Gretchen Rubin

Fighting Halloween Temptation? Tap into the Power of the Four Tendencies.

Fighting Halloween Temptation? Tap into the Power of the Four Tendencies.

Halloween treats! So colorful, so ubiquitous, so fun, so bite-sized...Halloween a major source of temptation for children and adults alike.

As I know from writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, eating healthfully is one of the most popular habits that people try to cultivate -- and Halloween is a challenging time to stick to good eating habits.

In Better Than Before, I suggest many ways we can resist the temptation of mini-candy-bars, bags of candy-corn, beautifully decorated cupcakes and cookies, and so on. In particular, it's useful to harness the strength (and buttress the weakness) of our Tendency.

As a side note, for my whole life, I had a tremendous sweet tooth. I couldn't resist candy, cookies, ice cream, anything sweet. It was such a relief when I figured out that I'm an "Abstainer," who finds it far easier to avoid sweets altogether instead of trying to eat in moderation. So now I eat no Halloween candy, ever. That's what works for me! If you want to read more about that, I discuss it here.

To beat Halloween candy, I tapped into my Abstainer side. But another great tool is to think about your Tendency.

Don't know your Tendency -- whether you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quiz here (more than a million people have taken the quiz!).

Once you know your Tendency, consider these strategies -- and of course, a strategy suggested for a different Tendency might work well for you, too. Use anything that works!

Harness Your Tendency

Obliger: Obligers respond to outer accountability. That's the key for Obligers. So take steps to give yourself outer accountability for not eating Halloween candy.

  • Announce, "I'm not going to eat any Halloween candy this year" in front of everyone. (This strategy works well for my sister Elizabeth, who is an Obliger.)
  • If you dip into your kids' candy stash while they're at school (something I used to do often, until I quit sugar), ask your children to catalog all their candy, and to keep track of how much they have. My daughters, at least, loved to count and sort their candy, so this would've been a fun task for them. Then your children will know if you've been sneaking mini-Snickers when they're not around.
  • Think about your future self. Now-Gretchen wants to eat that cupcake, but Future-Gretchen will be disappointed that she ate so many sweets. Resist now, because you're accountable to your future-self.
  • Consider your duty to be a role model of healthy eating for your children, your sweetheart, your co-workers.
  • Join an Accountability Group -- you can easily do join a group on my app, the Better app.

Questioner: Questioners respond to justifications. They tend to love to track and monitor. They benefit from clarity.

  • Keep count of exactly how many Halloween treats you've eaten. One easy way: keep the wrappers in a pile in front of you.
  • Convert Halloween candy into ordinary candy. If you wouldn't go into a store, buy two Kit-Kats, and eat them, why would you eat six mini-Kit-Kats?
  • Reflect on all the reasons you have for wanting to eat more healthfully: your energy, your weight, wanting to avoid stimulating cravings, etc. Skipping the treats makes sense to you.
  • Focus on efficiency. It's not efficient to try to eat healthfully for so many days, and then to go into a long period where you're not eating the way that you know is best for you.

Rebel: Rebels respond to choice, freedom, and identity. Focus on these aspects by reminding yourself:

  • "I'm not addicted to sugar. I can take it or leave it."
  • "I respect my body, I choose to eat healthy, fresh foods. This processed candy and this fancy packaging can't control me, it can't tempt me to eat it."
  • "My kids think I can't resist indulging. Oh yeah? Watch me!"

Upholder: Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations. For them, it's helpful to articulate clearly the nature of those expectations.

  • What is the right amount of Halloween treats for you?
  • When and where will you indulge in those Halloween treats?
  • Remind yourself of how great it feels to stick to expectations.

Habit Strategies

To be sure, it's tough to fight the lure of Halloween. Other strategies you might consider, in addition to the power of your Tendency:

  • the Strategy of Inconvenience: make it very tough to get to that Halloween candy, say, put it in a bag, tightly close the bag, put the bag in a plastic container with a tight seal, and place the container on a high shelf.
  • the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting: stay alert for loopholes you might invoke, such as the Lack of Control loophole ("With all this candy in the office, who can resist?"); the Planning to Fail loophole ("I bought my three big bags of candy for the neighborhood kids two weeks before Halloween, and put the candy in the bowls for decoration, and now I keep sneaking candy throughout the day"); the Concern for Others loophole ("I'm at your Halloween party, and it will hurt your feelings if I don't eat some of your pumpkin cookies"); the Tomorrow Loophole ("It doesn't matter what I eat today, because starting tomorrow, I'm going to eat so healthfully.")
  • the Strategy of Safeguards: think of possible temptations, so you can make if-then plans to withstand them. "If the office kitchen is full of Halloween treats, I'll stay out of there as much as possible." "If I go to a Halloween party, I'll stand very far from dessert-laden table." "I've gone fifteen days without sugar, I don't want to break the chain."
  • the Strategy of Abstaining: Personally, this is what works for me -- but the Strategy of Abstaining doesn't work for everyone. Figure out if, in this context, you're an Abstainer or a Moderator. I'm a moderator for wine, for instance, but an Abstainer for sweets.

Do you find Halloween a time of temptation, or can you enjoy it healthfully? If you find it difficult to resist the lure of all those delightful treats, what helps you stick to your healthy habits?

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