This year has required me to study and
apply self-control in a number of ways. Training to run an ultra endurance
running event, weight-lifting, building a particular physique in my mid-40s,
raising my children, having a busy business, engaging in research has all
required me to have a degree of self-control and I wanted to share some of that
“If there’s no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm.”- African proverb
Self-control is the idea of taking consistent action regardless of the emotional state you experience. Rain or shine, you’re out there delivering and following through. Now imagine what difference self-control can do to the areas where you want to see yourself improve the most. Think of the impact self-control can do to your health when you gladly choose to work out instead of eating junk and watching TV. Not only would you be able to feel healthier, but you would also feel significantly more fulfilled. In fact, a collection of studies conducted at Stanford University by Walter Mischel and colleagues (including the famous marshmallow test) shows that exerting self-control can make you happier not only in the long run but also right now at this time in your life. In other words, the ability to delay gratification (how self-control was exerted in the marshmallow test) helps in so many aspects of life.
Other researchers have discovered that people with higher self-control have better relationship skills, are less likely to abuse alcohol and other substances, suffer fewer mental health problems, and have better overall emotional health.
On the other hand, if you lack self-control, your life has the potential to be driven by your mood swings. One day you work harder than all of your friends and colleagues, and on other days, you’re so behind that you’re considering giving up.
There are things you can do to control yourself and gain the willpower to live a happier life. If you are looking to develop self-control, here are some of the most powerful things you can do. I have written on the subject of willpower before, do also consider having a read of this article, more specifically on that related subject: 7 Evidence Based Ways to Boost Your Willpower Today.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
Mediation is one of the best ways to improve self-control. Why? Because it improves so many skills related to self-control: impulse control, self-awareness, stress management, emotion regulation, focus, attention, and more. Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct, says about willpower and meditation: “Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.”
“Exercising first thing in the morning ensures that you’ll have the time for it, and it improves your self-control and energy levels all day long.” – Dr. Travis Bradberry
Just like meditation, exercise improves a wide range of self-control related factors such as attention, mood, stress management, anxiety, energy, and so on. According to Kelly McGonigal, it’s the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered.
Choose Self-Compassion over Self-Criticism
“You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.”
– Dr. Bob Chope
Stop beating yourself up mentally. Instead, treat yourself with warmth, respect, understanding, and compassion – your self-control will thank you. Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion — being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure — is associated with more motivation and better self-control.
Read this article to boost your self-compassion: Why is self-compassion so important and how to advance it with self-hypnosis.
Learn To Say No
“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.” – Elie Wiesel
There are all manner of social pressures that surround us: the bandwagon effect, authority, principles of commitment and consistency, appeals to altruism, everywhere, learning to protect your mind from these is paramount if you want to have self-control. If you find yourself going “why am I doing this for this person?” Then you’ve fallen into the trap of saying “yes” too much. Saying no, and standing by it shows you that you have the power to set a boundary and then enforce it. Gaining some space for yourself is the only way for you to have the ability to choose what you want to do and therefore have self-control.
Get Outside Of Your Comfort Zone
“Self-control is the power within you that holds the reins of anger, intolerance, and impulsiveness.” – Remez Sasson
If you’re going for things you want in your life, that you don’t currently have, then the path you’re going to take is naturally going to require you to get outside of your comfort zone. Be bold. Getting into uncomfortable situations in which your body and mind experiences some discomfort or even pain is the best way to develop natural tools for self-control. Taking a class, doing improv or some public speaking like at a comedy open mic are both great opportunities to deal with overwhelming situations that require you to stay in control. If those things aren’t your style, then try out a martial arts or boxing class, or dance class. Something that requires you to move in a certain way and invites pain or embarrassment into the process. If you can stay composed during a tango or salsa then you are more likely to also stay composed in many other circumstances in your life.
Read this articles on this topic for help with this: 7 Steps To Leave Your Comfort Zone.
Know Your Weaknesses
“Not to have control over the senses is like sailing in a rudderless ship, bound to break to pieces on coming in contact with the very first rock.” – Mahatma Gandhi
We all have weakness. Whether they’re snacks like potato chips or chocolate chip cookies, or technology like Facebook or the latest addictive game app, they have similar effects on us.
Acknowledge your shortcomings, whatever they may be. Too often people either try to pretend their vulnerabilities don’t exist or cover up any pitfalls in their lives. Own up to your flaws. You can’t overcome them until you do.
