This is the fourth segment in a series on Reason
"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins"
We are all constantly bombarded by inner impulses, automatic reactions to events going on around - and inside - us. Throughout the course of each day, our three aspects initiate loads of physical and mental urges that beg for a response. Apparently it is our primitive urges -- the wishes to eat, sleep, relax, and seek pleasures (like sex or online browsing) -- that plague us the most. The sooner we can choose which inner impulses we act upon, the sooner we are on the path and direction of our choice.
Self-control is an amazing device that allows you to consciously resist the pull of certain impulses, and to choose which new habits to establish. This mental apparatus gives you the power to shape your future. Learning to exercise willpower at an early age improves your physical health, financial status, safety, and relationships as an adult. Resisting a marshmallow for fifteen minutes as a kid is a surprisingly potent predictor of future success in life.
What if you’re not a kid anymore? Is there still hope? Absolutely: it’s never too late! Building self control is like toning a muscle – there are a variety of ways to strengthen it and you can use it for many different things. Whenever you give this mental muscle a “work out” (for example by working on your posture or organization), your self-control gets better across many areas. Yet, you must expend willpower to practice your mental “work outs.”
How to develop this mental apparatus wisely?
If you want to improve your self control, read Willpower by Roy Baumesiter, Ph.D. and John Tierney. Or read it anyway. This is an incredibly useful book!
It is never too late to start building self-control.
Use your willpower to think logically and decide what is possible for you. Only choose intentions and make deals with yourself that you can keep. Otherwise you won’t take yourself seriously and your willpower will weaken overall. Framing your sacrifices as "I don't ...." rather than "I can't....," or "I want...." rather than "I must...." will keep you feeling more in charge. Focus on your ultimate goal (for example, better vocabulary, more exercise), rather than on the sacrifices along the way -- "keep your eye on the prize." Then work toward your goal!
To get a good mental workout in self-control:Start Now:
- Pick three goals and start with the most important one
- Wait to work on your other goals until you have your first success
- Brain storm with others for new ideas about how to meet your goals
Plan long-term goals, for example:
- Where to live?
- How to improve your work?
- What skills do you need?
Break down your goal into smaller steps:
- Assign yourself weekly tasks, and monthly goals
- Be flexible about adhering to your schedules
- Give yourself regular rewards (free time after you meet your goal, a nice dinner out, a vacation after achieving a large goal)
Make flexible plans:
- Set goals for each month, with plans for each week
- Expect that things won't always go as you plan
- Avoid situations in which you know that you can’t control yourself.
- Don’t drive by stores you shouldn’t go into
- Don’t keep foods in your house you love, but shouldn’t eat
- Make choices beforehand (split dessert, exercise with a friend, give yourself real deadlines).
- Plan a schedule that includes time to eat, rest, be social, and goof off
- It will take time to see the benefits of your work
- Focus on the direction (path) of your progress, not your pace
You can work on your will power today by: 1) forming an intention, 2) making a plan, and 3) taking it seriously. Using willpower effectively really helps you become a superpower.
If the holiday season is a hard time of year for you, try focusing your energy on something that will make you feel better when the holidays are over, like volunteering, cleaning out your closets, or building some willpower in an area of your choice. If you want to work to improve your self control around food, here are some tips for eating better. Just build in enough flexibility so you can have the occassional marshmallow.
I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!