“Whenever you get an impression of some pleasure, as with any impression, guard yourself from being carried away by it, let it await your action, give yourself a pause. After that, bring to mind both times, first when you have enjoyed the pleasure and later when you will regret it and hate yourself. Then compare to those the joy and satisfaction you’d feel for abstaining altogether. However, if a seemingly appropriate time arises to act on it, don’t be overcome by its comfort, pleasantness, and allure — but against all of this, how much better the consciousness of conquering it.”EPICTETUS, ENCHIRIDION, 34
Today’s entry in The Daily Stoic is effectively a step-by-step guide on how to conquer your temptations. Let’s unpack everything from the quote above.
First, when you feel a temptation coming on, Epictetus advises us to pause. Just take a chill pill and relax for a second. Why do we do this? To ensure our mind isn’t running away from us, and that we’re not becoming overwhelmed by emotion or irrational thought. Hang tight for a moment, observe, and make sure that you’re in your right mind.
Second, remind yourself of all the times you’ve given in to your temptations — as well as how you felt afterwards. Chances are, you felt pretty disgusted with yourself for caving. You felt disappointed that you weren’t stronger, that you couldn’t resist, and that you knew what the right choice was and still you made the wrong choice. Ugh. The book’s author Ryan Holiday says that we must “connect the so-called temptation with its actual effects.” Once you make that connection, and realize that vices are their own punishment, it will look less tempting.
Third, consider how good it would feel to have the courage to abstain from your temptation. Imagine the immense pride you would have in your ability to control yourself. And then compare that feeling to the temporal, fleeting pleasure you would gain from giving in to temptation. It feels a lot better to be strong on the inside rather than weak, doesn’t it? “Self-control becomes the real pleasure,” as Holiday points out.
In the end, we realize that conquering our temptations actually feels much better than giving in. Despite what our body is telling us in that moment.