In psychology, self-control is obviously not a new concept. It’s been around for a while, but scientists are still fascinated by it. It has proven to be a true star time and time again, providing several benefits to those who can properly practice it.
Study after study shows that if we can just figure out how to improve our self-control, our lives will improve dramatically—we’ll eat healthier, exercise more, and we won’t overspend, overdrink, or do anything else that is bad for us.
We will be able to attain our objectives much more quickly, and success will no longer be a distant dream.
Simply, as Shakespeare pointed out many years ago if you know how to control your impulses, emotions, and behaviors, the world is your oyster.
We’ll look at how self-control works and how to develop it so you can live the life you want in this post.
What Is Self-Control?
Self-control can be defined as the following:
“Self-control is the ability to subdue one’s impulses, emotions, and behaviors in order to achieve longer-term goals.”
It has its origins in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is in charge of planning, decision-making, personality expression, and recognizing good and negative.
Self-control also refers to the ability to resist temptation in the short term and to postpone instant enjoyment in order to achieve something far more worthwhile and superior in the future. As the Greats teach us, “short-term suffering for long-term gain.”
The famous marshmallow test is the most renowned demonstration of self-control and its benefits.
It was a series of research undertaken by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The experiment was simple: children aged four to six were given the option of eating one treat (a marshmallow, candy, or pretzel) right away or waiting 15-20 minutes for two sweets.
It’s not difficult to assume that more children preferred immediate satisfaction over delayed gratification. The researchers, on the other hand, followed those who chose to wait for all the way through high school and adulthood.
They discovered that self-control aided these children greatly later in life: they performed better academically, had better emotional coping abilities, used fewer drugs, and had healthier weights.
So, it’s quite simple then—to ensure future success, teach kids to develop higher levels of self-control. But it’s not always easy, it turns out.
Why Self-Control Matters
Since the marshmallow test, self-control has been a central theme in a slew of additional studies, and it has largely lived up to its billing. Those who are able to practice impulse control well reap significant benefits.
Goal-setting, mental and physical health, and a variety of other key aspects of life—relationships, academics, sports, career, and self-esteem—all tend to be close friends with self-control. Simply put, when it comes to achieving any goal, willpower is a requirement.
Surprisingly, the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey from 2011 found that lack of willpower was the most important factor for 27% of respondents.
Self-control is also a big barrier to keeping a healthy weight. Children who learn to manage their impulses are less likely to grow overweight as adults, according to studies.
Willpower can also help people live a better lifestyle by preventing substance abuse such as alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs.
There’s no denying that self-control is crucial in all we do or desire to do.
Is Our Willpower Unlimited?
Self-control is undeniably a “It”-quality to possess when it comes to achieving our short and long-term objectives.
In 1998, a group of researchers led by American psychologist Roy Baumeister presented a theory that soon became one of the most well-known contemporary psychology hypotheses.
Participants in the study were led into a room with freshly baked cookies and radishes on the table. Some people were asked to taste the cookies, while others were instructed to try the radishes.
Following that, both groups were given a difficult challenge to solve. Surprisingly, the group that ate the cookies worked on the problem for 19 minutes, while the other group, who refused to eat the cookies, took 19 minutes.
Researchers determined that willpower is a finite resource. Using up your self-control reserves on one thing (resisting the cookies) will deplete your mental fortitude in other situations.
Another well-known study backed up the Ego Depletion theory. I’m sure we’ve all heard of “emotional eating.” When our emotions are all over the place—for example, if we watch a sad movie or something bad happens to us—we have a tendency to overeat.
However, studies have shown that attempting to conceal or hide our emotions depletes our willpower, making it more difficult to resist overeating.
“Willpower depletion was more important than mood in determining why the subjects indulged.”
How to Have Self-Control
Another outcome of the Ego Depletion theory was the revelation that self-control is like a muscle. It’s not fixed—it can be trained, and you can learn how to improve self-control over time with practice.
1. Have Something Sugary
The power of our self-control is linked to our glucose levels, according to studies.
The brain requires energy to function, which sweets supply.
Sugary drinks raise blood glucose levels and help us regain our lost willpower. Of course, this isn’t a license to binge; it’s merely a backup plan for when your willpower runs out.
