How to Resist Temptation: 3 Proven Tips

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What makes something tempting? What are some helpful tips on how to resist temptation when you want to give in?

Being able to resist temptation is an important factor in achieving your goals and changing your behavior. If you can’t say “no” to temptation, you’ll struggle to stay consistent with your efforts and will likely give up before you see any meaningful progress.

Keep reading to learn about the psychology of temptation and some strategies for keeping yourself in check.

The Psychology of Temptation

What exactly is temptation? In simple terms, temptation is a desire to do something that’s pleasurable, but that’s usually wrong or unwise for whatever reason. On the neurological level, temptation is powered by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that motivates you to seek out rewarding experiences. 

When the brain senses the opportunity for a reward—like when it sees a patch of perfectly ripe berries—it releases dopamine, which causes a form of arousal. It tells the rest of the brain and the body to get ready for a reward that is coming soon. Dopamine makes us feel alert and excited. It directs us to take action. Dopamine has played a critical role in human evolution, motivating people to focus their energy on pleasurable activities necessary for survival and reproduction, like eating food or having sex. 

However, according to Thibaut Meurisse, the author of Dopamine Detox, dopamine no longer offers the same evolutionary benefit that it once did. The modern world is a media-saturated environment, full of passive entertainment, like social media or video games, trigger dopamine, offering minimal benefit and often leading to more harm than good. 

Temptation vs. Delayed Gratification 

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment is a great example of how being able to resist temptation can influence your life outcomes. In this study, four-year-old kids were placed in a room with a single marshmallow and told that they could go ahead and eat it now, but if they waited 15 minutes, they could eat two marshmallows. The kids were left alone in the room as cameras filmed their decision-making processes. Some kids invented all manner of strategies to avoid eating the marshmallow (like turning their backs on the treat or distracting themselves by singing songs or talking to themselves); others couldn’t resist the temptation and gobbled it up immediately. 

The researchers then tracked these kids’ lives for the next 40 years. Not surprisingly, the four-year-olds who were best at delaying gratification—not eating the first marshmallow—wound up having an easier time in life than the others, as determined by higher SAT scores, healthier body mass index, lower incidence of substance abuse, better social skills, and various other life measures. 

Therefore, when you’re trying to stay focused on your long-term goals, you need to be able to resist the temptation to engage in these dopamine-stimulating behaviors because they consume your time and steal your focus. With this in mind, here are some tips on how to resist temptation so it doesn’t derail your progress toward your goals.

Tip 1: Make Temptation Hard to Access 

The first and probably the most common sense piece of advice on how to resist temptation is to make it a little harder to access. For example, you won’t return home with purchases you can’t afford if you don’t carry your credit cards when you go downtown. If you have to walk downstairs and down the hall to stick your hand in the candy jar, you’ll be less likely to indulge than if you merely have to reach across your desk. And you’ll be less likely to procrastinate on writing your novel if you invest in software programs like MacFreedom, Anti-Social, or ProcrasDonate, which limit your access to email, social networks, or even the entire Internet. 

TITLE: The Willpower Instinct
AUTHOR: Kelly McGonigal
TIME: 42
READS: 87.9
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-willpower-instinct-summary-kelly-mcgonigal

Tip 2: Introduce Reinforcements

When you resist temptation, you make a choice that’s unpleasant in the short term but better for you in the long term. In other words, you forego immediate gratification for a future reward, which requires sacrifice. Sacrifice is unpleasant, so you must find a way to mitigate it. This can be done by introducing reinforcements. 

Reinforcements help maintain continued behavior by allowing you to experience a win after a certain action. They are especially useful when you are trying to form a “habit of avoidance.”

Habits of avoidance include things like not drinking alcohol for a month and not spending money on unnecessary items. The habit is one of simply not doing something you are tempted to but don’t want to do, so there is no real element of action that creates a sense of progress. Reinforcements can help make the behavior more satisfying.

  • For example, each time you resist the temptation to buy an unnecessary item, you can transfer the money to a special account earmarked for something you want, like a vacation or leather boots. 
  • The satisfaction of watching your vacation or boot fund grow reduces the feelings of sacrifice in not buying something you don’t need.

TITLE: Atomic Habits
AUTHOR: James Clear
TIME: 54
READS: 1490.5
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: atomic-habits-summary-james-clear

Tip 3: Remind Yourself of Your Goal

When you know that a situation will test your ability to resist temptation, you can prepare yourself in advance. To that end, Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter, the authors of Triggers, recommend checking in with yourself during a challenging situation, as often as every hour. By continually restating your goal, you create an anchor that helps you stay aware of your behavior and less likely to give in to temptation.

Final Words

Learning how to resist temptation is a necessary prerequisite for success in any endeavor. When you can, without hesitation, say no to things that are tempting in the moment (but that hurt your progress in the long run), nothing can stand between you and your goals.

If you enjoyed our article about how to resist temptation, check out the following suggestions for further reading:

Dopamine Nation

Is there something you indulge in more often than you’d like? Maybe it’s checking social media, eating junk food, or binging shows and movies on streaming platforms. In Dopamine Nation, addiction treatment specialist Anna Lembke explores what causes these behaviors and how you can take back control. She explains both the neurological and emotional causes of overindulgence and provides clear actionables to help you stop.

Discipline Equals Freedom

In Discipline Equals Freedom, Jocko Willink argues that the key to mastering your mind, reaching your highest goals, and discovering your full potential is unwavering discipline. Willink is an author, speaker, and podcaster that shares his lessons and philosophy of discipline acquired from 20 years of service as a US Navy SEAL. Drawing on his military and leadership experience, he’ll teach you how to resist temptation, increase your willpower, and develop relentless discipline so you can be the best version of yourself day in and day out. 

Deep Work

Like most people, you’re probably easily distracted by wandering thoughts or social media updates while trying to be productive. In Deep Work, Cal Newport teaches you how to resist temptation to give in to distractions so that you can drive progress toward your most important goals.

How to Resist Temptation: 3 Proven Tips

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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