7 Ways to Have Self-Control, Even in the Hardest Situations
Although there are times where it seems impossible to gain strength in the area of willpower, like any other muscle group, it needs to be strengthened regularly.
What would change if you had more self-control? Would you meet your fitness goals? De-escalate tense situations? Finally stop procrastinating on work projects? Although it can seem impossible to gain any more discipline than you already have, willpower can be exercised regularly just like your muscles. There are a few ways you can gain control when you really need it. When it comes to eating, exercise, anger and more, here are some common "tempting" scenarious followed by tips on how to strengthen your resolve.
1. Resisting Junk Food
From the grocery store to fast-food ads, one thing is for sure: Junk food is everywhere. Overcome the temptations of unhealthy foods by changing your self-talk. First, stop thinking, “I can’t eat this” (something unhealthy), and replace it with, “I can eat that” (something healthy), says Kelly Milligan, naturopath and chef. It removes the restrictive feeling and allows for a more stress-free, positive mindset.
Second, think past the immediate craving and ask yourself, “How will I feel after eating this? Will this help me get closer to my goals?” This way you are changing your approach from arbitrarily labeling foods as “good” or “bad” to focusing on the value certain foods have for your body.
2. Motivating Yourself to Hit the Gym
One way to stay on the path of exercising regularly is simply putting on your workout clothes! A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that this can give you the motivation you need to get moving. Still not feeling it? Tell yourself you’ll just work out for five to 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised what you’ll feel like doing once you get started.
And remind yourself why you started. Whether your goal is to gain strength, lose weight, recover from an injury or get healthier, each goal is tied to a specific emotion. Dig deep and envision what it would be like if your goal was met today. Bonus: Exercise can strengthen your willpower in other areas of your life!
3. Stopping the Late-Night Munchies
When straight-up willpower isn’t enough to stop yourself from eating an entire bag of chips before bed (or overeating in general), creating new habits is the way. First things first: Keep yourself fueled throughout the day so you’re not “starving” in the evening.
Then find a distraction from your thoughts of food: talk with a friend, stretch or read. Or try brushing your teeth. You won’t want to eat if your mouth is minty fresh. If you're truly hungry, try a pice of fruit. The American Psychological Association states that glucose (like that found in fruit) is fuel for the brain and that acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels 3.
4. Controlling Angry Outbursts
Anger is natural. But it’s what you do with that emotion that matters. It all begins with thinking before you speak or act. Ask yourself if what you're about to say is going to make the situation better or worse. Or take a timeout. You can use the age-old trick of counting to 10 before you speak. It allows your mind to get some emotional distance and lets your brain focus on something else.
If you still feel amped up, try exercising. According to stress physiologist Nathaniel Thom in an article for Psychology Today, exercise can help diffuse the buildup of anger. Exercise gets the feel-good hormones elevated in your brain and presents a calming feeling over your body. After you’ve calmed down, you can find solutions and present your feelings in an unagitated state.
5. Refraining From Hitting Snooze
The snooze button is no friend of self-control. Mel Robbins, author of “The 5 Second Rule,” says in her book that how you wake up and spend the first 30 minutes of the morning determines the productivity of your day. It starts with getting up, waking up and being present in everything you do, Mel says. (In other words, put down your phone!)
According to Robbins, if you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill the idea. So within five seconds of your alarm sounding, spring up and out of bed! Immediately after, begin to think of the positive things this extra morning time will add to your day. Before you know it, you’ll have set the tone for the entire day!
Read more: 17 Ways to Have More Fun in the Morning
6. Curtailing Frivolous Spending
If you feel you need more control in the spending department, writing down each and every thing you purchase is a great way to see exactly how much is going out and where. At the end of each month, go through your list and see what spending was a “need” and what spending was a “want,” says Paula Pant, money-management expert and creator of AffordAnything.com. Add up the total amount of the “wants” and imagine that money saved up for an emergency fund or a memorable family vacation. This will also allow you to see other not-so-good habits you may have, such as buying junk food or always ordering lunch at work.
7. Actually Accomplishing Your Goals
Set your goals on a vision board where you’ll see them every day. This can be hanging on the wall next to your television or placed by the door of your home so you’ll always have a visual reminder of what your goals are. Read them out loud, and tell yourself you can do this — because you can.
Another way to ensure success is to keep it simple in all areas. If it’s too overwhelming, then you’ll be overwhelmed. Have the mindset of working in baby steps, and celebrate each day that you succeed. With self-control comes the feeling of accomplishment. With accomplishment comes self-confidence. And this cycle helps you keep meeting your goals.
Read more: 6 Morning Habits of Highly Successful People
Build Self-Control With Sleep
Another easy way to gain more self-control in any area of your life is to get adequate sleep. A 2011 study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that a sleep-deprived individual is at increased risk for succumbing to impulsive desires, inattentiveness and questionable decision-making. Basically, it’s much easier to make the right choices when our brains are rested and recharged. (Which you probably know from experience!)
What Do YOU Think?
How would you rate your self-control? In which area(s) of your life do you have the hardest time with self-control? What have you done to strengthen your willpower? Have you tried any of the things on this list? What else would you add? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!