In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on ways to improve self-control.
Life is a difficult game. The rules vary from person to person, and from group to group. To make things worse the definition of what “winning” means is murky. It’s not uncommon to see those to fit the description of winners to feel like losers, and for those who fit the description of losers to have the most rewarding lives. So it’s not surprising that the skillset required to win at this game suffers from the lack of clarity as to the game itself. If we can’t agree with the rules and the requirements for victory, how can we agree with the optimal way to accomplish the goal?
How to improve self-control
The goal might be blurry and the way to accomplish it unclear, but if there is one thing that can definitely help you get there, that is self-control.
Among the thousands of skills, one can have, self-control is the one skill that happens to be useful to most if not all challenges. The reason why I call it skill is because it is. Unlike popular belief, this too is something that can be improved. Like a muscle, you can exercise it, and the more you do it the better it gets. Below are a few tips for improving your ability to self-control.
Self-awareness and self-control go hand in hand. There is a principle that states that if you can’t measure something you can’t improve it, and the same applies to self-control but only slightly. I would say instead that if you can’t observe something you can’t improve it either. Meaning that if you can’t observe and identify the instances in which you lack self-control you can’t improve your ability to self-control on those instances. The reason for that is that as humans we have two modes of acting: aware and unaware. The first is when you’re intentional about you’re behavior and the second is when you’re on autopilot, and when you’re on autopilot you might as well be unconscious since just like when you’re sleeping you’re not aware of what you’re doing, or aware of yourself for that matter.
When you improve self-awareness you can improve self-control because you can easily identify the instances in which you have to apply self-control in the first place.
But how do you go about that?
Well, there are two ways. The first is to force yourself to live more in the present. Someone once said that we spent most of our time either on the past or the future but never the present. Each time you force yourself to live in the present you practice an act of self-awareness which makes the muscle that much stronger.
The second way is meditation. The principle is the same. You set your mind to practice some kind of meditation, and each time your mind wanders and you bring yourself back the self-awareness and the self-control muscle get strengthened.
2.Take one step at a time
The #1 reason why people look for ways to improve self-control is that they want to improve their lives in a meaningful way. When you become motivated to change it’s very easy to fall for the temptation to overcommit. It’s important to be aware that change is hard. Especially when you haven’t successfully stop old and create new habits in the past.
This is to say that taking a small step towards the right direction doesn’t make it any less meaningful. The pressure for bold and ambitious action has done more harm than good to society. Now, little progress is looked down upon, and we forget that as Jim Rohn once said “Small changes can quickly add up to big changes”. A lot can be accomplished in a year or a decade through small and seemingly meaningless steps.
The same applies to self-control. If you struggle to control your appetite, the way to go is not to try to use your force of will to stop all your exessive eating tendencies overnight. The idea is to break down the effort to small steps, and if the small steps are still overwhelming, to break them into even smaller steps still. The goal is not to change behavior overnight but to get a few small wins. To build momentum and motivation to take even bigger and wider steps, and before you notice life is not the same anymore.
The third tip relies less on your ability to self-control by making sure you use your self-control muscles as little as possible. It’s known by the scientific community now that self-control is a finite resource. The more you use it the less of it you have available for future use.
If you’re really struggling with self-control the simplest solution is to avoid that which requires you to use self-control in the first place.
While this might be an effective strategy short term, in the long run, it pays to stretch your self-control muscles by exposing yourself to temptation in varying amounts. The reason for this is that there will be a day when you won’t be able to avoid temptation.
4.Check your personal network
The fourth tip is to check your peers. We are more influenced by our environment and peers than we think or like to admit. Going back to tip #3 (Removing temptations), one’s peers can increase the pressure on willpower by making some behavior easier or harder to resist. Your peers can not only expose you to temptations but also have the same effect as the temptations you’re trying to avoid. So it’s important to keep an eye on your peers. Check whether your goals align with the kinds of behaviors their presence elicits or prevent.
Depending on the kind of people your peers are it might be the case that voicing your goals out is enough to completely eliminate the willpower pressure. If your goal is to lose weight and they happen to be understanding, instead of breaking up with them you might find a way to keep the relationship intact by making some modifications in behavior. If they expose you to junk food, they might be willing to stop doing so, and who knows they might decide to take the same path as you, and what used to be an obstacle to your vision could transform into enforcement. Now they are no longer an obstacle but a source of motivation and discipline.
The worst-case scenario is one in which they make you feel bad about your goals. Here, depending on how important the change is for you, it might be the case that you have to make the hard decision of breaking up. For this kind of situation, it’s important to check yourself, especially if you suddenly decide that your goal is no longer important. It’s important to ask yourself whether your decision to quit on the goal is because the goal is actually not as important as you thought, or because your peers pressured you into it. Which is it?
5.Watch your diet
The last and by no means least important tip is to pay attention to your diet. Just like temptations, the things you choose to eat can put a strain on your willpower. Some foods demand so much energy from the digestive system that there is very little energy left for self-control, and self-control requires energy. Lots of it.
Some foods can be beneficial for self-control simply because they make you more energetic. The question of what kinds of foods make you more energetic is a difficult one. The difficulty comes from the fact that your genetic makeup is the deciding factor. What’s one person’s “energy drink ” might be someone else’s kryptonite. This is in part why there are so many diets out there, each with people claiming the diet is the best thing that ever existed and at the same time also having people claiming it’s the worst thing that ever existed. We’re coming to a time in which people look less for a one size fits all solution for the diet problem, and more for a custom made solution tailored to each’s own genetic makeup.
Self-control is at the end of the day something we can always work on. The common belief is that one is either born with self-control genes or not. To take one step further, we not only assume that some kind of people is born with the trait but once we do we also begin to make predictions about the person’s overall personality. We start to think they might be inclined to subjects like mathematics, or engineering. We might assume that they are not as interested in enjoying life, and we might take it to the extreme that they might be even boring. Self-control is just one trait in the sea of many traits that makes us who we are and not someone else. Self-control is a muscle we can work on. One that gets better with practice.
It is all about knowledge and experience )
Leave a comment below