Like Mimi and many others I spent the run up to Christmas and then into the New Year feasting, rather than fasting. It is so strange; I know that I shouldn’t and that I will feel bad afterwards, but I still couldn’t resist eating far too much chocolate, cake and mince pies. It is because it is there, right in front of me, all the time.
Normally I try to ban such things from our house as I have a sweet tooth and know that when I am feeling peckish they will be hard to resist. As Oscar Wilde once famously put it, “I can resist anything but temptation”.
There’s a book I’m reading at the moment called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt that helps explain why we sabotage our own best interests. As he points out, we can probably muster the willpower to resist ordering a dessert but not the willpower to resist it if one is put in front of us.
Or, as the poet Ovid wrote “Desire and feeling pull in different directions. I feel the right way and approve it, but I follow the wrong”.
We are like riders on the back of an elephant. We hold the reins and think we are in control; we can steer the elephant as long as the elephant has no desires of its own. But in the end the elephant does what the elephant wants to do and we are left helplessly raging at our own apparent weakness.
But is it really weak will or is it mainly about context and opportunity? I have a lot more to say about unconscious impulses, but that will have to wait for another day.