wonder woman

How to Have Self-Control: Some Easy Techniques

Sometimes I am great at exercising self control, and sometimes I am not. I am quite good with money and I have no trouble sticking to a budget and scrimping and saving to treat myself to something I really want, like an expensive item of clothing. I am not the type to splash out and put something on my credit card when I can’t afford it.

Yep – aren’t I great.

Unfortunately, there are some areas of my life where I find it particularly difficult to exercise self-control. At various times in my life I have eaten too much, drunk too much and failed to exercise or keep up with fitness goals. Bad habits form quickly – and before I know it – I realise that I haven’t been to the gym in six weeks. Oh hang my head in shame! Not just that, I have been eating very badly and drowning my sorrows after a recent personal event – and subsequently my sleeping patterns are all out of whack.

Sometimes I feel like I have trouble with self control. Disciplining the self is very difficult, and learning to control the self takes patience and perseverance. I have been doing some research on self control and the good news is – it can be practised and learned.

The marshmallow experiment in the 70s

A study was done on a bunch of kids in the 70s. They were all told that they could eat one marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes without eating it, they could have two marshmallows. Each kid was left in the room with the marshmallow, and some were able to delay their gratification and exercise self control to gain the reward of the extra marshmallow 15 minutes later. Some kids were not able to exercise self control and they ate the marshmallow right away, or within the 15 minutes.

It was found that the kids that could delay their gratification were “big picture” thinkers and could focus on the future better than the kids who couldn’t delay their gratification. The kids who delayed their gratification also did better on other intelligence tests.

Distract yourself from what controls you

The interesting thing was the techniques the kids used to deal with being left in the room with the marshmallow. The one who were able to delay their gratification distracted themselves by singing songs or playing hide and seek. They simply distracted their brains for the 15 minutes. Some of the kids chose to stare right at the marshmallow, thinking that if they focused on it, they would ‘beat’ it. This turned out to be a bad technique and usually resulted in the kid eating the marshmallow.

A couple of techniques for self control

comic girl with tied hands

1. Be philosophical about things.

Don’t focus on the details of an issue, focus on the bigger picture. Think more about the future, rather than the details of the problem. Rather than obsessively counting calories, think more about a picture of long term health. Don’t get bogged down in minute details of the problem, try to focus more on the long term. Use your higher self, or ultimate goals as a guide.

2. Reward yourself

Like the kids in the study, we need incentives for good behaviour. These incentives work even if they are self-imposed. When we restrict ourselves we need something to look forward to.

3. Commit to yourself before hand

I find this technique works sometimes and not others. Having a clear strategy of how you are going to avoid temptation is important. You need to think about the times when your self control might be low and have a plan of attack for those times.

4. The concept of ‘psychological distance’

“Although a few people have very high (or very low) levels of self-control, two-thirds of us lie somewhere near the middle: sometimes finding it easy to resist temptation, other times not. Naturally the exact situation has a huge effect on how much self-control we can exert. One property of different situations central to self-control that psychologists have examined is ‘psychological distance’.”

Psyblog has an outstanding article on this topic – which is well worth a read. The concept quoted above is an interesting one. To have psychological distance, you need to focus on the future, at events coming up, rather than today and tomorrow. The more ‘distance’ we can put between ourselves and something we want – the more control we have.

Got that?

The more psychological ‘distance’ we can put between ourselves and something we want – the more control we have.

Do you have any techniques that you use for self control? Please let me know!

photo by Digo_Souza thank you.

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