I realized something very important about myself. With some things, I can’t indulge a little bit. It’s far easier for me to skip cookies, bagels, cheese, and chocolate altogether than it is to have a sensible portion. Turns out, I’m an abstainer, not a moderator. What’s the difference?
Abstainers find it easier to give something up entirely than to indulge moderately. When I admitted to myself that I was eating my favorite frozen “fake food” treat, Tasti D-Lite, two and even three times a day, I gave it up cold turkey. That was far easier for me to do than to eat Tasti D-Lite twice a week. If I try to be moderate, I exhaust myself debating, “Today, tomorrow?” “Does this time ‘count?’” etc. If I never do something, it requires no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control.
Moderators do better in, well, moderation – when they try to make small changes, when they avoid absolutes and bright lines. They often find that occasional indulgence heightens their pleasure and strengthens their resolve. They feel trapped by the thought of “never” getting or doing something.
There’s no right way or wrong way – it’s just a matter of knowing which strategy works better for you. If moderators try to abstain, they feel panicky and rebellious. If abstainers try to be moderate, they spend a lot of time justifying why they should go ahead and indulge.
People can be surprisingly judgmental about which approach you take. As an abstainer, I often get disapproving comments like, “It’s not healthy to take such a strict approach” or “Can’t you let yourself have a little fun?” On the other hand, I hear fellow abstainer-types saying to moderators, “You can’t keep cheating and expect to make progress” or “Why don’t you just go cold turkey?” But different approaches work for different people. (Exception: with an actual addiction, like alcohol or cigarettes, people generally accept that abstaining is the only solution.)
How about you? Do you do better when you abstain from a temptation, or when you indulge in moderation? It’s important to recognize the approach that works better for you, because you’ll have a far easier time changing your habits when take into account your nature.
The days are long, but the years are short.