It turns out that our capacity for self-control is surprisingly like a muscle — like a bicep or tricep. And like any muscle, self-control can vary in its strength, not only from person to person, but from moment to moment. Spend all day dealing with distractions, hassles and stressors at work, and it’s awfully hard to summon up the willpower to resist the allure of the cocktail, the cigarette or the fully-loaded nacho platter. – The Relationship Between Exercise And Self Control by Heidi Grant Halvorson
That simple paragraph was a Eureka moment for me. I’m finally in a job where I get to reach home around 6:00 pm, giving me ample time to pursue other interests. I’ve been wanting to get back to exercising, learn Italian and the tarot – and now I have more than enough time to do all of these things.
But I’ve lacked the motivation. I’ve been unable to exert any kind of willpower or self-control over my slothful ways.
I reach home and I feel exhausted, I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere – unless it’s out for dinner or drinks with friends.
Then I figured it’s probably best that I finish my workout before I get home – which means join a gym and get in a workout on my way back from work. It took me an incalculably long time to get around to going and finding out about the membership, taking a trial session, and finally joining.
Italian and the tarot – I look at the books and download podcasts, but don’t read or listen.
So that little paragraph up there just hit me. Hard. It was the exhaustion on some days and sheer boredom on others that was translating into this total lack of will power on my part.
The great news is that if you want more self-control in general, you can get more. And you get more self-control the same way you get bigger muscles: you’ve got to give it regular workouts.
So how do you do this? By making yourself do something you don’t much like doing, each and every day. Within a few weeks, not only would you have built up your will power, you’ll be much better at other tasks where you need to exert some self-control.
There’s actual science behind this.
In a study, psychologists Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng gave participants a free gym membership and individually-tailored exercise programs that included aerobics, free-weights and resistance training. After exercising regularly over the course of two months, the participants had not only increased their ability to do a variety of laboratory self-control tasks, but also reported that almost every aspect of their lives that involved using some self-control seemed to have improved dramatically.
Cool, isn’t it?
So, what are you going to work on to improve your self-control muscle?
Me? I’m exercising regularly!