According to Psychology Today, self-control “is the ability to subdue our impulses in order to achieve longer-term goals.” Related words include: self-discipline, composure, and self-restraint. When we practice self-control, we don’t easily give in to impulses as they strike us. Instead, we reflect first in order to avoid doing something we may regret later.
This sounds simple, but the results are awesome. Imagine being a better YOU and tapping into untold success by learning to improve your self-control. One of the reasons why most of us can’t practice enough control in our daily lives is because we’re constantly stressed.
But here are seven of my favorite tips to help you get started right away.
1. Boost Your Resilience To Improve Your Self-Control.
You’ve likely heard or learned about it: our level of stress is connected to self-control. It’s been shown outright that stress depletes willpower.
“Our findings indicate that stress biases the decision process,” Maier’s team concluded. “And it does this,” they explain, “by altering two brain pathways. One of the affected sets of circuits relays sensory information, such as taste. The other affects a person’s ability to set goals and make decisions to follow through on those goals — such as eating what is good for us.”
Resilience is your ability to adapt well to stress and maintain healthy mind-body functionality while facing setbacks, challenges, and stressful changes. It allows you to harness your inner strength and “bounce back” quickly when things get switched up in challenging or stressful situations.
If you shift your focus to keeping your resilience at an optimal level, it will help you deal with stress effectively. Thus, helping you to improve your self-control.
WELCOA’s David Hunnicutt, PhD, says there are three keys to keeping yourself resilient: eat right, exercise more, and get enough quality sleep.
But what does eat right mean? It means eating foods that are as close to their “whole states” as possible. It sounds daunting – and it can be! When I decided to do this, I recall thinking “but what am I going to eat? What else exists beyond soy and carbs?”
My diet had been mostly cereal and energy drinks in the morning, some form of fake meat on an English muffin or bun for lunch, and microwavable Indian food over brown rice for dinner.
I gave this advice a shot though, and found it easy enough to grab a banana and a few almonds in the morning. I am also getting highly creative with lentils and other beans, carrots, and greens. If you make meal prep a mindful or communal activity, it is actually super-fun, and you DO save money, too. For example: prep some mason jars with a few of your friends to have something healthy to enjoy.
What does “exercise more” mean? According to the CDC it means
(A) 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, or,
(B) each week make sure you are doing 75 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity plus 2 or more days of a muscle-strengthening activity, working all major muscle groups, or
(C) An equivalent mix of those aerobic activity intensity levels (moderate & vigorous) plus 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activity, working all major muscle groups (abdomen, legs, hips, back, chest, shoulder, arms).
What about sleep? At least 7 hours is recommended. Improve your self-control by keeping these three tips for better resilience in mind.
2. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Self-control is not only in your mind. Rather, willpower is part of a “full blown mind-body response,” says Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.
In her book, Workplace Wellness that Works, Laura Putnam explains that the same part of our brain that we use for solving abstract problems (prefrontal cortex) is also used to control motivation and resist temptations. So we actually deplete our willpower when we are working on problem-solving.
One study she references was conducted by Baba Shiv. This Stanford University professor divided 165 undergraduate students into two groups: one tasked with memorizing a 2-digit number and the other a 7-digit number. When they were offered a snack at the end, they were presented with two choices: chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad. The group given the more taxing prefrontal task was twice as likely to choose the cake.
It’s interesting that the science of willpower depletion phenomenon is actually a double-edged sword. People who believe willpower is unlimited actually perform better than those who do not. I’d rather arm you with science and teach you how to replenish your willpower, rather than have you feel bad during the times when you lose your self-control.
So step one is to STOP being so hard on yourself when your self-control is shattered. Step two is to set yourself up for success. When you finish a taxing problem-solving task, why not give in to temptation? (Up Next)…
3. Give In To Temptation
…Well, try these select temptations that will actually help you boost your willpower AND improve your self-control. In her article, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D lists five temptations, my favorite being the “Cute Cat Video” suggestion shown here. Research has shown that laughter can help replenish our depleted willpower.
4. Check Your Perspective and Center Yourself
What about the stressors, challenging situations, and temptations that you can’t avoid?
First, it’s interesting to note that the way you perceive stress can have a big impact on your health.
Studies that tested a biomarker for aging (length of telomeres), are suggesting the subject’s perception of stress affected the results; namely decreased length of telomere, which equates to increased aging. So if you can change the way you see your stressors (or change the way you see everything), you may be able to decrease the harmful effects of stress – and improve your self-control.
If you know you are entering a stressful, challenging, or tempting situation, take the time to center yourself. If you prepare yourself for what lies ahead, you can stay balanced and keep your cool.
5. Tell Yourself How Awesome You Are
Research has shown beneficial effects of self-affirmation and how it can help improve your self-control.
So carry a photo of someone special with you as you strut around with your YAS QUEEN shirt on. Do something that speaks about self-love or affirmation to you. And remember, perfection is NOT the goal. Remember to focus on progress, not perfection.
6. Practice Mindfulness and Meditate
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabt-Zinn as:
“Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress as well as reduce blood pressure; improving memory, and decreasing depression as well as anxiety. Mindfulness has also been shown to counteract self-control depletion.
On a related note, meditation has been scientifically shown to have a number of fabulous effects including: better focus, less anxiety, increased creativity, increased compassion, improved memory, decreased stress, and increased gray matter in the brain.
7. Remember Why You Started
“Discipline is remembering what you want.” — David Campbell
Businesses are inspired to focus on the power of WHY — why they do what they do lays the foundation for both WHAT they do and HOW they do it.
The same is true for you and me. We need to focus on our WHY.
David Hassel put this so well:
“Personally, I have come to the conclusion that your WHY is your power. It is the drive, the fuel, the passion that propels you – and your business – forward. It can never be damaged, broken or taken away from you. But above all, it is your responsibility to nurture that why with every word you speak, every step you take and every decision you make.”
If you can tap into the power of WHY for yourself, you will be able to rekindle your motivation AND improve your self-control. When you’re in control, the better you can poise yourself for more success not only in the future, but in the next days to come.