That overwhelming urge. “It’s not like this one little thing really matters anyway,” you tell yourself. Or, “I’ve been so good for so long.” Or, “I can handle it—it’s all under control.” And then, before you know it, looking at yourself in the mirror is painful. Paranoia sets in. Do they know? You wonder.
Temptation is ultimately a heart issue rather than a circumstance issue, and all of us have hearts that are imperfect, so the truth is that temptation will always be a part of life. Having said that, sometimes altering our circumstances can go a long way towards reducing temptation, developing good habits, and ultimately making it easier to resist temptation when it does rear its ugly head.
Stopping the cycle isn’t easy, but it is possible! Here are five proven tools that many people have found helpful in the fight against temptation.
One of the greatest weapons in your arsenal is prayer. Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the most successful programs for defeating alcohol addiction, includes prayer as one of their famous twelve steps. Jesus himself recommended prayer repeatedly as a valuable tool in the fight against temptation (Luke 11:4, 22:40).
It’s difficult to give in to temptation when God is in focus instead of sin.
Recognizing that God has complete power over our lives helps us to see that our own transformation actually is possible, even if we’ve failed in the past. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He certainly has the power to lead you away from that enticing yet sinful decision.
Asking for His help in your quest to obey Him better is pleasing to God in the same way that a father would be pleased when his child asks for help. It also serves to set your mind on things above rather than things of this world, putting your own position into a greater perspective, effectively resetting your mind. It’s difficult to give in to temptation when God is in focus instead of sin.
2. You Are What You Eat
One opportunity to reduce your own temptations is to think about the movies and television shows you watch and the video games you play. Do they promote the kinds of behaviors that you struggle with? Do they tempt you in areas that you find to be problematic? Make sure you are as honest with yourself as possible.
Make sure you only watch movies that don’t have the kinds of things that cause problems for you.
Many people find that avoiding certain types of movies, shows, or video games reduces their temptation by a tremendous degree. Some have found that eliminating television and video games altogether is not only helpful for them but also everyone in their entire family. Even if you don’t go to that extent, at least check the ratings of movies before watching them, and consider the reasons they were given the rating they’ve received.
Make sure—to the best of your ability—that you only watch movies that don’t have the kinds of things that cause problems for you. This can make movie time more pleasant and a lot less tempting!
There are many resources to accomplish this. The Internet Movie Database lists most movies and television shows and has a handy Parent’s Guide for each show that explains the kinds of things you can expect to see and hear if you watch that show. Focus on the Family has a similar offering called Plugged In. Additionally, Common Sense Media offers video game reviews as well as movie reviews with similar kinds of information.
Avoiding movies, shows, and games that pressure you to think about things that you probably shouldn’t is a great way to stay away from influences you would be better off without.
3. Find Positive Alternatives
Many people find great benefit in developing hobbies, habits, and a lifestyle that leaves less room for temptation. If your spare time is consumed by helping out at the local homeless shelter, home improvement projects, or playing basketball with the guys, then the amount of time left over for those unhealthy choices disappears rapidly. There is truth in the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
You may find that in your situation, one or more of the following suggestions actually cause your temptations to grow. If that’s the case, it’s best to pick something different.
Often, volunteers at a wide variety of charities find that volunteering has helped them out as much as, if not more than, the people the charity actually serves. Big Brothers and Big Sisters, a local pregnancy care center, the Salvation Army, the Children’s Hunger Fund, Samaritan’s Purse, and innumerable other charities have volunteer opportunities around the world. Your local church may have opportunities as well.
Make a point of spending your free time regularly helping others instead of entertaining unhealthy desires.
Look for something meaningful in your area and make a point of spending your free time regularly helping others instead of entertaining unhealthy desires.
Do you have an unfinished basement? A toilet that just keeps running? A draft around your window? Home improvement projects require time and planning and plenty of work, but they have a great payoff in the end. Not only do you focus your mind away from unhealthy temptation, but you also get to accomplish something useful that you and your family will appreciate.
Gardening, painting, knitting, crochet, sculpture, metalwork, and fixing up old cars are all great ways to spend downtime instead of focusing on desires that are better forgotten about. Maybe write that great American novel, or make movies using your phone’s camera with your friends or family as actors. Take singing lessons or learn to play an instrument.
You will appreciate the fruits of your labors with all of these things, not only because they’ll distract you from temptation, but also because you’ll be creating new things and improving your environment and the environment of the people around you.
Exercise and team sports are other positive ways to spend your free time. Again, this serves not only as a distraction from bad things but also helps to strengthen your muscles, increase your agility, sharpen your thinking, and build friendships with other people. Football, soccer, basketball, baseball, frisbee, skiing, and golf will all increase your physical and mental wellbeing as well as help to reduce the amount of temptation you find yourself in.
Just imagine all the things you could do if you redirect your mental energy to something more productive!
