How To Master Self-Control


You gaze down at the crumb-covered sofa, wondering where the crisp packs, chocolate boxes, and bottles of wine came from.

‘It had to be the snack fairy again,’ you think to yourself.

After all, you promised yourself barely an hour ago that you would say no this time. You were going to stick to the diet, eat fruit instead of chocolate, and, most importantly, remain disciplined.

All you needed was some old-fashioned resolve to get you through the evening.

Because, let’s face it, isn’t that what a diet requires? Unreserved degrees of self-control, as well as the desired ideals of self-denial and unwavering tenacity.

Unfortunately, the reserves of willpower that were bursting at the seams before you sat down on the sofa quickly depleted. They vanished every time you said ‘no’ to yourself or demonstrated a moment of self-control as the minutes passed.

You had just exhausted all of your self-control for the day, and the impulse to deny the snacks had vanished.

But hold on. Did you exhaust all of your self-control?
Is a lack of constraint the primary reason you are unable to reach your intended results? Is it due to other psychological factors influencing your ability to say no?

Is willpower a mental emergency reserve that you either have or don’t have, like a savings account at the bank, or is it influenced by variables that are just beyond your control?

Fortunately for you, we’re going to take a deep dive into the concept of self-control, where it originates from, and how we can master it so that we can finally stick to that new diet you’ve found yourself on.

What Exactly Is Self-Control?
It’s no secret that humans are swayed by impulses and wants that are at odds with their long-term goals. Consider how much time you spend looking through Instagram instead of working or selecting ice cream over fruit.

To achieve the goals we set for ourselves, we must overcome these inclinations. We must resist temptations and replace them with more valuable activities.

The ability to do so is known as self-control.

We have regions of our brain that govern ‘rational’ thinking and sections that govern ’emotional’ thinking.

The sensible, or logical, sides are in charge of planning and directing the brain to do the “harder thing.”

However, the emotional sides are in charge of instant reward and instinct. Our emotions are driven by impulse and are designed to feed on our evolutionary proclivity for survival and intuition.

Unfortunately, the conflict between these impulsive and planned processes is never-ending.

Overcoming this ongoing tug of war of incentive necessitates the exercise of self-control.
To demonstrate stronger levels of self-control, we must prioritize the pleasure we gain from pursuing those longer-term goals over the quick-fix nature of those shorter-term urges. We develop discipline and, ultimately, willpower when we employ our rational side to understand and appreciate the repercussions of our behavior.

When we recognize that what we value is also what we seek, we can easily practice self-control. As a result of how we see our aims and values and apply them in our daily lives, those ‘I want’ and ‘I won’t’ decisions become more straightforward.

When we can resolve these internal motivating conflicts, we can demonstrate enough willpower to conquer the predicament we are in.

Do We Truly Have Self-Control Reserves?
Some academics have dubbed the concept of dwindling self-control reserves as ‘ego depletion.’ It was proposed that discipline waned over time, so that people exerted less control at a given point in time if they had previously used control constantly.

Willpower was identified as a ‘limited resource.’
That’s why, in a key study on willpower, persons who forced themselves to eat radishes instead of chocolates, thereby showing more self-control, stopped sooner on unsolvable puzzles than those who didn’t have to demonstrate the same levels of self-control. [1]

It was hypothesized that everytime we chose to suppress short-term wants in order to pursue long-term goals, our reserves of self-control deteriorate.

Interestingly, research has shown that self-control, like the muscle in our bodies, relies on glucose (one of the body’s preferred fuel sources) as its own energy source. [2] The more ‘energy’ we have, the more self-control we have.

As a result, the more we utilize our self-control reserves, the less strength we have to employ them later. As a result, you found yourself bathing in crisps, chocolate, and wine towards the end of the evening.

It appears straightforward: don’t exhaust your self-control if you want to use it for other, more vital duties later.

Unfortunately, The Strength Model of Self-Control was discovered to be deficient in providing meaningful solutions to other crucial willpower-related concerns.
What about the following tasks that we are eager to complete? What about times when we have to exercise self-control? Or when choosing between two equally satisfying options?

Why do we need discipline to watch television or eat one of our mother’s baked cupcakes after a hard, mentally exhausting day at work? What if we have more willpower than we actually have?