2. Develop Your Internal Motivation
Other self-control studies show that when we are motivated inwardly to attain our goals rather than by external motivators or to satisfy others, our willpower is exhausted more slowly.
Simply said, “want-to” goals help us regulate our impulses better than “have-to” goals.
3. Find Your “Why”
The preceding piece of advice is closely linked to the one regarding the aim of what we do. Using a technique known as “high-level” abstract reasoning Can also assist us in developing stronger self-control.
If you want to avoid eating a slice of cake, for example, it’s easier to resist the temptation if you remind yourself that you want to stay healthy rather than thinking about how you’ll replace it with fruit.
4. Have a Plan in Place When Temptation Comes Knocking
“Implementation intention” is another name for this technique.
It simply entails thinking through some “what-if” scenarios ahead of time so that you can have a plan in place if you feel tempted to wander from your goal and “live a bit.”
If you’re trying to quit smoking, for example, you might want to bring some nicotine gum with you when you go out. When you observe others smoking, you’ll already have a strategy in place to deal with your own desires.
5. Use Your “Wrong” Hand
According to a study, using your non-dominant hand to conduct little tasks like controlling the computer mouse, opening the door, or stirring your coffee is a terrific method to improve and exercise self-control.
According to studies, this can also help reduce feelings of rage, irritation, and even aggression—even after just two weeks of practise, there are obvious results.
Here are some other techniques to improve your self-discipline besides using your “wrong” hand:
6. Focus on One Goal at a Time
Making a list of resolutions on New Year’s Eve, according to the Theory of Ego Depletion, is the “worst possible method” to improving self-control.
Going after many goals can only disappoint you because depletion has a spillover effect and often leaves you fatigued and unable to want to achieve anything else.
Don’t try to quit the smoking, diet, and start a new fitness program all at the same time, as Prof. Baumeister suggests.
7. Find a Way to Earn More Money
When children from less affluent families were given the marshmallow test, they were unable to engage in delayed gratification—that is, they did not choose to wait for the second treat.
People who come from low-income families are forced to live in the moment and seek quick indulgence whenever available.
When someone is financially better off, on the other hand, they are accustomed to being spoiled and maybe less driven to seek immediate gratification.
Furthermore, while children can learn self-control by allowing them to be autonomous, make their own decisions, and handle problems, all of this is contingent on parents spending time with their children. Parents who are financially strapped are frequently “timers.”
8. Avoid Temptation Altogether
Children who closed or averted their eyes from the marshmallow were more likely to resist than those who stared straight at the dessert in the marshmallow test.
Gretchen Rubin, the happiness expert, also writes on her blog that it’s frequently more difficult to manage your desires when you indulge in something tiny, like chocolate than fully cutting it out.
“Goal accomplishment appears to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower,” according to a recent article published in BPS Research.
When we know something is completely “off-limits,” we simply stop thinking about it.
Because willpower is a muscle, the more we exercise it, the better we get. While we may feel depleted in the near term, we will be able to gain the strength and stamina we need to attain our objectives in the long run.
It’s the same as going to the gym. You may feel fatigued and sore the first few times, but after a while, you will be able to breeze through the same exercises that challenged you at first.
10. Adopt Healthy Habits
When we begin to exercise self-control and engage in healthy behaviors and choices, they will become habits over time. When they do, we won’t require as much (if any) willpower to complete the task. People who are stronger at self-control also have better habits, according to evidence from six studies.
Simply said, when our lives are founded on habits, we are less likely to be confronted with decisions that need us to exercise self-control.
Self-control is one of the most important factors in achieving goals and living a better life in general. Although the judgment is still out on whether the Ego Depletion Theory applies to all situations and people, there is little doubt that we need the willpower to get us going forward.
Prof. Baumeister suggests, however, that we need the motivation to begin with and a mechanism to track our behavior and development in order to achieve success.
Take the time to attempt learning self-control to avoid the continual drizzles of disappointment that come with watching your ambitions smashed and burned over and over again.
You will be grateful in the future.
- Psychology Today: Self-Control
3. American Psychological Association: The APA Willpower Report
4. Intuit Turbo: What Is Ego Depletion and How Can You Overcome It?
5. American Psychological Association: What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control
6. PsyBlog: How to Improve Your Self-Control