Temptations are all around us. Desires may vary in nature, frequency, intensity and importance but we all have them. People may experience desire for certain foods i.e. fast food, chocolates or coffee, sleep, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, social contact, leisure activities, media usage (i.e. checking emails, texting, watching t.v.) etc. Desires stand for things that we wish to do, have, long for or need, that are found in our environment or are driven by an inner need of who we are as individuals (Finkel et al., 2012). It is associated with gratification, indulgence and comfort, which increases positivity and pleasure in our lives. However, succumbing to our desires can also have a contradictory and destructive impact on our life.
When indulging in our desires (i.e. eating chocolate) comes in conflict with and at the cost of our goals (i.e. losing weight), standards and /or values then we need to exercise self-control and resist the urges. The bigger the inner conflict, the stronger the discomfort felt and the need to control it. Self-control is a labor intensive ability that separates human being from other living things. It is a behavior/action, which we deliberately choose to do. It enables us to find a balance between indulgence of desires and being overly neglectful of our goals and standards. Self-control gives a sense of control and reduces helplessness, as we are not at the mercy of our impulses. It can strengthen a sense of confidence, empowerment, self-mastery, self-efficacy and willpower. It enables us to change the way we live and our lives. The level of self-control, which people apply in their lives, can vary. Some are more motivated and will try harder to resist temptations. Others can be more vulnerable to succumbing their desires and impulses. According to Baumeister et al. (1994), a weak self-control ability is one of the essential reasons behind many personal and social problems in our society.
The ability of the individual to successfully deal with the inner conflict/struggle between the strong desires we have and the personal goals is mediated by the personality, situational and interpersonal factors. When the triggers of our desires are constantly available around us, accessible with very little effort on our part, have a huge appeal and are cheap, it will probably make the desirability factor much stronger, more attractive and more difficult to resist. Alcohol and drugs are also known factors that lower inhibitions and reduce self- control. The presence of others, who indulge in the same desire, increases the challenge of self-control. The thought that others indulge as well, often helps to justify own self- indulgence, makes one feel better about oneself and eases the conflict felt. Others, however, can also be a source of motivation and raise accountability. Others can act as a teaching model of self-control and of more desirable behavior. They can thus also increase people’s ability to resist conflict-inducing desires. The presence of others has mostly impact on the level of resistance and self- indulgence.
As for internal factors, the personality of the individual often has more influence of the type and strength of the desires, the strength of the conflict that arises and the level of motivation that one presents. The presence of narcissism and the sense of entitlement are associated more with less conflict and more self-indulgence in comparison to the trait of perfectionism, which increases the level and intensity of conflict and resistance (Hofmann & Friese, 2008; Hofmann et al., 2012). In the following blog entry I shall introduce a few strategies that can assist in building up self-control and increasing chances of resisting temptations.
Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1994). Losing control: How and why people fail at self-regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press
Finkel, E. J., DeWall, C. N., Slotter, E. B., McNulty, J. K., Pond, R. S., Jr., & Atkins, D. C. (2012). Using I3 theory to clarify when dispositional aggressiveness predicts intimate partner violence perpetration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 3, 533-549.
Hofmann, W., Baumeister, R. F., Foerster, G., & Vohs, K. D. (2012). Everyday temptations: An experience sampling study of desire, conflict, and self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1318-1335.
Hofmann, W., & Friese, M. (2008). Impulses got the better of me: Alcohol moderates the influence of implicit attitudes toward food cues on eating behaviour. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 420–427.