How to improve your self-control

As I was doing that post about sleep procrastination, I realized that self-control was one of my biggest problems. I am impulsive, with self destructive tendencies. That is keeping me from evolving as a person, building a career and having more healthy habits. So I did a little research and discovered that self/control is something you can acquire with practice and being mindful of your actions. I also found that it is a finite resource, so we must be very aware of our choices. It is a genetic trait but as it is a skill, it can be perfected.
As I quit weed, I am now facing two self-control challenges: coffee and cigarettes. I have been smoking more and drinking more coffee. Both are bad for me and contribute to my alertness during the night. They mess up my sleep schedule even more. Luckily, I found this guide to build up self-control and delay gratification. A good thing to keep in mind is that, if you do things in moderation, you will be healthier and those actions will be more rewarding. Abusing things makes the action meaningless to you and harmful.

So we know it is possible to change your self/control, where should we start? The first thing to do is to define the goals. They must be specific and well defined. Writing these goals down, in the more specific way possible is helpful. Put a sticker on your workplace with said goals, so you remember them.

Now that you have defined your goals, do not force yourself to do things aggressively. That will deplete your self>control and, as it is a finite resource so it will affect other habits you have. That is why, when you are recovering from drug addiction and you smoke cigarettes, you should resist the temptation of quitting everything cold turkey. That will probably lead you to relapse and we all know how damaging that can be.

“To illustrate, in a now-classic 1998 study, participants sat at a table with two plates: one filled with freshly baked cookies, the other with radishes. Some were directed to eat the cookies, while others were asked to eat the radishes. Then they were given a puzzle that was, secretly, impossible to solve.

The folks who had eaten the radishes and resisted the cookies gave up on the puzzle in about 8 minutes. But those who ate the cookies–and therefore had self-control to spare–toiled away on the puzzle for almost 19 minutes, more than twice as long as the radish group.”

Changing your perception of the task can go a long way. As this guide states

“(The) 1972 “marshmallow study,” in which researchers sat preschoolers in front of a marshmallow. Each kid could have the marshmallow when she wanted, or, if she could exercise self-control and wait, she could have it and another treat in a few minutes.

Followups to the study found that kids who were able to delay gratification did better in emotional situations, were more competent overall, and even got higher scores on their SATs. This made the researchers wonder if self-control strategies could be taught.

So what worked? First, making the temptation abstract was helpful. Kids who were cued to pretend the marshmallow was just a picture, by imagining a frame around it, waited twice as long as kids who were asked to focus on a real marshmallow.

Second, encouraging kids to think about abstract, descriptive, “cool” features of the marshmallow, such as “how the marshmallows look like white puffy clouds,” were able to wait twice as long as kids who were encouraged to focus on the temptation–or the “hot” features, like “think about how sweet and chewy the marshmallows taste.”

Mindfulness can be very helpful with this. Thinking about it in an abstract way can help you distance yourself from it. Think about it as something that will be always available to you, so there is no need to rush into doing it. I have found this to be a powerful tip, that I have used countless times and it really helps.

When dealing with tasks, it is important to make them more appealing to you.

“A cross-cultural study found that American students often frame homework as a dreaded chore, whereas many Chinese students frame it as useful practice. If that’s a bit of a stretch for your task, you could instead think about how good you’ll feel when you’re done, that it will finally be off your to-do list, or that you can skip feeling guilty.

Or you could simply make your task more fun. A 2014 study found that when people listen to really good audiobooks only at the gym, they go to the gym 51% more often. You could do the same for housecleaning or yardwork.”

So, again, changing your mindset and adapting is very important. Think of the advantages of completing the task or delaying gratification. Focusing on the rational side of it will curb your emotional side. Ultimately, the outcome will change.

Another important thing to be mindful of is that your environment matters. I am not talking about feng shui, so it is not very complicated to do. It has to do with distractions and temptations.

” a 2006 study found that secretaries ate more candy when the bowl on their desk was clear versus opaque, and when it was on their desk versus 6 feet away. In the same vein, you could consider installing an anti-social media app on your computer, putting your smartphone in a drawer, or storing the Pirate’s Booty in an opaque container.