“The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust.” – Josh Billings
Like the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” It may seem silly, but this phrase offers powerful advice. By simply removing your biggest temptations from your environment, you will greatly improve your self-control.
Set Clear Goals
If you hope to achieve self-control, you must have a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish. You must also have an understanding of what success means to you. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, it’s easy to lose your way or get side-tracked.
Create New Habits
Developing self-control and working to instil
a new habit can feel daunting at first, especially if you focus on the entire
task at hand. To avoid feeling intimidated, keep it simple. Break your goal
into small, doable steps. Instead of trying to change everything at once, focus
on doing one thing consistently and master self-discipline with that goal in
If you’re trying to get in shape, start by working out 10 or 15 minutes a day. If you’re trying to achieve better sleep habits, start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. If you want to eat healthier, start by prepping your breakfast the night before and making batches of lunch to take with you to work. Take baby steps. Eventually, when you’re ready, you can add more goals to your list.
Eat Often and Healthy
“Personal health is related to self-control and to the worship of life in all its natural beauty – self-control bringing with it happiness, renewed youth, and long life.” – Maria Montessori
The feeling of being hangry–that angry, annoyed, irritated sensation you get when you’re hungry—is real and can have a substantial impact on willpower. Research has proven that low blood sugar often weakens a person’s resolve, making you grumpy and pessimistic.
Change Your Perception of Willpower
“Since self-control is vital to reaching long-term goals, befriending people with willpower could be the secret to success.” – Amy Morin
According to a study by Stanford University, the amount of willpower a person has is predetermined by their beliefs. If you believe you have a limited amount of willpower, you probably won’t surpass those limits. If you don’t place a limit on your self-control, you are less likely to exhaust yourself before meeting your goals.
Have a Backup Plan
Psychologists use a technique to boost self-control called “implementation intention.” That’s when you give yourself a plan to deal with a potentially difficult situation you know you will likely face. For instance, imagine that you’re working on eating healthier, but you’re on your way to a party where food will be served.
Give yourself something to be excited about by planning a reward when you accomplish your goals. Just like when you were a little kid and got a treat for good behaviour, having something to look forward to gives you the motivation to succeed.
Anticipation is powerful. It gives you something to obsess over and focus on, so you’re not only thinking of what you are trying to change. And when you achieve your goal, find a new goal and a new reward to keep yourself moving forward.
Practice, Practice, Practice
“Self-control is one mark of a mature person; it applies to control of language, physical treatment of others, and the appetites of the body.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin
We aren’t born with self-control–it’s a learned behaviour. Self-control is like a muscle. You need to give it a regular workout if you want it to grow. In addition, just like any other skill you want to master, it requires daily practice and repetition. Just like going to the gym, willpower and self-control take some work. The effort and focus that self-control requires can be draining.
Grab an avocado instead of a chocolate bar. Go for a run instead of watching TV. Work on your project instead of checking email for the 100th time. Resist the urge for immediate gratification and opt for long-term success instead.
By regularly exerting self-control (beyond its current limits!), you build your overall self-control muscle. Roy Baumeister explains it well in his book Willpower: “Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life. They smoked fewer cigarettes and drank less alcohol. They kept their homes cleaner. They washed dishes instead of leaving them stacked in the sink, and did their laundry more often. They procrastinated less. They did their work and chores instead of watching television or hanging out with friends first. They ate less junk food, replacing their bad eating habits with healthier ones.”
Self-Control Begets Self-Control
Just keep challenging yourself and live
with as much discipline as you can muster. Try your best to choose meditation
instead of Facebook, exercise instead of the TV, studying instead of playing
video games, going to bed early instead of watching another episode of Game of
Thrones (I am a sucker for this!).
Keep pushing yourself that way, and you’ll slowly but steadily grow your self-control. The secret to more self-control is self-control itself. Every time you act with discipline and opt for the harder instead of the easier and more pleasurable option, you grow your overall self-control muscle.
Forgive Yourself and Move Forward
Even with all of our best intentions and well-laid plans, we sometimes fall short. It happens. You will have ups and downs, great successes and dismal failures. The key is to keep moving forward.
Go for it, get working on your self-control, it’ll massively advance your life.
Have some of these themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist who is looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book, it’ll help you live with integrity!