Resist Temptation By Changing Your Environment

One time I was showing a man I used to date how I organized my phone so it isn’t so addicting (getting rid of apps, organizing my home screen, e.t.c.) I’ll never forget his response.

“That’s cool, but I don’t need to do that to my phone. You know how I control my phone use? Willpower.”

What I tried to tell him is willpower isn’t perfect. Everyone has suffered a breakdown of will. Sometimes we try to keep ourselves from doing something, and we fail. Ever told yourself you wouldn’t drink that night, and before you know it you’re three beers deep? Or maybe you told yourself you would only eat 1500 calories today, but you only want one more bowl of chips…

Some research indicates willpower is like a muscle– you can work it until it’s tired, and if you overdo it, your willpower can fail. Other research indicates willpower is more like a moment-to-moment fight. What scientists do agree on is our willpower is not absolute. We all suffer times when our willpower breaks down in the face of temptation. What do we do then?

Well, we suffer the consequences, and that’s all there is to it.

What you can do is reduce the amount of willpower you need, by reducing the number of temptations in your life. Your willpower will break down less often if it has less opportunity to break down. Change your environment so you need less willpower.

This is how I reduced my phone use. Last year, I realized I was using my phone six hours a day. 6 hours a day. I told myself I’d use my phone less. I’d think about using my phone and sternly tell myself no. But somehow, at the end of every day, Screen Time read 6 hours. Willpower wasn’t working. When I redesigned my phone so I had fewer temptations to resist*, my phone use went down. Now I use my phone an average of 48 minutes a day. It didn’t take an extraordinary exertion of willpower, merely a few changes to my environment.

Every single thing we traditionally associate with ‘willpower,’ you can change so it requires less of your willpower.

  • Need to watch less TV? Put your TV in the closet (or better yet, sell it) and make yourself watch all your TV on the computer. A big TV sitting in a room is a big temptation.
  • Need to stop eating junk food? Stop buying it on your grocery runs. Store it in the back of cabinets and other places where you won’t see it, not in the front of your pantry where it’s easy for temptation to take hold.
  • Need to shop less? Don’t let yourself even go to the store. If there’s something you need, buy it on Amazon.
  • Need to drink less? Insist you and your friends hang out somewhere that doesn’t serve alcohol. Put the liquor on a high shelf in the pantry or a closed cabinet.
  • Need to smoke less pot? Clean out whatever you use to smoke, put it in a cupboard and store your pot across the house in a drawer. You can’t habitually pick up your bong if your bong isn’t there.

Reducing temptation is why recovered alcoholics will avoid going to bars. You can’t fall off the wagon if you’re handcuffed to it.

Plenty of people don’t make these changes. Serial adulterers continue to go to bars with their friends where attractive women hang out. Alcoholics who are trying to get sober keep hanging out with their binge-drinking friends. Stoners leave their packed bong out on the coffee table. Lazy college students buy big expensive televisions and small cheap computers. And plenty of people stay stuck where they are.

Ask yourself:

  • “What temptations do I seem to give in to over and over again?”
  • “What changes can I make so it is harder for me to give in?”

Then make them.

*See my article about those changes here: The 5 Step Guide To Breaking Your Phone Addiction, For Good