Self-control is the ability to control one’s emotions. It is having the willpower to resist temptations and negative urges.
Sounds simple enough and everyone generally has some degree of it. However, it remains a constant battle for the majority of us to achieve some degree of self-control – especially when we need it the most.
Self-control often is linked with our emotional responses, behavior, and judgment in certain situations. For us to exhibit good responses and show good judgment, we often have to control our urges from doing certain impulses that would create addictive or compulsive mannerisms within our lives.
Given how hard it is to control at times, are there ways to help develop better self-control?
Here are six tips that can help in getting better self-control and saying no to impulses more consistently.
Buddhist monks meditate and always seem to be so calm and in control. Perhaps they are onto something. Meditation has shown that it can improve willpower in a variety of ways. More willpower means being better able to resist temptation and keep yourself under control.
Taking as little as five minutes a day to sit still and focus on nothing up your senses and your breathing patterns improves self-awareness. In doing, it helps improves your prefrontal cortex, the area behind your forehead which handles decision-making responsibilities of the brain. This is the area that dictates our emotions and judgment.
Meditation helps attention span and focus, allow us to handle stress better. Handling stress better means we mentally won’t feel out of control at times. We feel more focused and in control of our surroundings. In turn, we become more confident within ourselves and can withstand impulses better.
2. Eat Healthy
This seems like an odd tip, especially if you are trying to control eating habits. However, often we are trying to control ourselves from eating too many sweets or eating too much. Rather, what we eat could be more important as how much we eat.
Eating a more plant-based diet will allow for more energy to become available to the brain, thus increasing willpower. That is important since the brain burns through glucose when attempting to control urges. If the blood sugar in your body is low, you are more liking to give in to temptation. Even sugar spikes leave you drained and still vulnerable. Instead, eating something such as rice or meat creates a slower sugar burn. This allows for more time where your brain can keep urges under control.
So, eating more greens instead of a sugary snack can keep glucose levels up without overindulging your stomach.
If your body is more resilient to stress, so are you. So, getting your body up and moving helps you create a more stress-tolerant mindset.
Exercising causes the brain to recognize the situation as a moment of stress. As the heart rate goes up, the brain is wired to think you are fighting through something. To protect itself, the brain releases protein that protects and repairs your memory neurons. In essence, it serves as a reset button; this why while we are physically tired, we feel mentally at ease and clear after exercising.
In short, exercise helps relax the brain and helps impulses pass. If you are having trouble with a situation and stressing out over it, exercise it out. It allows you to mentally calm down and not give in to potential negative reactions.
As mentioned before, glucose helps your brain’s ability to hold back and control sudden impulses. Sleep deprivation diminishes that capacity because it can create chronic stress that impairs how the brain uses energy.
Sleep deprivation hits the prefrontal cortex hard as well. Lack of sleep can cause the brain to lose some control over stress response and control over cravings. That comes as no surprise since people lacking sleep are generally crankier because their stress response isn’t functioning well.
Also, sleep deprivation can affect a person’s focus. Maybe a person on four hours of sleep does the same work just as well as someone on seven hours of sleep does – at least the first time. However, if the work gets repetitive then the person on four hours of sleep stands a greater chance to lose focus.
5. Hold Out for a Bit
When the need to control a desirable emotion occurs, sometimes waiting a few minutes before succumbing can cause the strength of the initial urges to fade.
A prime example is the marshmallow study in the 1960s and 1970s at Stanford University. In the study, children were offered a choice. They could sit in a room with a marshmallow (or a cookie) in front of them. They had the option of eating it or they could wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows as a reward.
The study went on to show that those that did hold out for the two marshmallows eventually ended up with better life outcomes and better test scores later in their lives. They developed techniques such as going into a corner or turning around and not looking at the inviting marshmallow. They adapted and learned self-control techniques on their own in order to get a better reward.
So, the next time you feel an impulse to do something negative, find a way to ride it out, turn away, or distract yourself. Eventually, the moment passes and your self-control has won out.
Often people have been raised in a way that it common to feel guilt over certain actions. In doing so, guilt makes everything seem better as we are conditioned to think that we are only “human.” Yet, it would be better for us to learn to deal with our actions in a manner which frees us from the shackles of guilt.
We find ourselves straddling the line between ignoring the mistake or wallowing under the guilt of it too much. Both sides have its danger points. By ignoring the mistake, we are rationalizing away the lack of self-control and pretending it doesn’t matter. On the other hand, feeling guilty creates negative feelings within us such as self-loathing. That can lead to us to trying to eat out or issues.
The key is to acknowledge it, forgive yourself by learning a lesson from it. In forgiving oneself, we could gain understanding from situations and not staying stuck on the same event, constantly reliving it. It is far better to move on with a better understanding of the situation.