Self-control is be a tricky thing, but it’s a necessary resource to understand if you want to make better decisions and life choices. Here’s a look at how it works, and how to produce it.If we were entirely logical, we’d be able to abandon our bad habits, curb temporary moments of insanity, and practice self-control. Our logic is paired with emotion, however, and sometimes our emotions motivate us to make poor decisions. That’s where self control comes in. Here’s a deeper look into how self control works, followed by several ways to more effectively exert your supply of self control in order to make smarter decisions.
How Self Control Works
Back when basic survival was difficult, practicing the kind of self-control we need today wasn’t always necessary. We’d have to hunt for our food if we wanted to eat, and we’d eat what we could find in order to live. Eventually we figured out that this isn’t the most efficient way to work and invented one of the biggest life hacks of all time: agriculture. Suddenly there was food when we needed it, and what was once a constant fight for survival became (relatively) simple. Readily available food made it possible for a surplus of certain foods which made it possible to overeat. It took a long time for this to become a serious problem, but today we face a problem of excess consumption. Shifts such as this helped create a serious need for self-control in new aspects of our lives.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Find Adequate Distractions
Photo by Hyperbole and a Half
As we’ve learned from the fairly well-known kid’s marshmallow experiment, conducted by Walter Mischel, distracting yourself can be a good method of self control. When temptation is in front of you, it’s hard to say no. If you can distract yourself and avoid thinking about that temptation, however, it’s often enough to keep you from making a bad choice. Simple distractions, such as sitting on your hands to physically restrict yourself or having a conversation to keep your mind occupied are both easy and effective. The idea is that the more your mind and body are tied up in other actions, the less bandwidth you’ll have available to try and indulge in a particular vice. Simply put: restrict and distract yourself to avoid making poor choices.
Take Care of Yourself
Photo by Lisa Aslund
You have a limited supply of self-control and exhausting it can breed aggression. You don’t want to deplete your reserves or you’re going to become very unlikable. Keeping yourself healthy on a daily basis, however, can make a big difference. Like with anything, proper diet, exercise and sleep make it easier to do what you need to do. If you can manage all of those things to the point of perfection, you’re probably not reading this article. A more realistic trick is just having a snack. Keeping yourself nourished throughout the day — preferably with several smaller meals rather than a few big ones — is one of the easiest ways to keep an adequate reserve of self-control. You’ll still have to exert that control — perhaps when choosing what to eat — but it’s a fool’s errand without adequate energy.
It’s hard to become addicted to cigarettes if you can’t get cigarettes. People without the financial means to purchase a vice like cigarettes can’t participate in that vice. Additionally, people will more readily participate in a vice like smoking if the consequences are far off. If a single cigarette will kill you on the spot, and you know this, you’ll avoid it like you’ll avoid an electric fence. Putting yourself into extreme poverty or giving yourself a deadly nicotine allergy (if that’s even possible) are extreme measures you’d never actually want to pursue as a means to quit smoking. Still, they do offer some helpful clues: difficulty and fear.
If you have difficulty obtaining a cigarette, you don’t have to exert quite so much self control. Often times this means keeping your cigarettes somewhere that’s hard to access so getting them requires additional effort. Basically, if a vice is easy to obtain, you need to find ways to make it harder.
(If you’re curious about the science behind fear being an effective method for self-control, read this article.)
Practising self-control isn’t easy for anybody. It takes a lot of work, and you’ll get better at it the more you practise. With the right strategies, like the ones mentioned here, you can avoid temptation when doing so is in your best interest. If you’ve got any other great strategies for controlling yourself, be sure to share them in the comments.