Issues with self-control might thus be linked to a shift in priorities rather than a lack of resources. [3] Self-control is no longer a finite resource that is depleted throughout the day.

These modern, priority-based conceptions of self-control assert that we override temptations based on the perceived difficulty of a task, the opportunity costs for making a decision, our current well-being, and the overall value of that option, rather than some extraordinary ability to power through adversity.

Controlling Oneself Is A Priority Issue Instead
As we all know, self-control is essential to overcome the rising conflict in our brain between two distinct drives: the want for instant, uncomplicated gratification (eating the cupcake) and the desire for future, laborious fulfillment (losing weight).

Because dealing with this struggle is unpleasant, we gradually lose focus, become bored, and seek hobbies that provide rapid gratification instead.

We battle with self-control not because we’ve used all of our mental energy, but because we’re tired in the first place.

Our attention and priorities fluctuate, which means that future-focused activities are put on hold in favor of instantly rewarding actions.

Self-control can be used as an investment strategy.
Because we choose rest and leisure, it seems logical to take refuge on the sofa and eat chocolate after a long day at work (simple, rewarding chores) rather than cleaning up, preparing a healthy supper, and completing that job project (challenging, unpleasant tasks).

Problems with self-control develop mostly when we lose focus on ‘have-to-achieve’ goals (such as eating low-calorie foods) and instead shift to ‘want-to-achieve’ goals (such as devouring highly-palatable, calorie-abundant foods).

When our reasoning brain loses control, our emotional brain takes over.

Motivation and perceived effort are important.
When our motivation shifts toward intrinsically gratifying and joyful activities, our self-control reserves do not shrink.

It is for this reason that tasks of great value to some people, such as smoking or meditating, offset emotions of increased effort and instead bring satisfaction and appreciation for the time spent on a task.

However, when we have enough drive to balance competing goals, we may exercise adequate amounts of self-control. We only experience mental tiredness when we perform an activity because of obligation or greater effort.

Problems with self-control during dieting develop when your brain interprets your long-term goals as only partially gratifying in comparison to the work necessary.
It’s also why, when people are given an extra reason to exercise self-control, they may overcome any alleged willpower depletion. In one such study, being told that their outcomes in a problem-solving activity will aid in the development of new medications for Alzheimer’s disease patients increased the application of willpower. [4]

People don’t always lose willpower reserves as they go deeper into a dieting phase, but rather because they overlook the benefits of their efforts. As incentives wane, so does adherence. Aversion to work grows, while motivation for pressing reward grows.

Fundamentally, we avoid actions that do not engage us and seek those that do.

Your mindset is also important.
While there is plenty of evidence to imply that self-control is a finite resource, it has been discovered that the prism through which we view our reserves of restraint influences how we use that resource considerably more.

There is evidence to suggest that dwindling willpower reserves are caused by how we think about this idea rather than our genuine physical and mental limits. [5].

Early self-control study believed that consuming glucose would improve self-control.

However, Dr Carol Dweck, a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation, and her colleagues suggested that the effect of this energy increase is primarily due to psychological rather than physiological processes. [6]

They looked at how people acted when they were tired and were encouraged to drink a sugary lemonade beverage to give them a much-needed energy boost. Those who were told that their self-control was unlimited showed no evidence of ego depletion after conducting a word/color association assignment. They didn’t need that much energy to maintain their willpower.

Those who were encouraged to feel their self-control was limited, on the other hand, did poorly on the identical exercise. They assumed they’d exhausted their reservoirs of restraint and, as a result, couldn’t perform any better, despite swallowing that ostensibly beneficial energy boost.

Other studies have found that when people believe they have drained their mental resources, their performance, particularly in anagram-related activities, suffers. [7]

Self-control appears to be another example demonstrating how belief, rather than our physiology, can drive behavior.
Your ability to display irrepressible self-control is determined by your impression of mental depletion rather than the real amount of labor required to’stay on track.’

The Three Keys to Mastering Self-Control
If willpower were a limited resource, we could train it, much like going to the gym, to develop its strength. Because we now know that willpower isn’t always constrained by limited resources, utilizing strategies like this won’t be very effective.

Our views, thoughts, and ideals about the tug-of-war between quick gratification and long-term reward are more important.

