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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life

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How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life

Self-control is certainly not a new kid on the block in psychology. It’s been around for a while, but it continues to enchant scientists. Time and again, it proves to be a true star—it brings many benefits to those who can successfully practice it.

Study after study confirms that if we just find the way to strengthen our self-control, our lives will become so much better—we’ll eat healthier, exercise, won’t overspend, overdrink, or overdo anything that’s bad for us. We will be able to achieve our goals much easier, and success will not be a distant chimera anymore.

Simply put, if you know how to control your temptations, emotions, and behaviors, the world will be your oyster, as Shakespeare pointed out many years ago.

In this article, we will take a look at how self-control works and how to have self-control to live the life you want.

What Is Self-Control?

Self-control can be defined as the following:[1]

“Self-control is the ability to subdue one’s impulses, emotions, and behaviors in order to achieve longer-term goals.”

It is rooted in the prefrontal cortex of the brain[2]—the area, responsible for planning, decision-making, personality expression, and distinguishing between good and bad.

Self-control is also the ability to resist short-term temptation and to delay immediate gratification so that you can accomplish something much more worthy and better in the future. “Short-term pain for a long-term gain,” as the Greats teach us.

The most famous manifestation of self-control and its benefits is the famous marshmallow test.[3] It was a series of studies, conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University. The test was simple—children between the ages of four and six were told that they could have one treat (a marshmallow, candy, or a pretzel) now, or wait for 15-20 minutes and get two treats instead.

It’s not hard to guess that more kids chose instant over delayed gratification. However, the researchers then tracked the ones who decided to wait through their high school years and adulthood.

What they found out was that self-control helped these kids tremendously later in life—they had higher academic performance, better emotional coping skills, less drug use, and healthier weights.[4]

So, it’s quite simple then—to ensure future success, teach kids to develop higher levels of self-control. But it’s not always easy, it turns out.

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Why Self-Control Matters

Ever since the marshmallow test, self-control has been the protagonist in many other studies, and it generally lives up to its hype. Impulse control does give great advantages to those who are able to practice it well.

Self-control tends to be close friends with goal-achievement, mental and physical health, and lots of other important parts of life—relationships, academics, sports, career, and self-esteem. Simply put, willpower is a must-have when it comes to eyeing any type of accomplishment.

Interestingly enough, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey from 2011[5], 27% of respondents noted that lack of willpower was the most important impediment to change.

Lack of self-control is the major obstacle to maintaining healthy weight, too. Studies back this up—children who learn to control their impulses are less likely to become overweight in adulthood.[6]

Willpower is also a major contributor to leading a healthier lifestyle—it can help prevent substance abuse—alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs.

There is no doubt about it—self-control matters quite a lot for everything we do or want to do.

Is Our Willpower Unlimited?

Undeniably, self-control is an “It”-trait to have when it comes to the successful completion of our short and long-term goals.

In 1998, a team of researchers, led by the American psychologist Roy Baumeister, introduced an idea, which quickly earned its place as one of the most famous contemporary psychology theories. In the study, participants were brought into a room where there were freshly baked cookies and radishes on the table. Some were asked to try the cookies and the others the radishes.

Afterward, both groups were given a hard puzzle to complete. Surprisingly, the group who ate the cookies had a go at the puzzle for 19 minutes, while the other group, who resisted eating the tasty cookies, lasted an average of 8 minutes.

Enter ego-depletion.[7]

    Willpower is a limited resource, researchers concluded. Using up your reservoir of self-control on one thing (resisting the cookies) can drain your mental strength for subsequent situations[8].

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    Another popular study supported the Ego Depletion theory, too. We all have heard about “emotional eating,” right? We sometimes tend to overeat if we feel that our emotions are all over the place—if, for instance, we watch a sad movie or something unpleasant happens to us. However, what studies have found is that if we try to contain or hide our emotions, then our willpower will be depleted, and we will be less likely to resist overeating.

