Now you see, the world is full of temptations…they’re the wrong things that seem right at the time.
The battle for a good life is won when we consistently overcome temptation and make the right choices. No one will do this perfectly, but we should try to behave well consistently.
Because so much of our time is spent thinking, it is easy to forget that people draw conclusions about who we are through our behavior. Others don’t know our intentions. They can’t see our regrets. Others know us by the life we live, not by what we think about.
The Patterns of Life
Whether we’re aware of it or not, there is consistency in the way we act. People recognize us by our actions, which become predictable. This does not mean that we can’t surprise people every now and then, but for the most part, all of us settle into a routine that can become familiar to those around us. One way or another, our behavior is what people see and serves as the basis for their impressions about who we are.
Because we are always communicating, it becomes important to be aware of what our words and actions are saying about who we are and how we see the world. Our behavior has a voice. Even ignoring someone sends a powerful message. When we become conscious of what are actions are saying, we can craft the message the world hears about us by consistently behaving in ways that reveal who we are inside.
If I say one kind word and 10 awful ones, I’m not going to be seen as a nice guy. The consistently mean person who does an out-of-character nice thing is seen as manipulative. The person who develops a pattern of honesty and kind living is seen as likeable and reliable. Because the human mind holds on to bad memories and is often quick to forget good ones, it is even more critical to be consistently good; our inevitable moments of imperfection will be all anyone remembers unless they are not far outnumbered by times when we are on our best behavior.
In relationship, we like to know what to expect from someone—rocky relationships aren’t satisfying. Characteristics such as trustworthiness, dependability, and responsibility are highly sought after in relationship partners and are only earned when one has behaved consistently well.
When we mess up, we find out quickly how fast trust can be broken. To make things worse, we are often impatient when we try to earn it back, getting frustrated when people still have their doubts about us when we know that we have changed. Public figures offer powerful examples of how steep the fall from grace can be and how hard it can take to climb back on top; many never recover from their mistakes in the eyes of the public.
When we fail, rather than accepting defeat and hiding in the shadows, it would be better to become more consistently well behaved. Yes, there will be people who will forever judge us by the worst days of our past, but we don’t have to live up to their expectations in the present and future. Others will be willing to let us earn their trust; if we work hard and are kind to ourselves and others, we can build a supportive community even after we have behaved poorly.
Hard Choices and Overcoming Temptations
Most of us have experienced wanting two or more things at the same time: we have one week’s vacation and two places we’d like to go; we find two entrees on a menu that sound delicious. When our feelings are mixed, it can be difficult to make a decision. When we have to make a choice between two desirable options, we need to just make a call and not waste our time second guessing ourselves. When the stakes are high or we are facing temptation, we need to consider not only short-term pleasure, but also our values and long-term goals.
Bad behavior can feel incredible, but usually for only a very brief period of time. Bad behaviors give short-term pleasure that is often followed by long-term problems. The truth is that many temptations lose a measure of their appeal when we remember our values and goals in life. Infidelity, drunkenness, lying, and other behaviors that make us feel good in the moment are only seen as the vices they are when we keep our values in check and remember the consequences these actions have over weeks, months, and years. Brief moments of pleasure are never worth it when they lead to big problems over time. When we embrace good values and consistently behave in healthy ways, we avoid temptations and life gets so much better.