The legendary Irish wit, Oscar Wilde, wrote a play that debuted in London in 1892 called Lady Windermere’s Fan that was so successful that it’s been in continuous production in one form or another ever since. That masterpiece is the origin of a number of Wilde’s pithy witticisms.
The one that never fails to make me chuckle is the self-reflection of the rakish character, Lord Darlington, when he comments, “I can resist everything except temptation.”
I often think no truer words have ever been spoken!
Temptation… the desire to do something, usually considered wrong or unwise; the compromise of long-term fulfillment for short-term enjoyment.
Every self-improvement effort ever attempted, began with an earnest commitment to what my Mom used to call stick-to-it-ive-ness. Often, we do pretty well in the beginning. At least until we are tempted. The strongest willed amongst us, those who possess powerful stick-to-it-ive-ness, can usually hold out for a while. I admire them.
But, all too often we all fall short. Why?
Well, it’s because we “can resist everything except temptation.”
Like I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Matt shared some wisdom with me that he picked up in one of his stints in rehab.
“If you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery.”
Temptation is best managed through avoidance.
While doing some research on this topic, I actually came across a study that supports this. Published in the psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences, the authors assert that…
High trait self-control has been traditionally described as a keen ability to resist temptation. The present research suggests that high trait self-control is linked to avoiding, rather than merely resisting, temptation. People high in trait self-control reported engaging in behaviors thought to minimize (or avoid) temptation to a greater extent than people low in trait self-control.
I’m not sure about you, but I actually consider these findings really encouraging! I interpret this to mean that our success with any attempt at positive change in our lives has less to do with some magical super-power of self-control or iron willpower, and more to do with purposeful avoidance of slippery slopes.
Sure, we can all work to strengthen our powers of self-control, much like we explored in my previous note.
But avoidance works better than resistance.
Don’t go where it’s slippery.
Seems simple enough, right? Sure, but successful avoidance will take some thought and planning. Remember… “always assume that you will slip.”
Acting on that assumption and being purposeful about how and where to avoid temptation is a subject for future discussion. I’ll share some thoughts about that it in my next missive – “Don’t Go Where It’s Slippery.”
Until then, let’s take a look at how our current thoughts, behaviors, and environment might be slipperier than they should be. If, like Lord Darlington, we “can resist everything except temptation”, and that avoidance is more successful than resistance, what can we do now to seek out and find firmer footing?
Ent, Michael R.; Baumeister, Roy F.; Tice, Dianne M. “Trait Self-control and the Avoidance of Temptation.” Personality and Individual Differences. 74 (2015): 12-15. ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.09.031