    Simply put,

    “Willpower depletion was more important than mood in determining why the subjects indulged.”

    Luckily you can try this: How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

    How to Have Self-Control

    Another outcome of the Ego Depletion theory was the revelation that self-control is like a muscle. It’s not fixed—it can be trained, and you can learn how to improve self-control over time with practice.

    1. Have Something Sugary

    Studies show that the strength of our self-control is connected to our glucose levels.[9] The brain needs energy to operate, and sweets provide that fuel.

    Consuming sugary drinks increases blood-glucose levels and boosts our worn-down willpower. Of course, this isn’t a license to overdo it; it’s just a backup when your willpower is running on fumes.

    2. Develop Your Internal Motivation

    Other research on self-control tells us that when we are driven internally to achieve our goals versus by external motivators or to please others, our levels of willpower get depleted slower.

    Simply put, “want-to” goals make us better at self-control than “have-to” goals.

    Learn how to find your internal motivation here: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

    3. Find Your “Why”

    Closely linked to the above advice is the one about the purpose behind what we do. Using a so-called “high-level” abstract reasoning[10] can help us practice better self-control, too.

    For instance, if you want to avoid eating a piece of cake, it’s easier to alleviate the temptation if you remind yourself that you want to stay healthy, rather than think how you will just eat a fruit instead.

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    4. Have a Plan in Place When Temptation Comes Knocking

    This technique is also known as “implementation intention”[11] and it simply means going though some “what-if” scenarios beforehand, so that you can have a strategy when you feel the enticement to stray away from your goal and “live a little.”

    For instance, if you want to quit smoking, you may consider bringing some nicotine gum with you when going out. This way, when you see others smoking, you already have a plan in place to combat the cravings.

    5. Use Your “Wrong” Hand

    Using your non-dominant hand to do small things such as operating the computer mouse, opening the door, or stirring your coffee are great ways to enhance and exert self-control powers, according to research.

    Studies tell us that this can also help curb feelings of anger, frustration, and even aggression—after only two weeks of practice, there are some noticeable benefits.[12]

    Besides using your “wrong” hand, here’re more ways to train your self-discipline: How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life

    6. Focus on One Goal at a Time

    The Theory of Ego Depletion also advises that “that making a list of resolutions on New Year’s Eve is the worst possible approach” to improve self-control.

    Since depletion has a spill-over effect and often leaves you exhausted and unlikely to want to do anything more, going after multiple aspirations can only make you frustrated with yourself. As Prof. Baumeister advises, don’t try to quit smoking, go on a diet, and start on a new exercise plan all at the same time.

    Learn to commit to your goal: How to Commit, Achieve Excellence And Change Your Life

    7. Find a Way to Earn More Money

    When the marshmallow test was done with kids from less affluent families, they were unable to engage in delayed gratification—i.e. they chose not to wait for the second treat. Coming from a low-income background forces people to live in the now and seek immediate indulgence[13] when possible.

    In contrast, when someone is better-off financially, they are used to being spoiled and may be less tempted to go after instant rewards. Additionally, although self-control can be taught by letting children be independent, make their own decisions, and solve problems, all of these depend on the parents spending time with their kids. And quite often, financially-struggling parents are also “time-poor.”

    8. Avoid Temptation Altogether

    In the marshmallow test, the children who closed or averted their eyes from the marshmallow were more likely to resist than those who were staring straight at the treat.

    Gretchen Rubin, the happiness guru, also writes on her blog that often, it’s harder to control your urges when you indulge in something, like chocolate, in small ways, rather than cutting it off completely.[14]

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    A resent piece posted in BPS Research also supports the idea that “goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower.”[15] When we know something is “off limits” altogether, we just stop thinking about it over time.

    Here’s How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses.

    9. Practice

    Since willpower is like a muscle, the more we practice, the better we become. While in the short-term we may feel depleted, in the long run, we will be able to build the strength and the stamina we need to successfully achieve our goals.

