When Temptation Comes, Tell Yourself This Story

Today I celebrated not giving in to an obvious temptation.  Perhaps this victory will carry over into larger, more insidious ones.

I’ve been thinking about temptation all day.  Daniel Defoe, one of the first known novelists, wrote that “we are instruments of our own destruction.”   We hurry towards things that are not good for us.  We run away from things that are.  Why can this be?  

This concept rings true primarily because we are experts in self-deception.  We are very good story tellers.  

I wonder what story I’m believing that makes the perceived benefit of that thought or action outweigh the harm it causes.  It’s amazing to me, for example, that a bowl of chocolate ice cream can overpower me.  I can be ruled by appetite.  Here I am, a full-grown woman, strong and sure, and yet, I’m brought down by sugar and chocolate.   No matter what resolution I make, it wins.   Sugar wins.  Sugar!  Isn’t that just. . . ridiculous? 

And it’s not just food.  It’s overindulgence in many things.  

But not today.  I had this moment–this flair moment–when I figured out why the temptation wins in my life. Temptation wins when I change the story of what harm that thing I want brings.  I tell myself only half the story (the good part).  And it makes sense.  I teach rhetoric.  I was a debater.  I know how to persuade, and I’m really good at convincing myself.  

Today I told the whole story.  I told the story of what happens when I do what I shouldn’t do.  I stopped and worked out the extended narrative–the director’s cut.   I let myself imagine myself doing that thing (in this case, eating the entire carton of ice-cream).   But then what?  If I tell the whole story of what happens next–after giving in–I remember the false promise.  I unmask it, reveal the lie, and tell the truth about it.  There’s no life in the chocolate ice cream.  It’s just empty calories that provide exactly 3 minutes of chocolate pleasure followed by 3 days of getting back on track with my diet.  It’s not worth it.  It’s not that good.

Telling the whole story of what happens when I give in to temptation helps diminish its power.  It’s one way out.  Living with flair means I see the full story regarding my choices.  It means I become aware of my capacity for self-deception and tell the truth instead.  That thing I want to do is just not that good.

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