I’ve been away this week on work business, but managed to find some time between meetings to discover a lovely old-fashioned coffeehouse with oak-panelled walls, chrome fixtures and fittings, a well-stocked bookcase, and a decent Americano.
As I sat there enjoying my caffeine hit, it occurred to me that it’s been a while since we tackled a meaty problem in the LwL virtual coffeehouse. As I sipped, and felt the satisfaction of a craving sated, the perfect topic came to mind: temptation.
Coffee is a fairly mild and minimally disruptive addiction, but the same cannot be said for limerence. In that altered state of mind, desire for the limerent object is so powerful it dominates thought and inflames the body. You feel helpless in the face of overwhelming temptation.
Despite this, the will and conscience remain intact. It is possible to resist temptation. I managed it, and one of the tricks that helped me was to immerse myself in anti-temptation.
The fundamental problem with temptation is that your brain is pushing you to seek reward with an overwhelming urgency. Often, it is a combination of powerful forces – euphoria, libido, emotional yearning – that adds up to a comprehensive hunger for the source of temptation. Those are powerful forces to resist, but there are other drives that can be exploited to counteract them. Principally, fear and shame.
It was an unpleasant experience, but I sought out stories of affairs going wrong. I’ve blogged before about the power of negative daydreaming for deprogramming, but I also read stories on affair recovery sites and books on infidelity that laid out the devastating consequences of cheating. Wrecked families. Devastated children. Destroyed lives.
That helped shift my mind towards seeing the temptation as a false reward – a tainted prize. Like a Faustian pact or the song of a siren, I adjusted my attitude to the craving as an unhealthy and destructive urge to resist, rather than the gateway to bliss.
Now that I look back on this, there are two further lessons I’ve learned. First, it can be emotionally painful in the short term, just like finally getting into the gym after a period of laziness leaves you sore and demoralised, but it builds long term mental strength. Second, it ironically only seems to work for me with big temptations.
I’ve had a lot less success with trying to use this method for other unhealthy habits. For example, I have a tendency to give in to Youtube temptation, and spend too long passively absorbing entertainment (and politics) when I could be doing something more productive. The aversive power of imagining the negative consequences of this overindulgence (not achieving my dreams, getting stuck in zombie mode, missing out on quality time with others) makes me feel bad, but it doesn’t seem to have the leverage that the limerence-catastrophising had. I assume because the stakes seem much lower – and certainly less immediate.
So, that’s the topic for today’s coffeehouse hangout. What methods have other people used to resist temptation? How have you managed destructive desires?
Fill the comments with wisdom!