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Want to Avoid Temptation? Stop and Relax

Want to Avoid Temptation? Stop and RelaxIf you are trying to avoid temptation, stop fighting it and just relax.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Illinois found that people who are “actively” motivated to change bad habits may actually be setting themselves up for not only failure, but to act impulsively. But those who use “inaction” words, such as stop or pause, are more relaxed and, ultimately, more successful.

“Our research suggests that the relaxed state is better at inhibiting the pull of temptations,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Dr. Dolores Albarracín.

The study, described in an article in the journal Motivation and Emotion, found that people primed with words suggesting action were more likely than others to make impulsive decisions that undermined their long-term goals. In contrast, those primed to “rest” or “stop” found it easier to avoid impulsive decisions.

“Popular views of self-control maintain that individuals should ‘exert’ willpower, ‘fight’ temptations, ‘overcome’ desires and ‘control’ impulses when they want to successfully control their own behavior,” said University of Illinois graduate student Justin Hepler, who led the study with Albarracín.

“Ironically, in these situations people are often ‘fighting’ to do nothing — for example, they want to not eat a piece of cake.”

In the study, the researchers wanted to determine whether successful self-control involves an active pursuit of goals or whether people are more likely to succeed by delaying behavior. To determine this, they conducted two experiments.

In the first, they exposed volunteers to words suggesting action, such as start or active, or inaction, such as stop or pause. They then tested their self-control by measuring their willingness to forgo an immediate monetary reward in exchange for a larger one later.

The second experiment also primed volunteers with action and inaction words and then tested their impulse control on a computer game.

In both experiments, volunteers who were motivated to be active were more likely to select immediate rewards and had poorer impulse control than those who had been primed with words suggesting inaction, the researchers found.

This demonstrates that people who are attempting to motivate themselves to be active in the face of temptation may actually be setting themselves up to act impulsively, Hepler said.

“On the other hand, becoming motivated for inaction or calming oneself down may be the best way to avoid impulsive decisions,” he said.

Source: University of Illinois

Woman and cake photo by shutterstock.

Want to Avoid Temptation? Stop and Relax

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Want to Avoid Temptation? Stop and Relax. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 15 Mar 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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