We have hold self-control as a high virtue since the earliest times, and that's why it is a staple in most religions and the moral of many myths.
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We usually use this term when we describe a person that makes positive long-term decisions, by overcoming short-term temptations.

We associate this process with some sort of "will" or "willpower", though what these really mean is not that obvious.

In every moment of our lives, we are making decisions on how to act. Problems arise when we have to choose between what's immediately gratifying and what is not, but will be in the future. 

The difficulty thus lies in delaying gratification.

There are different factors behind every decision we make: genes, hormones, social environment, physical environment, past experiences, the context of the situation, etc. 

But the most immediate cause of any of our actions can be traced back to our brain activity.

The neurotransmitter called dopamine is more about the anticipation of a reward than it is about the reward itself.

Some specific cues found in our environment hint to a potential reward and dopamine starts to raise anticipation. So dopamine is the one responsible to make us take action towards a specific goal.

When we're deciding between immediate and delayed rewards, our brain chooses how much dopamine to send to each part of the brain (the limbic targets for immediate rewards and the frontocortical targets for the delayed ones) pragmatically by how pleasurable the reward is and how much time would take us to get to that reward.
Habits are the ones that mediate the relationship between our desires and our environment.

To change a habit, both we and the environment have to change, and that's why self-discipline is so hard.

An individual can be changed through education.

We have so little control over the biology that determines our desires. But the part of our biology that is more malleable is our brain.

Self-discipline is both an environmental and an individual problem: we can change our behaviors and beliefs through education, but the resources available for education are provided by our environment. Also, our habits are a product of what's available in the environment.

By acknowledging this, we can start finding alternative opportunities for learning and for satisfying our needs.

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