Practicing the Good Life with Ben Franklin - Virtue #1 - Temperance
Have you ever noticed that the first few bites of a delicious meal are the best? After an entire course you become accustomed to the taste, and while the food is still savory, it lacks that initial sensation of the first bite or sip.
Today, many of us are so on-the-go that we rush through meals. “I’ll grab a quick bite on the road,” or “I’ll have lunch at my desk.” We are so thoroughly rushed, that we often overeat and drink because we aren’t consciously aware of how much we are filling ourselves up with, and our bodies aren’t allowed to register feeling full until it’s too late.
Interestingly, if you observe most gourmet chefs, they are in great shape despite spending their entire day around food. It is because these chefs consume only the best and most delicious foods and drink, and when they dine, they truly savor each bite.
So what are we missing?
When Benjamin Franklin began his pursuit of the virtuous life, he chose to focus first on the virtue of Temperance. What is temperance, exactly? It is the virtue that guides all others: mindful self-control.
Franklin selected temperance to start his self-improvement journey because he wanted to first attain self-discipline in the area of our most basic appetites. A clear mind and a healthy body are the foundation to the pursuit of a virtuous life.
When we gain the self-discipline to attend to how we treat our bodies, we gain control over our minds and appetites. Building on the confidence of controlling our diet and our alcohol intake can build self-control, mindfulness, and a growth mindset that will allow us to make even more positive changes in our lives. This can be as simple as “eating mindfully” by slowing down and savoring a meal from start to finish. You notice your surroundings, the smells, appearance, texture and taste of the food you’re eating, and stopping when you are full. This mindful approach to eating can also be applied to other areas of your life, such as purposefully shopping at the grocery store and limiting your purchases only to food that you need or will actually eat.
Often, we can become dependent on food and drink to numb us from the stresses of everyday life. What would happen if we learned to build resilience through the art of practicing temperance? We might learn to savor everyday and it’s challenges, and build up a mindset of resilience and self-discipline. Through practicing temperance, we can mindfully live out the present moment and make real positive changes happen in our lives.
Food for Thought:
Where would you like to become more mindful in your life? What does that look like?
What are your thoughts about practicing temperance? What appeals to you, and what sounds most difficult?
What habits help you cope when you’re feeling stressed? What else could you do instead?
Note From Dr. Andy
I have a real sweet tooth - and there was a time in my life (that lasted a couple of years) where I would have a dessert every single night of the week (I would love to say it was a small portion - but that would not be true!). When I first started doing this - I justified it with the knowledge that I was going to the gym and working out 5-6 days per week - and I was in what appeared to be great shape. However, the nightly dessert became a deeply ingrained habit - and even on nights where I was completely full - I would mindlessly gobble down a dessert. I knew this wasn’t healthy - but I saw this dessert as my reward for the day (whether I deserved a reward or not).
A few years ago - I finally put a stop to the nightly dessert (I was lucky that I didn’t do any permanent damage to my body - but I’m sure that would have happened had I not stopped). I don’t even fully remember what made me stop - but I do recall having this lightbulb moment where I gave myself permission to recognize that I was full from dinner - and that I had a choice to eat dessert. Now, I still love an occasional sugary treat - but now only allow myself to eat any dessert on 2 nights of the weekend. My portion size has also gone down - and I have cut back on my sugar intake overall - and over these past few years - I have without a doubt felt better, lost weight, and have developed more self-control and discipline that has spilled over into other areas of my life. I certainly didn’t think of this behavior to stop as virtuous at the time - but, now I can completely appreciate that it both took character strength to stop - and practicing this virtue of temperance has undoubtedly built character strength within me.