The other day I walked into the apartment with a soft pretzel in my hand. When Daniel saw me, he said, “I thought you didn’t like those?” I paused for a second and laughed because, yes, he was right. On a list of snacks I’d ordinarily choose, a soft pretzel would fall somewhere between unsalted sunflower seeds and stale rice cakes. Still, I had devoured that pretzel. And when he asked me why I’d buy something I didn’t like, all I could come up with was…“I couldn’t say no anymore.”
Walking through the streets of Manhattan is like navigating one endless buffet. There’s a corner grocer, a restaurant or cafe every 10 steps, and then there are food carts serving every kind of food imaginable: pizza, burgers, Chinese, Thai, Indian, kebabs, hotdogs, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, and of course, pretzels. You can’t step outside without smelling some type of food (or pee, but that’s only in the dead of summer). After passing a food truck a few blocks from home, I caught a whiff of my favorite street meat and started salivating. After passing several more carts, I noticed I was slowing down…looking over the options I knew so well. I finally stopped a block from home and bought a pretzel. I’d been tempted by too many things to say no one more time.
You don’t have to be in Manhattan to feel bombarded with delicious foods (have you seen the candy options at Best Buy?). All of us face a million little temptations throughout our days–from the moment we wake up to the time our heads hit the pillow.
Ego depletion is the idea that willpower is a finite resource that can be exhausted. The more times you have to actively use it, the less you have in reserve, and eventually you make a choice you probably wish you avoided. We have all experienced this feeling of just being too exhausted to make the right decision. It’s why stopping for pizza seems more appealing after a stressful week of work on a Friday evening than it does on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Your willpower has been all used up.
This is the part of the post where I’m supposed to offer my magical cure-all tip. Unfortunately, for most of us, there isn’t one. We’re going to have cravings…we’re going to face temptations. And sometimes we’re going to succumb to the ones we might have wanted to avoid. That’s OK. Here’s what I think we can do to help ourselves: When possible, make sure to eat before leaving the house so temptation isn’t made worse by hunger. Carry a water bottle or a cup of tea/coffee so you have something to sip on when out of the house. Plan when you’re going to stop for a treat before you leave so that you can avoid making on-the-spot decisions. And if all else fails, remember that complete abstinence isn’t the goal–being mindful and conscious enough to feel able to choose what we want when we want it is.