And environment modification doesn’t just work for M&Ms–it can apply to more high-stakes self-control situations, as well. For example, in several studies, environmental cues have been found to be the most important determinant of staying clean for individuals in recovery from substance dependence. Hanging around the old crowd or visiting one’s neighborhood bar is a Siren in a bottle or syringe for those trying to stay clean or sober–so much so that many recovery programs encourage moving to a new neighborhood.”

I do not browse Facebook on my computer for this reason. I want to be focused on my blog or other productive activities. When dealing with substance abuse, and you probably already know this very well, being with your addicted friends or going to places where you might find them, can be detrimental to your recovery. I have a friend who had very serious addiction issues. He went to rehab and relocated to that area for good. The town where you used to use is full of triggers so it is a good idea to move. Sometimes, it is not essential to move if you can avoid certain places and certain people. Avoid speaking to addicts, pretend you do not see them, do what you can to protect your recovery.

Self-talk is also crucial. Tell yourself why the temptation is negative, rationalize it.

“Talking out loud helps “facilitate metacognitive representations”–or in other words, helps you think about your own thinking.

So many of the rewards of resisting temptation are abstract, like better health, a strong work ethic, or a job well done. So hearing yourself talk about your goals can make them more real, and better able to compete with the concrete temptation of that jar of cookie butter.”

This has helped me a lot with addiction. Every time I think about using, I tell myself all the things I would lose by going back to my old habit. After that, I feel discouraged to use, as I remember all the negative consequences. This keeps me grounded. Thinking about the positive aspects of resisting temptation is also very helpful but I have found that thinking about the negative aspects is more helpful to me. It is up to you to find out which tactic is more helpful.

It is fundamental to keep in mind that we are only human and that failing is a part of the process.

Strong emotion, like anger or anxiety–or another task that takes willpower, like being on a diet or staying with demanding relatives–will strain your self-control. So forgive yourself a self-control fail (or five) when your competing needs are depleting your limited resources.

When dealing with substance abuse, relapses can happen. Relapse is a part of recovery but what you do after you relapse is very important. Try not to have the mindset of “yeah, well, now that I have done it, I might as well keep doing it”. Yes, you have caved into your temptation but you do not need to have a long relapse. Again, rationalize it, write about it, do what you can to pick yourself up and return to the road of recovery. You will be remorseful and filled with negative feelings but you can choose to stay in that path or return to safety.

In the end, if we follow these instructions, we will have a lot to gain. Keep that in mind and good luck!

Image by quangle, courtesy of Pixabay.

Author: scarlettcat

Writing as much as I can is my goal. Writing soothes the soul and quiets the mind. There's not much to say about me, my words talk louder than any description that I can make.

10 thoughts on “How to improve your self-control”

  1. Just an observation – I was brought up in an era of supreme self-discipline and though it did serve me well, it has other challenges. Can I just encourage you to see it all as a process and to be self-compassionate? ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand where you are coming from. I do say in the post that we should not be too hard on ourselves as it is not fruitful. What challenges did you encounter? I would love to have your input.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess my comment about self-compassion was for myself as alarm bells ring when I see the words self-discipline. Being brought up in a time when school and church life was very regimented, when I became a wife and mother I just “existed” as I did all the physical things that were required, I continued to push myself constantly to keep the house tidy, have healthy meals, exercise and go to work, as a single mother. These were the things that in the time and environment I grew up were seen as the priority. I only knew the “on” button because that was life. When I worked I burnt-out twice and was often told I was “too hard on myself”. I now know I missed out on being there emotionally for my sons, though heaven knows I put in 110% as a mother in the capacity I could. And there are still addictions that are less innocuous than the ones you are dealing with, and now that there has just been me to focus on for 4 years with Complex PTSD, I have become aware of them and not had work or family to prioritise. However I have found that going gently, knowing I am in recovery and being compassionate with myself, there is a process and it is a gradual movement towards having a life according to my values – albeit with my former life lost.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I understand. You did the best that you could, with what you had and you were conditioned by society. I am sorry that it triggered you, it is just something that I need in my life. I need more structure. xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

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