Self-control improves when the balance between indulgence and control moves in favor of the long-term aim. Targeting our motivation, attention, effort, and beliefs is thus the key to unleashing powerful levels of willpower.

1) Consider Self-Control in a New Light
Whenever you find yourself in a position that requires willpower, remind yourself that you already have the self-control to redirect your focus to your long-term goals. Remembering that the mental tiredness you’re feeling is purely subjective will help you make better decisions.

Evidence reveals that those who believe they have infinite willpower do better on working memory and learning activities. [8]

It’s time to turn any self-reported notions you have about willpower on their head.

It’s time to admit that your lack of self-control stems more from your impression of the effort and difficulty of stating ‘I will’ or ‘I won’t’ than from the actual effort and difficulty of the activity.

When presented with a circumstance requiring willpower, realize that you always have more discipline and strength than your brain would have you believe.

You can say ‘I won’t’ to things you don’t want to complete, ‘I will’ to behaviors you want to perform, and you can ‘accomplish’ those long-term goals you desire. You are not bound by the constraints of predetermined self-control qualities.

2) Learn to Control Your Intrinsic Motivation
Motivation can be classified into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation entails doing something because it results in a concrete reward or avoids punishment. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, entails doing something because it is interesting and genuinely satisfying.

It’s no surprise, then, that when we’re genuinely motivated to do something, we don’t always need self-control.

We do not consider an activity to be “effortful” if it provides amusement, competition, and interest.

When we seek personal goals, such as seeing yourself as an active person or accepting the effort of building strength in the gym, the subsequent behaviors become easier to execute and regulate.

Simply expressed, it’s best to approach each weight-loss-related action as a task you want to do rather than one you have to. We know that intrinsic motivation and a sense of completion generate feelings of quick gratification, which drives desirable, impulsive activities.

Similarly, when a skill is easy and we receive a reward, we are more inclined to finish it.

This ‘rule of least effort’ states that talents in which we are adept demand little self-control. It’s why easy workouts like grabbing a chocolate bar from the vending machine or helping toddlers finish the meal on their plate require minimal self-control.

Making rewards based on competency improves self-control, which means that presuming task is simple will mitigate the effects of mental weariness.

3) Exercise Self-Compassion Being compassionate and sympathetic when confronted with personal inadequacies is an example of self-compassion. It’s admitting that making mistakes is natural. [9]

It’s why women who were encouraged to consume a Dunkin’ Donut to generate emotions of diet guilt ate fewer chocolates after being given a self-compassion manipulation ate fewer chocolates. [10]

The more we try to run on hate, weariness, and resentment – proponents of ‘have-to ambitions’ – the more we fail. When you replenish self-condemnation with kindness and forgiveness, you lessen the shame and guilt associated with mistakes and increase your self-control.

Instead of concentrating on mistakes and succumbing to the what-the-hell effect, self-compassion allows you to reverse course and make better judgments.

When faced with a decision that necessitates self-control, resist imposing self-punishment. Instead, accept that struggle is normal.

When you avoid judgment and acknowledge that poor decision-making is common, you reduce self-criticism. You get rid of bad feelings without getting rid of feelings of personal responsibility.

Self-compassion eventually helps with self-control.

To summarize, begin changing your self-control beliefs and mindset.
Initially, self-control was regarded to be a finite resource. While there is some evidence to support this, current hypotheses imply that willpower has more to do with priorities, motivation, and perspective.

We resist temptation depending on the perceived difficulty of a task, the opportunity costs of making a decision, our current state of well-being, and the overall value of the choice.

Your ability to display irrepressible self-control is determined by your impression of mental depletion rather than the real amount of labor required to’stay on track.’

Avoid assuming that you need to ‘exercise’ your self-control like you would your legs in the gym. Instead, consider willpower in a new light. It’s time to admit that your lack of self-control stems from your sense of the effort and difficulty of stating ‘I will’ or ‘I won’t,’ rather than the real effort and difficulty of the activity.

Improve your intrinsic motivation by perceiving each weight-loss-related activity as a task you want to complete and making those same behaviors simple to execute.

When faced with a decision that necessitates self-control, resist imposing self-punishment. Instead, accept that struggle is the norm. When you make a mistake or succumb to the packets of chips, boxes of chocolates, and bottles of wine, begin practicing self-compassion.

It will assist you in making judgments that your “future you” will appreciate.