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Do you eat doughnuts?

A study published in the science journal Neuron suggests that you’d be better off deciding  “no” right now rather than when your coworker presents you with a box of them later. Precommitment, it turns out, is more powerful than willpower.

Using MRI data, lead study author Molly Crockett, PhD, University College London neuroscience fellow, found that the brain’s lateral frontopolar cortex (which plays a key role in comparing alternative courses of action) is more active during the “precommitment” phase of decision making.

Making yes or no decisions ahead of time helps us minimize known temptations, says Crockett, “so we don’t have to rely on our willpower to resist them later.”

If you’re trying to eat healthier, for example, consider asking the waiter to not bring the dessert tray. Steer clear of the chips aisle at the grocery store. Avoid the break room during the hours that doughnuts typically arrive.

“The more you know about yourself and when you are likely to be tempted, the better you can use precommitment as a preemptive self-control strategy,” she says.

This article originally appeared as “Beating Temptation.”

Illustration by: Sandy Nichols

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