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The Complete Guide to Self-Control | Scott H Young

Self-control

Self-control

It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies and cakes) and choosing the delayed reward (healthy weight).

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The Complete Guide to Self-Control | Scott H Young

The Complete Guide to Self-Control | Scott H Young

https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2019/09/30/self-control/

scotthyoung.com

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Key Ideas

Self-control

It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies and cakes) and choosing the delayed reward (healthy weight).

Why self-control matters

People who have high self-control aren’t missing out on enjoyment. Not being able to resist temptation and enjoying life are not the same things.

They tend to eat in a healthily way, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, and are more financially secure.

Biological limits to self-control

Research showed that self-control is ultimately limited by our biology. We can’t exercise effortful self-control indefinitely – the brain has to do regular maintenance to remain functional.

Achieving great self-control

People that are great at self-control don't have to make more effort. Instead, they avoid effortful strategies and use easier ones.

In this way, they don’t tax and overwork their brains, and thus they are free to invest their effort into pursuing their goals, instead of fighting with themselves

Bad self-discipline strategies

  • Thought suppression: when you consciously attempt not to think about something. It can have some benefits in the short term, but it takes a lot more effort than other strategies and it will make your desire even stronger in the long-run.
  • Resisting temptations: it when you’re actively inhibiting your urge to act on them. Because it’s one of the most effortful strategies, it’s likely to fail when applied over a longer period of time.

Make temptation less fun

Use a ‘commitment contract’. This is a way to impose costs on self-control failure.

For example, you sign a contract with a friend or a company and place a financial deposit. You only get your deposit back if you meet certain criteria after an agreed-on period of time. For instance, you need to cut down your smoking to a few cigarettes a day. If you don’t satisfy the criteria, then you lose your deposit.

Adjusting your identity

... to prevent self-control failures. Research has shown that people who have developed a self-image around virtuous activities are more likely to identify and resolve self-control conflicts.

For these people, indulging incurs a cost to their self-image – it contradicts the beliefs they have about themselves.

Self-control and mindfulness

Many studies have shown that mindfulness is an effective way for boosting our self-control.

Mindfulness doesn’t suppress or resist your thoughts and emotions. It just changes your perspective on them. You don’t judge your inner experiences (don’t evaluate whether your desires are good or bad).

Removing distractions

Distractions cause cognitive load: they fill up your working memory. As a result, there’s less space for your long-term goals.

A distraction can be anything such as chatting with friends, listening to the radio or watching television.

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Studies have shown that people that are really good at achieving their goals are not the ones that put more effort into exerting self-control in the face of temptations, but the ones that experience fewer temptations to start with.

People who are good at self-control

  • They actually enjoy the activities some of us resist (eating healthy, studying, exercising)
  • They have better decision-making habits
  • Some people just experience fewer temptations
  • It’s easier to have self-control when you’re wealthy - when you’re poor, the future is less certain.

one more idea

Self-Control

 ... is the ability to regulate and alter responses in order to avoid undesirable behaviors, increase desirable ones, and achieve long-term goals.

Research on Self-Control

  • A 2011 survey found that 27 % of respondents identified a lack of willpower as the primary factor keeping them from reaching their goals. 
  • One study found that students who exhibited greater self-discipline had better grades, higher test scores, and were more likely to be admitted to a competitive academic program. 
  • The study also found that when it came to academic success, self-control was a more important factor than IQ scores.
  • A health study found that people who were rated as having high levels of self-control during childhood continued to have high levels of physical and mental health in adulthood.
  • Research has found that self-control is a limited resource. In the long-term, exercising self-control tends to strengthen it. 

Motivation and Monitoring

A lack of willpower is not the only factor that affects goal attainment.

  • There needs to be a clear goal and the motivation to change. Having an unclear or overly general goal and insufficient motivation can lead to failure.
  • You need to monitor your actions daily towards the achievement of the goal.
  • You need to have willpower.

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Strategies for self-control

  • Meditate.
  • Eat. If your blood sugar is low, you are far more likely to succumb to destructive impulses.
  • Exercise releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses.
  • Sleep. When you are tired, your brain cells’ ability to absorb glucose is highly diminished.
  • Ride the Wave. Desire has a strong tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. Waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control.
  • Forgive Yourself when you slip up. Focus on what you’re going to do to improve yourself in the future.