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Temptation and How to Develop Self-Control

Everyone faces temptation. Some of us handle it better than others. The key to overcoming temptation is to develop self-control. But how do you do that? I’d like to offer some suggestions in this post.

This post is the answer to my previous post: Four Roadblocks to Self-Control and is a reduction of a message I shared recently at Cedarbrook Church.

How to Overcome Temptation and Develop Self-Control

I want to keep this fairly short, so I’m just making a few comments after each point. Be sure to download my message to get more of the reasoning behind each point. Better yet, read the book, The Willpower Instinct where I got most of these ideas.

1. Be positive. You are more disciplined than you think. Don’t tell yourself you aren’t disciplined or can’t fight temptation. You have many good habits that you aren’t even aware of (getting dressed every day, showering, brushing teeth, going to work or class, etc.).

2. Get a compelling picture of who you want to become. When you have a strong image of who you want to become, then every temptation is met with this question: Will caving into this temptation lead me to become the person I want to be? Without that image and question, there is no reason to resist temptation.

3. Choose a habit you enjoy and start small. The key to starting a good habit is to take SMALL first steps…like five minutes. Don’t over commit or you will quit. Do something where you can celebrate a win every day. Also, research shows that if you WAIT for five minutes (or longer) before you do a bad habit (like smoke that post-meal cigarette) that the waiting develops self-control over time, even if you still smoke the cigarette. You’ll eventually be able to lengthen the time and then quit.

4. Be aware of your stressors and address them. When you are stressed, your self-control drops. So take these step:

  • Get enough sleep – sleep deprivation is like being moderately drunk.
  • Exercise – the best “wonder drug” out there. “Exercise turns out to be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered. For starters, the willpower benefits of exercise are immediate. Fifteen minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings…It not only relieves ordinary, everyday stress, but it’s as powerful of an antidepressant as Prozac.” The Willpower Instinct
  • Eat consistently. Don’t let your blood sugar drop. You are prone to risky behavior when you do. “Low blood sugar levels turn out to predict a wide range of willpower failures, from giving up on a difficult test to lashing out at others when you’re angry. [One study showed] that people with low blood sugar are also more likely to rely on stereotypes and less likely to donate money to charity, or help a stranger.” The Willpower Instinct, page 61
  • Limit your phone use. Smart phones encourage instant gratification and not self-control. Constantly checking your phone is training your brain to NEED instant gratification. So, maybe your phone activity is innocent, but it is weakening your resistance to temptation in general.

5. Practice slow breathing. Reduce your breathing cycle to 4-6 times per minute for 20 minutes a day. Combine this with a morning devotional and you double the impact.

6. Practice spiritual disciplines. Prayer and worship services are proven stress reducers. They also help you to form an image of who you want to become (see #2).

7. Walk away. When you get the temptation out of your line of sight, your self-control goes way up.

8. Push through. You have more ability to withstand temptation than you think you do. Plus, God has given you his Spirit and dealt with your sinful nature to enable you to push past the temptation in front of you. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:12,13

 9. Join a community. You want to surround yourself with people who have the same image in mind as you do so you can all work toward the same goal.

10. Be kind to yourself in failure. Self-criticism reduces your self-control. Self-forgiveness has been proven to increase self-control. …self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control.” The Willpower Instinct, page 148

What impacted me most from The Willpower Instinct is learning about the value of small steps. I tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of guy. If I’m going to exercise, I want to do it for an hour and a half to make it worthwhile.

But the problem with that approach is that I don’t always have an hour and a half and so I don’t exercise as much as I’d like. It would be better for me to start by taking a five minute walk every day around the block. THAT would develop my self-control much better than an occasional heavy duty workout.

I hope you will give yourself the opportunity to try again at developing a good habit. You CAN do it! What can you start doing today for five minutes (or wait for five minutes before you do it)?

Start today, and do it again tomorrow. Ask God for his help and tell your friends what you are doing. Then let me know what happens!