Many towns have local YMCAs or other gyms where amateur pickup basketball games are played almost every day, even in the winter. Go to a park with friends or family and bring a ball or a frisbee. Make it a regular thing, once a week, or even every day if it makes sense in your situation. You’ll be glad you did.
Another powerful alternative to spending your time thinking about unhealthy things is to spend that same time memorizing scripture and then reciting scripture you’ve already memorized. Spending time thinking about God can never be a bad thing, and with memorization, you’ll find yourself seeing and understanding things in the Bible that you never did before. The fact that you won’t be thinking about things that get you into trouble is icing on the cake!
Even if memorizing things is difficult for you, keep in mind that just a few verses a week, over time, can add up. At an average of just three verses a week, over a couple of years, I was able to memorize the entire Book of Hebrews. Now I can recite the whole book at will, and I frequently do so when I’m alone on a long drive. But don’t forget that if you really want to retain what you’ve memorized, you need to continue to recite it.
Just imagine all the things you could do if you redirect your mental energy to something more productive!
4. Make Dramatic Changes
Sometimes, the things that cause us to be tempted could be easily avoided, but dramatic change may be necessary.
There is truth to the saying, “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It would be well worth it to ask yourself if the people you spend time with encourage you down roads you shouldn’t travel. Sometimes, changing friends is one of the best things you can do to stay out of trouble.
Don’t leave one bad situation for another that is equally tempting.
It can be painful and difficult to leave old friends, even when you know it would be for the best. But keep in mind that by leaving your old friends, you might even be giving them a chance to avoid the same temptations you’ve been struggling with. Sometimes people mutually encourage one another, either for the better or else for the worse.
If you decide that you need to find different people to spend your time with, choose your new friends carefully. Don’t leave one bad situation for another that is equally tempting or that may be even worse.
Often our temptations may be centered on a particular place, where memories are overwhelming. That bar you used to always get drunk at, your ex-girlfriend’s house, the place where your children died. In circumstances like these, leaving the area permanently may literally be the best move you’ve ever made.
But again, when you make a dramatic change like this, make sure that you don’t just replace one bad scenario with another. Sometimes, the move may help, but only if it is accompanied by a change in habits. There may only be one place on earth associated with a devastating memory that enrages you—like the place where you lost a loved one—and moving away may be in itself all that you need for emotional stability. Nevertheless, almost every town has a bar, and any town can have an ex-girlfriend’s house if you aren’t careful.
Your job may also be something that isn’t conducive to resisting temptation. In circumstances like these, finding a different position in the same company, or a new employer altogether, or even an entirely different career path may be of great help.
Like the other dramatic changes mentioned here, changing jobs is not something to do lightly. It is usually a good idea to find your new position before leaving your old one if you can manage it. And again, do your best to make sure you aren’t just replacing one set of temptations for another equivalent set.
Changing schools can be more difficult than changing jobs since those in schools are often not in charge of their own lives yet. If you are a child, and you find that your school provides more temptation than you can manage, talk first with your teachers to see if they have ideas that may help. They may be able to move you to a different class to help you get away from a group of kids that push you in the wrong direction, or they may suggest a club you could join instead of having nothing to do during an empty class period.
There may be other options that your parents would consider.
If the school officials don’t seem able to help, and changing schools seems to be the only way out of the problem, then talk with your parents about the things that are bothering you. Don’t just highlight the negatives, also try to offer an alternative, along with reasons you think the alternative would be better. There may be other options that your parents would consider, such as a magnet school, a private school, or homeschooling.
If you look into these options before speaking with your parents, then you’ll have reasonable alternatives to offer them when you present your concerns. Parents have temptations just like you do, and they’ve probably experienced many of the same school struggles that you are going through. If you keep a calm tone and offer reasonable alternatives, and as long as you’re willing to accept whatever decision they make, they’ll probably be more than happy to listen. You may not get what you think is best in the end, but at least you’ll have tried.
5. Seek Accountability
Being alone easily leads to making poor choices. Many people find that they are less inclined to give in to temptation when they know someone else is watching them.
Jesus says, “everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20). If we live in the light, then we give ourselves no opportunity for wicked deeds.
Being alone easily leads to making poor choices.
Having a trusted accountability partner or close friend who is aware of your life and your struggles can be a very helpful deterrent when temptation comes knocking at the door. Knowing that they’re going to ask you about the things you struggle with can be great motivation to not give in to those temptations.
Accountable2You offers accountability software that takes this same kind of exposing light—the light of accountability—and brings it into your private computer usage. If too much screen time, or online gambling, or pornography, or social network antagonism are difficult temptations for you to manage on your own, Accountable2You’s software can be of great assistance. The software quietly monitors your device activity and sends a detailed report to a person you choose. It’s like having someone else with you when you’re on the internet.
Temptations will always come, but many are avoidable, and the others can be fought with greater success. Through prayer, avoiding things you already know are problematic, substituting new habits and a different lifestyle for the old ways, and surrounding yourself with the accountability of trusted friends, resisting temptation rather than giving in to it can become your new normal.