Those of you who know me know that I'm a woman of faith. I don't spout scripture on the subway, or force my beliefs down the throats of others; my philosophy is that you ought to be able to tell what I believe by how I live.
Nevertheless, one of my favorite regular freelance jobs is writing a monthly Bible club letter. It's a letter with a practical bent, a missive that aims to help people put what they believe into action. I get to choose which topics I want to write about. Since publishing works with a long lead time, I'm currently finishing up the December edition. You'd think this calls for a discussion of joy at the birth of Christ, or perhaps humility (what with the stable and all), but I've chosen to write about temptation. For most of us, there's a lot of temptation in December: temptation to eat too much, drink too much, do too much, give too much.
Here's a thought to give you pause: studies show that resolving not to do something increases the odds that you'll do it. Willpower isn't the ticket to defeating temptation. Planning is.
If you stop to ponder it, this makes sense. Most of the temptations we face are pretty obvious. They show up consistently, in predictable places, and under foreseeable circumstances. If you're going to a party, there will be food, and there will be drink, and there will be a tendency to gossip. Resolving not to give in isn't nearly as effective as planning ahead of time how you're going to keep yourself from nibbling all night, or deciding what you're going to do instead of having that third glass of wine, or who you'll stay away from (and how) so your tongue doesn't start wagging.
We all have patterns that underlie how, when, where and with whom we do things we later wish we hadn't done. Figuring out what those patterns are -- and figuring out specific strategies ahead of time for skirting that rut -- improves our likelihood of success.
As a side note, there's a temptation to think of temptations as 100% onerous, but that may not be true. If I truly want to become a better person, an inventory of my temptations can be quite helpful in showing me where I need to get to work.