    This is exactly like going to the gym. The first few times you may feel exhausted and sore, but after a while, you will be able to fly through the same exercises that challenged you in the beginning.

    10. Adopt Healthy Habits

    Once we start practicing self-control and engage in healthier behaviors and choices, they will, over time, become habits. When they do, we will no longer need so much willpower (if any) to do that activity. In fact, research across six studies found that people who are better at self-control also have better habits.[16]

    Simply put, when our lives are based on habits, we are less frequently faced with making a decision, which require us to tap into our self-control reservoir.

    Final Thoughts

    Self-control is one of the biggest contributors to goal achievement and leading a better life in general. Although the jury is still out on whether the Ego Depletion Theory is valid across all situations and people,[17] the idea that we still need willpower to get us moving forward is not in question.

    However, we also need a motivation to start with and a way to monitor our behavior and progress to accomplish success, as Prof. Baumeister advises.

    To save yourself from the constant drizzles of disappointment with seeing your dreams crushed and burned over and over, take the time to try practicing some self-control.

    The future you will thank you.

    More Tips About Improving Self-Control

    Featured photo credit: Free To Use Sounds via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology Today: Self-Control
    [2] CNN Health: Where is self-control in the brain?
    [3] Mischel, Walter: The Marshmallow Test: Mastering self-control.
    [4] Business Insider: The famous Stanford ‘marshmallow test’ suggested that kids with better self-control were more successful. But it’s being challenged because of a major flaw.
    [5] American Psychological Association: The APA Willpower Report
    [6] Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine: Self-control as a protective factor against overweight status in the transition from childhood to adolescence.
    [7] Case Western Reserve University: Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?
    [8] Intuit Turbo: What Is Ego Depletion and How Can You Overcome It?
    [9] American Psychological Association: What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control
    [10] PsyBlog: How to Improve Your Self-Control
    [11] Psychology Today: Implementation Intentions Facilitate Action Control
    [12] Science Direct: Want to limit aggression? Practice self-control
    [13] The New Republic: Poor People Don’t Have Less Self-Control. Poverty Forces Them to Think Short-Term
    [14] Gretchen Rubin: Want To Be Free From French Fries? Or, Why Abstaining May Be Easier Than You Think
    [15] The British Psychological Society: Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower
    [16] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: More than resisting temptation: Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes.
    [17] Science News: Sometimes a failure to replicate a study isn’t a failure at all

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    Evelyn Marinoff

    A wellness advocate who writes about the psychology behind confidence, happiness and well-being.

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    Published on October 14, 2021

    How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

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    How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

    Do you ever worry about being exposed as a “fraud?” You’re not alone. It’s actually quite common for people to feel like imposters. In fact, approximately 70 percent of people admit to having experienced impostor syndrome[1] at some point in their lives — a Twitter poll found that 87 percent of people have experienced this.[2] Even successful and famous people like Tom Hanks, Howard Schultz, and Natalie Portman suffer from imposter syndrome.

    But, what exactly is imposter syndrome. And, more importantly, how can you silence it?

    Originally coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP, and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., the term “impostor syndrome” describes symptoms that include being unable to internalize accomplishments and being afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

    The individual may also be plagued by chronic self-doubt and believe that they’re unqualified for success despite evidence to the contrary. Inadequacies, fears of failure, and disbelief that success is a matter of luck or timing are also common.

    If you don’t address this phenomenon, feeling like an impostor can prevent you from achieving ambitious goals. Moreover, those experiencing these feelings tend to over-prepare or procrastinate — which obviously hinders productivity and reaching goals. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, imposter syndrome prevents you from pursuing new challenges and opportunities.

    Do you feel like you’re suffering from impostor syndrome? If so, don’t beat yourself up. After all, there are effective ways to overcome these feelings in a healthy and proactive way.

