction. By adjusting how we think of the things that tempt us in the short term and the goals we are striving for in the long, we can alter the balance of these influences. We can also build self-control not only improving its strength but also intelligently allocating it to high-priority challenges rather than wasting it on things that are less important.