“It is easier to stay out than get out.” – Mark Twain
Sometimes the temptations are great – other times, small. Sometimes the temptations are many – other times, few.
But whether it be to cheat on our diets, our budget, our tests, our taxes, or our spouse, there are forces at work against our ideals nearly everywhere we look in this world. They call us to sacrifice the long-term goals that we have set for our life and exchange them for short-term pleasure. They are unavoidable. And falling prey to their empty promises can have drastic negative affects on our lives.
How then, can we resist falling into the temptations that detract us? What foundations can we put into our lives to keep our lofty ideals – rather than fall into the short-term pleasures that keep us from them?
Surprisingly, whether the temptations are great or small, I am finding that the principles remain the same:
1. We can know the end goal and why we desire it. It is wise to not underestimate the importance of keeping a healthy, “big-picture mentality” in not falling into temptation. We desire a strong marriage and healthy family for our children. We desire to get out of debt, stay sober, live an honest life of integrity, or intentionally live with fewer possessions. Each of these goals offer our lives significance in a way that cannot be achieved by falling into the cheap gain or fleeting pleasure that so many worldly temptations promise. Often times, we can’t have both. Therefore, knowing the end goal (and the reason why we desire it) is abundantly helpful in achieving it.
2. We can recognize the temptations that keep tripping us up. Each of us have influences in our lives that trip us up more than others. And the sooner we recognize those traps the better. Whether the end goal be losing weight, accomplishing a major achievement, or being the father you’ve always wanted to be, some goals remain allusive only because of our inability to resist a specific temptation that keeps us from achieving them. Intentional men and women take the time to clearly recognize and articulate the temptation that seems to have an unbreakable hold on their lives.
3. We can develop an exit strategy. When temptation arises and the pull is greater than can be avoided, follow a exit strategy. Maybe it’s a phone call to a friend, a photo of your children in your wallet, a specific quote that inspires you, or a powerful mental reminder of what you may lose. But developing an exit strategy prior to the temptation can become the fire route exit that keeps you from getting burnt by the flames.
4. We can avoid the propaganda that gives temptation life in your mind. Since deciding to live an intentional life with fewer possessions, I have become much more aware of the number of messages (advertisements) that encourage me to buy more. They surround me on every street corner, every television channel, and nearly every publication I pick up. Their message is always the same: “Buy more. Be happier.” They can be very convincing. And the more I put myself in the path of their message, the more susceptible I am to believe it. As a result, I have tried to avoid their propaganda as much as possible and give them less space in my mind. This principle relates to far more than just buying things at a local department store. It also relates to how we view sex, money, power, and the people around us.
5. We can find some help. Too often, we fall into the prideful trap of thinking we can just handle it on our own (never mind the fact that we have tried for years to overcome a particular temptation on our own with no success). We have tried on our own… and still can’t get out of debt. We have tried on our own… and still can’t get physically healthy. We have tried on our own… and still can’t remain sexually faithful to our partner. Pride is among the most self-destructive habits any of us can harbor because it always leads to a fall (as most of us can attest). Find some help to overcome the temptations in your life that trip you up. Find a friend that has fought the same battle. Find a group that convenes for the purpose of finding the very solution for which you are searching. Or find a higher power that gives you the strength to live the life you’ve always wanted to live. However you accomplish this piece, somehow… somewhere… find some help.
6. We can understand that our choices affect more than ourselves. No man lives on an island. (Well, maybe some do… but most don’t). Our choices affect the lives of others. Often times, the short-term decisions that we make today have long-term consequences for those who are closest to us: our friends, our spouses, our children, even our grandchildren in some cases. Negative life choices leave a lasting mark and legacy for years to come… and so do positive life choices. If overcoming negative temptations for our own’s life sake is not enough motivation, maybe reminding ourselves that our choices influence the ones we love the most will be.
7. We can always flee. Perhaps the most valuable foundation for avoiding the pitfalls of negative temptation is the simple realization that we can always leave. Whether it be the kitchen, the department store, the car dealership, the bar, or the seductive situation that we find ourselves in, we can always turn back around and walk out the door. We may miss the short-term, fleeting pleasure – but the big picture rewards are almost always worth it.
8. We can get back up and start again. Moments of weakness come and to avoid them at all times is virtually impossible. We take two steps forward, but one step back: We cheat on our diet. We take another drink. We compromise our values. We fall down. But to stay down is to let the negative forces win and to let temptation become our master. So we get back up. We give it another shot. We turn back to our goals, our friends, our family… and we start again. It’s never over until it’s over. And luckily so, because if you are anything like me, you have lofty goals and an important legacy that you desire to leave behind!