Build up your self-control

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.

Exercising self controlEveryday I’ve been telling myself that I’m over-thinking things…that before even sitting down or doing anything else once I’m home, I should change into tracks and go for a walk. It. Does. Not. Work.

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!

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  1. I’m first of all, trying to challenge myself to get out of routine – like unthinkingly driving the same route or whatever. And then simply trying to understand where bad habits come from. My daughter is in some ways inspirational – I always tell myself, if she can give up the paci cold turkey, which she loved more than almost anything, then I can sure as heck give up X, Y, and Z!

  2. This is great, and thanks for your vulnerability! This is such a universal struggle. And you are so right about building up self-control just like a muscle. Start small, take consistent action and over time self-control will increase.

  3. I try to think before acting on something. I use to do things and then regret them right after because they were stupid things to do. I also have a daily routine that includes chores I don’t really enjoy doing but that I have to do!

    • Yes, I agree! It’s very hard to change a bad habit to a good one – sometimes bad habits are just so much more fun! 😉 But you need to keep trying!

  4. Overthinking word depressing me a lot thsedays and yes self-controlling works as miracle.
    One must surely try to learn self control …
    And you know it helped me when i started morning walk amd Yoga 😀

    • Oh ho Dixu! Why are you depressed? Don’t let your sunny nature get caught up in overthinking. I’m glad your walks and yoga help you – both are excellent mood enhancers! 🙂

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