And there it is...
The approximately 673rd ad I’ve seen or heard since Memorial Day promoting some variation of the following:
“Summer’s here. Time to get that “beach body” you’ve always wanted!”
Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with being encouraged to get to the gym or eat healthier as so many of those ads are geared toward. But at the same time, many also tend to suggest that getting that “beach body” is just a matter of “will power”. Contemporary research into the subject of self-control and behavior however, suggests that doing what’s best for our long-term well-being is less a matter of will power than of establishing and maintaining an effective environment.
To that end, Katy Milkman, a professor at both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Perelman School of Medicine, offers three suggestions:
While freedom of choice is integral to our identity as Americans, some choices are not in our best interest. Taxing, regulating, restricting or even banning some things from our lives, such as especially addictive drugs, actually leads to more freedom, not less.
For less detrimental temptations, “nudges” - subtle changes - are best. Milkman points out, for example, that we are much more likely to invest in retirement when enrollment in a 401(k) plan is the default option rather than being given the explicit choice to join or not.
Sometimes laziness and limited attention can work to our advantage. Put temptations out of sight and reach. Put the cookies somewhere where you can’t see them every time you open the cupboard. Disable apps on your phone or tablet that you don’t use regularly.
Spiritual leaders throughout history, including those in our Christian tradition, have consistently offered us similar guidance. When Jesus says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off”, he’s not appealing to will power. He’s encouraging us to put up obstacles to things that impede our spiritual growth (or put the other way, remove obstacles that get in the way). Either way, it’s about the spiritual environment we establish and maintain over the long-term.
With summer here, I invite you to take some time to consider at your spiritual environment. And then, instead of relying on willpower to “just do it” when it comes to making helpful changes like more time devoted to prayer, Bible study, Worship, service, etc., find one thing you can change in your environment. Find one thing you can regulate, restrict or ban; one thing you can “nudge” - make a subtle change to; one thing you can put out of sight or reach.
Summer’s here. Time to get that “spiritual beach body” you’ve always wanted.