8 Tips to Learn Self Control

· February 7, 2017
What would you choose: the apple or the chocolate cake? While it may be difficult to practice, self control is crucial for achieving our long-term goals.

Self control is a mechanism that we learn when we have to wait to get what we want.  We all know we have it, but we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. While it may be difficult to practice, self control is crucial for achieving our long-term goals.

Self control is probably the most important psychological trait. It involves reaching a sufficient emotional balance to resist our impulses, and this is extremely crucial for our well being.

Let’s take a look at an example.

There is the apple and there is the chocolate cake. Even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t touch anything that’s not on your diet, your nervous hands sneak towards the most appetizing item in your refrigerator… 

Let’s face it: we’ve all experienced a similar situation.  Long range goals (for example, losing weight) frequently come into conflict with other immediate pleasures (chocolate cake).

We can gain control of these impulses for immediate pleasure and short term enjoyment.  If we do this, we can avoid having our goals and our motivation destroyed in a fleeting, temporary moment.

This is the key to countless life situations.

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Why do we lose control?

We may be committed to losing those pounds, but we still somehow end up giving up and we give in to temptation.


Why is this?

There are two psychological systems that intervene in self control:  the impulse system and the reflex system.

  • Our impulse system tracks our surroundings. It captures stimuli or elements that guarantee us pleasure  (chocolate cake, for example).  That’s one of the reasons why going shopping for food isn’t a good idea when we’re hungry, for example. The magnitude of these impulses aren’t always the same, nor are they the same in every person.  This depends on multiple circumstances and dispositions.
  • Our reflex system plans and produces the consequences of our behavior. It’s the part that tells us that no matter how delicious that chocolate cake may be, it comes with consequences.

Thinking about what we’re going to do requires many resources and the ability to manage ourselves. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. If we can practice diligent self control, then activities like going to the gym will become a habit. We won’t have an eternal dilemma while sitting with our feet up like a couch potato.

Remember that 21 days is all it takes for our body to develop a habit.

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Delaying gratification and success in life

We can find the best example of the importance of being able to delay pleasure and tolerate frustration in childhood.

It’s well known that it is difficult for a child to resist playing with a ball or eating a marshmallow if it’s forbidden or if it’s right in front of them and no one is watching (even if they know someone is watching them, they’ll still eat it!).

Renown psychologist Walter Mischel went beyond this with a famous experiment: the marshmallow test.

Mischel’s study proved that delaying gratification consists in controlling the immediate impulse to eat one marshmallow in order to get another one.

By doing this study, he was able to establish a relationship between self-control and success in life. It assumes that testing and controlling ourselves is beneficial and key to successful development.

8 tips to develop self control

While a person isn’t born with self control, it can be acquired.  This is an especially important ability when someones decides to give up tobacco, lose weight, or train for a marathon.

Here are 8 tips for improving your self control:

  1. Take into account the risks and negative consequences of behaving in a certain way. Come up with rules such as “if…then…”  That way, you won’t get off track.
  2.  Increase your personal commitment by telling others around you what your objectives are along with your plan of action.
  3.  Turn your objectives into baby steps or tasks that you have to complete.
  4. Rejoice in the small successes and and celebrate your goals when you achieve them.
  5.  Modify your impulses by establishing an association between the external aspect and the temptation.
  6.  Train your memory to always keep your goals in mind.
  7. Think about the situations that risk reaching your goal.
  8. Pause and take breaks to restore your mental resources and your motivation.

The path to self control definitely requires knowing how to manage our temptations and taking advantage of our strengths.

Each time that we stumble upon a dilemma between an immediate situation and long-term goal, we can’t forget to imagine our reflex system and our impulse system fighting against each other. 

Which one deserves to win the battle?