Hint: It’s all about planning ahead to stay in control.

Rather than waiting for temptation to raise its inevitable head and struggling to resist it, researchers at the University of Wyoming say it’s more effective to plan in advance to manage those temptations with well-thought-out self-control strategies. In their study, published in the October 2019 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers found that the following four strategies, when planned ahead, are generally more effective than waiting until you are face to face with whatever tempts you and forced to try to resist in the moment:

1. Situation Selection. Whenever possible, avoid any situations where you know you will confront temptation. For instance, if you’re tempted to eat junk food, stay away from fast-food restaurants (don’t even drive by), and don’t go down the snack or baked-goods aisles of the supermarket (or any other aisle that’s filled with temptation).

2. Situation Modification. If you can’t completely avoid a situation that may involve temptation, do what you can to reduce the pull. If you’re at a party or a club and trying not to drink alcohol, stay as far away from the bar as possible. Try to connect with other non-drinkers.

3. Distraction. Divert your attention away from temptation. For instance, if you’re trying not to overeat or over-drink at a party, stay engaged in conversations and always have a glass of water in hand to sip on.

4. Reappraisal. Change the way you think about the temptation so it becomes less appealing. Craving that double cheeseburger? Remind yourself that if you give in, you’ll be eating ground-up animal muscle and artery-clogging fat.

You can try to neutralize most temptation by exerting self-control, but it’s not always easy. By proactively initiating these self-control strategies—by planning ahead—the researchers say you have a better chance of resisting temptation which, in turn, can help you move more quickly toward reaching your long-term goal of changing bad habits to good, once and for all. 

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