How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Opportunity, Temptation and Willpower
Some people fall into doing things they know are wrong, from stealing to adultery. In some ways they do not want to do these things, yet somehow they still do them. Here are three factors that can affect whether you are likely to be affected in this way.
Imagine you are sitting in the park when you see a wallet on the seat beside you. It seems to be bulging, and when you pick it up you can see there is a lot of money in it. You can look for a phone number in it. You can hand it in to the police. Or you could keep it. There is nobody around. This is opportunity. Or say you are working late at the office, and a rather attractive person starts flirting with you. Do you flirt back? This is another opportunity.
Opportunities to do things we know are wrong may present themselves to us at any time. They may be relatively easy things, such as driving faster than the speed limit. Or they may need more work, such as hacking into somebody else's computer or even robbing a bank.
The more opportunities we get, the more chance we have of doing wrong. Some people get a lot more opportunity, such as famous actors who get frequent offers of romance. If you live in a city, you may have more opportunity than if you live in a sparsely-populated part of the country. Sometimes people, wherever they are, do not have much opportunity appear before them, and so are less likely to be tempted and do something wrong.
An easy way of identifying this: Opportunity is contextual. It happens to us in the environment. Sure, we can work to increase or decrease opportunity, but most of the time it just presents itself to us.
When you have the opportunity, the next question is: are you tempted? When a person is propositioned by their much older boss, they may well be more embarrassed than tempted. But the other way around could be more tempting.
Temptation depends to some extend on such factors evolutionary pressures and desires. When I want something, I may be more tempted to take short-cuts or break rules. Temptation also may depend on the morals of the person, such that an opportunity is quickly and easily dismissed if it is seen as being wrong.
Temptation can also depend on whether we think we may or may not be caught, and the potential punishment we would receive. If we think we can almost certainly get away with something, the temptation may be far greater. This is one reason why people in rioting crowds may act in ways they would never do by themselves.
Some people have more tendency towards certain feelings, thoughts and actions, which may be caused by nature or nurture. For example it is known that angry parents can lead to children who easily become angry. Such people are more often tempted to show outbursts of anger than calmer others.
An easy way of identifying this: Temptation is unconscious. It is how we feel. We don't decide to be tempted. We just are.
Many of us are sorely tempted by all sorts of opportunities, but we resist that temptation. We see money and look for the owner. We may flirt gently but do not take things any further. We hold in our anger as we politely interact with annoying others. In other words, we use our willpower as a final means of not doing what we know we should not do.
Some temptations need a lot of willpower, for example offers of illicit romantic encounters or simply having another drink when your friends are buying. Other things need far less willpower, such as running across the road between the cars. Willpower needed is higher when desire is strong and when perceived risk is lower (and vice versa).
An easy way of identifying this: Willpower is conscious. It involves choice. It includes the decision whether to give in to temptation or to resist it.