Willpower workout 17: Overcoming temptation

Willpower Workout #17: Overcoming Temptation

September 15, 2020

As we discussed in Willpower Workout 13, there is an increasingly popular line of thinking that suggests that we should skip attending to our willpower and simply design our environments to be temptation-free. Lest you think that the concept of temptations is not relevant to the workplace, consider the temptation to watch YouTube rather than do your work, to skip giving someone the constructive feedback they need to hear because it may offend them, or to massage the quarterly earning numbers to better match projections. Professionals face temptations to be less productive and forfeit integrity and effectiveness for expediency every day.

Reducing exposure to temptations makes good sense, as demonstrated by this study and this analysis on how early exposure to drug and alcohol consumption generally leads to greater abuse. (You may have heard the opposite, suggesting that US teen binge drinking rates are far higher than their counterparts in Europe, where the legal drinking age is younger. This is not true.)

Despite the merits of avoiding temptations, it is not possible to go a career or lifetime without facing temptations. When you do encounter a temptation, it’s critically important to have a predetermined series of actions that you will take to avoid engaging in the undesirable behavior. Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter Faster Better explains the power of mental models (e.g., a set of predetermined ways of thinking) to get you to act most effectively in high-stress, unexpected circumstances.

In this willpower workout, we’re going to test our ability to withstand temptation:

Day 17 Willpower Workout:

  1. Go into a bakery or shop with sweets if you can do so and maintain social distancing, etc. If you can’t physically attend a shop, go online or go somewhere people are eating/selling food you like.
  2. Purchase a baked good that you would love to eat.
  3. Don’t eat it or anything in the store.
  4. Deliver the baked good to someone you care about.
  5. Don’t eat any other sweets today even if you’re not continuing the Day 16 fast.

Evaluating Your Workout:

  1. Did you feel tempted to eat a sweet?
  2. What did you do to ward off the temptation?
  3. What can you learn about facing temptations from this workout?

Willpower Workout in Action:

Update coming soon!

This is day 17 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here:

Past Workouts: