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Survey: What tempts people, why they give in and how they resist

Published: Friday, Jan. 18 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

The Barna survey indicated most people either don't care to resist or don't know how to resist temptation. Nearly two-thirds said they do nothing to avoid temptation, and half said they don't know why they give in.

Kinnaman, who has been conducting market research for nearly two decades, said those findings surprised him the most.

"There is something changing in how Americans approach temptation," he said. "The majority of Americans at any age are saying that temptation isn’t something to be avoided or withstood, but just a benign feature of life."

Of those who do resist temptation, the survey found prayer to be the most commonly mentioned method of coping. Other methods included using reason and reminders, considering consequences, and reading or recalling scripture.

Hunter said those findings indicate to him that people have an intuition that their temptations are a spiritual, "deeper inward problem, deeper than willpower.

"For some people they start talking about ways of engaging with God, of which prayer would be right at the top of that," he said.

Need for renewal

For centuries, people have turned to religion to renew themselves, leave their past behind and begin again. Nearly all faith traditions have stories and rituals of renewal, from baptism to Ramadan to reincarnation.

"It's kind of a truism that the purpose of religion is to reintegrate members of the community back in when they have gone astray," said Gordon Melton, a professor of religious history at Baylor University. "It usually involves some form of forgiveness and reaffirming status back into the community."

The religious tenets of renewal tap into a human desire for new beginnings, explained Christopher Hays, a professor of ancient near eastern studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. "Anyone who lives in the world finds things get tiresome and old, and the idea of renewal is a very powerful one," he said.

Melton said starting over is something repeated throughout American history, beginning with the motivations of its earliest settlers to modern-day immigrants who have diversified the country's modern religious landscape.

Rebecca Jackson was among about 60 people who gathered at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple on New Years Eve to participate in that faith's ancient tradition of Joya-E, where they reflect on the past year and recognize the human passions they desire to overcome by ringing a large bell 108 times.

Jackson, 23, found Buddhism in her search for something spiritual in her life.

For the new year she has resolved to meditate every morning before she heads to work. The exercise involves focusing on one's breathing and dismissing thoughts of the past or future. "I can start to see where it will make a difference. I am in a better mood. I feel more gratitude and patience," said the Orem mother of a 5-year-old.

Jackson's desire to be more spiritual and her plan to accomplish it align with Hunter's steps to reordering one's desires so that temptations don't overpower you.

The first two steps are to envision the person you prefer to be and decide if you really want to be that person in the future. Hunter said what should follow naturally is the third step of discovering the means that will help you accomplish your goal.

He said the most common mistake people make is going straight to the means without a commitment to the change it could bring.

"Instruments of change are only good if someone has a preferable future in mind and has decided to get there," he said. "Otherwise, the instruments only frustrate us."

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