The Antidote to Temptation
Willpower is usually credited with one’s ability to remain on course in spite of the many distractions that challenge us from the periphery. And I agree, that if nothing stronger opposes that which beguiles us, willpower must be summoned. But, if what entices us is opposed by strong purpose and meaning, then the need for self-control becomes a nonissue. This holds true as long as we do not omit one important step: our purpose must be meaningful enough to evoke, within ourselves, a visceral response that ultimately translates into passionate expression. A purpose that does not generate a strong emotional response cannot contend with a challenging emotion. Excited desires will eventually overrule even the most rational mind. Hence, the familiar lament. “I know this intellectually, but…” However, a rational mind can give birth to an even more excited desire that in turn will conquer its weaker. Reason is no match for strong emotions, and willpower fades with time. But intellect, passionately demonstrated, invariably and effortlessly emerges victorious.
We often become discouraged when our feelings eclipse our logically thought out deductions. We know one thing, but do another. We know better, but do worse. We flee from reason, and defect to impulse. And as a result, we lose faith in ourselves, secretly believing we are weak. Subtly and insidiously our self-esteem erodes. Finally in the interest of survival, we muster up the brute strength to oppose our natural instincts and reflexes. And, once more, we are reminded that our resolve, at best, is short lived.
Willpower can come to our rescue, but only temporarily. Eventually it must be replaced by the strength of our character: a character that is driven by a value system, rather than our nervous system. And the very first value in that hierarchy must be our own lives. If not, every value that follows is of no value at all – at least, not to us. But then, who or what occupies that prominent position? It can be very disheartening to discover that we have been honoring someone or something else while sacrificing our own lives. And whether we sacrifice ourselves to another individual or to our own impulses makes no difference. In both cases we are guilty of self-betrayal: the surrendering of things most important to oneself. This woefully includes our health
and our dignity.
There are many “how to” approaches for effective living. Ironically, they all seem to be ineffective. And I think so because “how”, alone, doesn’t fortify us against the push and pull of our emotions. We would be much better off with a “why to” approach. “Why” gives us purpose and meaning; and if the “why” is strong enough, it will counteract that which attempts to seduce us, making the “how” almost inconsequential. The hard work doesn’t reside within the” how”. It resides within the “why”. Others can show us “how”, but finding the “why” is a purely personal and solitary proposition. That which motivates and empowers us to succeed, in spite of all obstacles, must come from deep meaning within. Our “why” must be stronger than what tempts us. If not, we will surrender. When it comes to purpose and meaning, we are on our own. No one can provide us with a heart and soul; it is ours to create. And once we do, nothing and no one can destroy it.
When we are bereft of purpose and meaning, we tend to fill the metaphysical void with physical matter and sensations. We collect “stuff” and alter our feelings in search of fulfillment and a sense of reward. But this hole has no dimensions and cannot be filled no matter how much
matter we dump into it. And the feelings of elation, artificially produced by substances of all sorts, inevitably decrescendo, leaving us only with the damage that follows in the wake of irrational behavior. But when this metaphysical vacuum is filled with determination and life affirming values, all contrived needs dissolve along with temptation.
So, do we control our desires, living with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake at all times – wanting what our impulses demand, yet holding back with all our might? Or, do we change our desires by changing our values, no longer wanting what we know to be destructive? Willpower may save us in the moment, but only for a moment, and is quite exhausting. Enthusiasm generated by purpose and meaning, however, is durable, exhilarating, and most positively the antidote to temptation.
As a natural health consultant for over 25 years Mark Houllif has been teaching the scientific principles of health promotion. The goal is to guide the individual back to health using natural and nutritonal methods. By removing the causes of disease and establishing conditions of health we allow the body to most powerfully manifest its natural healing tendencies.