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How to Fight Temptation: Don’t Be There

States of mind

My Taekwondo instructor at Blue Wave (a very good New England Taekwondo association) is Master Gordon White; see my interview with him on his Taekwondo motivation here. Master White has a lot of good advice for us when it comes to Taekwondo sparring, including one of my favorite defensive tips: “Don’t Be There.” My friend Keyna Houston, who earned her black belt at the same testing I did back in March, made a handy picture (above) to illustrate the principle. If someone is trying to kick you in the head, for instance, the most useful thing you can do is to have your head somewhere else when the foot arrives.

In Taekwondo terms, this means using footwork and being aware of what your opponent is doing. If you’d like to see this in action, the difference between avoiding the kick and having it connect is demonstrated beautifully in this video, which you can skip if you’d like to just get to the point of this post.

Interestingly, kicks to the head have a lot in common with temptation. Like a kick to the head, it’s very hard to effectively block temptation. Also like a kick to the head, temptation can knock you flat. So one of the best defenses against temptation is to simply not be there.

What I mean by this is that a particular temptation arises when our minds are having certain thoughts. For instance, if the temptation you’re trying to avoid is buying something you can’t afford, temptation happens when you’re thinking about that thing, surfing the Web for prices, trying it out in a store, or otherwise occupying your attention with it. If your temptation is getting involved with someone when you know that wouldn’t be a good decision, it arises when you’re spending time with that person, corresponding with that person, or thinking about that person. Thinking, in this case, is “there,” the strike zone, ground zero, the bullseye on the target. When you’re in that space, you’re in danger of being hit with a kick you can’t block. When you’re not in that space, you’re relatively safe.

Given that, how is it possible to not be there? Well, just like in physical space, the way to not be in one place is to be in another. Find something else to focus your attention on or another way to meet your need. It’s hard to eat cookies when you’re chewing gum; it’s hard to feel lonely enough to be driven to make bad choices when you’re spending time with a good friend; and it’s hard to spend money on something when you aren’t shopping for it.

A single use of this technique won’t keep you safe forever. Just as in Taekwondo sparring, as soon as you evade one blow, your opponent is likely to move in to close the gap or to try to draw you in. But also as in sparring, the only way you can win the match is one choice at a time.

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