If you work in a busy office setting, you might be familiar with this situation: every week (sometimes daily), there is food being dropped off in the break room as a gift or a “thank you” from vendors, coworkers or management. It might be someone’s birthday and there’s leftover cake. Or it might be “bagel day” or “pizza day” at the office. Certain times of the year might also present their own challenges (like people bringing in leftover Halloween candy or desserts from Thanksgiving or Christmas).
For some, this is just a delicious office perk. For others who want to have more control over their eating and habits, it’s may bring constant frustration or feelings of defeat. Office treats are delicous, and they are also very distracting and can even be quite addicting. If this is you, you might start every morning with good intentions to eat healthy and resist temptation; but, every day, by about mid-morning or afternoon, you might find yourself so distracted or tempted by the sights & smells that you give in to the donuts, candy or assorted cookie packages.
Even if you don’t work in an office, many of us tend to find ourselves in these sorts of situations from time to time, especially when we live with others (kids, spouse, roommates, etc) or attend parties and events with others that don’t share the same health & fitness goals.
How do you stay focused on your health & fitness with all these temptations surrounding you?
When you find yourself in these situations, the biggest thing to remember is to run your own race. When a racehorse is about to run a race, they literally put blinders on the horse so it stays in its own lane and focuses on its own race. How do you stay this focused in real life? In real situations?
In order to stay focused, before reflexively, automatically (and mindlessly) reaching for that donut or bagel, reconsider your underlying reasons for wanting to be healthy and reflect on what is at stake for you. Take a minute and pause. Think. What really matters to you? It’s important to mention that it’s not just about fitting into skinny jeans or smaller clothes or looking good for a reunion or vacation. While all of those reasons are excellent & valid, they are often temporary and superficial. Going deeper and finding your own personal “why” is critical. There was a reason you started this journey–what is it? More energy? Better health? Feeling good about yourself again?
From a coaching standpoint, I can offer you one very effective strategy to handle this very common situation of temptation:
Learn to be with (co-exist) with temptation, rather than resisting it or avoiding it.
Most of the time, we either resist the temptation or do our best to avoid it. Both of these strategies work, but only to a certain point. When you learn to co-exist, it is a game-changer.
Resisting temptation (“willpower”) is the use of strength, force or white-knuckling a situation. This technique usually leaves you with the experience of deprivation or frustration, like you are missing out or sacrificing something. It may work occasionally, but it is also so exhausting that most people give in within a short time.
Avoiding temptation is a close cousin of resisting temptation. The theory goes, “out of sight, out of mind” (if you are not staring at it, then the temptation is minimized), or, “you can’t eat what’s not there” (if the food is in one room and you are in the other room, then you can’t eat the food). Sounds like a logical solution, right? Well, this can work in theory, and does, but not consistently. This strategy tends to build a negative energy around the situation and can be immensely draining. Psychologically, you know the food is there, but are deliberately avoiding it, so it can actually set you up to overeat later. Not to mention, when you avoid temptations entirely, your world tends to get much smaller, since you would have to avoid the people and places where you may be tempted, such as at parties and holidays. Not much fun.
Being (Co-Existing) with the temptation only works by embracing the concept of mindfulness. This technique involves taking a conscious step back to observe yourself and how you operate under certain conditions. It is a tool of self-discovery & self-mastery that works 100% of the time when you practice it. It develops reciprocal respect & neutrality for yourself and the object of your desire, where neither of you overpowers the other; you simply coexist. Pretty deep, right?
This is how co-existance/being with your temptation could work in practical terms:
You walk into the break room and immediately notice the donuts. You suddenly want one; your mouth is salivating as you stare at the opportunity, wrestling with yourself to enjoy one.
Before you reach for the donut, however, you stop to notice a few things about your line of thinking and start to become curious.
You ask yourself the question, “five minutes ago, were donuts even on my radar?” The answer is, probably not.
So: notice why you want the donuts right now.
Did something just happen? Are you stressed out? Is it just because they are in front of you? Is it simply a habit? Are you genuinely hungry? Do you want to fit in because everyone else is enjoying them?
Often, we mindlessly grab for food simply because it’s there.
Now, take the scenario all the way through to the very end: “how will I feel after I eat the donut?” (Probably angry with myself & distracted from the sugar induced brain-fog).
Once you take a step back to notice your thinking patterns and habits, you then are in a position to powerfully decide for yourself, “it’s not worth it,” and choose to not eat the donut. After a while, you won’t even notice the donuts at all (truly). They will not call to you or tempt you. They will simply “be” there.
While this scenario contains multiple steps and can seem like alot, through practice and repetition, it all can begin to occur instantaneously. And, if you forget to use this strategy, the minute you find yourself eating the donut and think, “how did I do this again?!”, you can engage in a mindfulness-based, “slow-motion instant replay” technique to come to an understanding of at what point your decision-making started to go south.
Developing the skills of mindfulness and self talk are powerful tools to stay focused on your health & wellness goals and all of your other life goals. Learning to distinguish your goals, beliefs, thoughts and actions is something in which a life coach can support you.
Occupational Therapist, Registered/Licensed
Professional Certified Coach