    1. Don’t Hide It.

    “Firstly, acknowledge it,” advises Claudine Robson,[3] the Intentional Coach. “You give strength to imposter syndrome by letting it continue to peck away at your confidence unchecked.” It can only be banished if you acknowledge it as soon as possible and break the silence.

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    “Then you need to separate your feelings from facts,” Robson adds. “One thing imposter syndrome does very effectively is to mix up your perceptions of reality.”

    If you can, take a step back and look at the situation objectively. “Recognize when you should — and when you should not — feel fraudulent,” she says. Appreciate and acknowledge the task, intellect, and insight that have led to your success.

    You might even be able to take action by recognizing that the reason you feel fraudulent is that you’re new to a task. “That gives you a path forward; learning is growth, don’t deny yourself that.”

    2. Implement the STOP Technique

    In her book Cognitive Enlightenment, Melinda Fouts, Ph.D., outlines a technique to overcome imposter syndrome using what she calls the STOP technique.

    “STOP is an acronym for ‘silence the oppressive player,” Fouts explains in Forbes.[4] “You need to eradicate this tape that is playing 24/7, whether you are conscious of it or not. It plays loudest when we are tired, hungry, or feeling defeated.”

    Steps to implementing the STOP technique and rewiring your brain are as follows:

    To replace the tape of not good enough, you need a “launch sentence.” “I’m more than good enough” would is an example of a solid launch statement.

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    Put your launch sentence in prominent locations, such as your car’s dashboard or computer. How come? The reason is that as the tape plays, you won’t be able to remember your launch statement.

    Continue to say “stop” until you recall your launch sentence, says Fouts.

    Put your launch sentence into your own words and pontificate.

    While going about your daily tasks, like while driving or exercising, practice your launch sentence so you can recall it when you need it in the future.

    “I am told this sounds simple and it does,” she adds. However, this technique is challenging when your negative tape is playing. You will not want to replace the tape every day while your brain is rewiring itself. “It is these moments you can’t give up.”

    3. Distinguish Humility and Fear

    When it comes to hard work and accomplishments, there’s humility, and then there’s fear. In other words, having a high level of competence can lead one to discount its value occasionally. However, as Carl Richards wrote in an article for the New York Times,[5] “After spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?”

    The problem is that we feel unworthy from time to time. But, as Seth Godin explained in a blog post,[6] “When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw.”

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    Feeling worthy without feeling entitled is possible. And, finding the right balance between them is critical for overcoming impostor syndrome. “Humility and worthiness have nothing at all to do with defending our territory,” Godin continues. “We don’t have to feel like a fraud to also be gracious, open, or humble.”

    4. Keep a “Brag Sheet”

    When you were sending out college applications, did you build yourself a “brag sheet?” If not, here’s a clean description from Shawna Newman,[7] “A brag sheet is very similar to a student resume – it highlights your accomplishments, key experiences, leadership skills, and employment throughout your secondary education.” In short, “it’s a quick reference guide with all the details and achievements for someone trying to get to know you better.”

    While it may be awkward at first, you can apply the same concept when coping with imposter syndrome. Just compose a list of your accomplishments, activities, skills. That’s it. Just remember Godin’s advice and also be humble and gracious.

    As an added perk, besides being an effective way to talk myself up, I’ve also found that this has helped me stop comparing myself to others. Instead of harping about other people’s milestones, I’m honing in on what I’ve done.

    5. Celebrate Wins, Period

    Speaking of accomplishments, they shouldn’t be categorized as small or big. After all, you feel as if you don’t belong when you have imposter syndrome. So, the more you celebrate your wins, the more confident you’ll become.

    Furthermore, accept compliments without qualifying them and practice listening to praise every day. Finally, become kinder to yourself by saying at least one kind thing to yourself daily. And, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

    6. Assemble a Legion of Superheroes

    “You know how corporations have a board of directors to — in theory — make them stronger, maintain checks and balances, leverage resources, and help advance the organization’s vision?” asks inspirational speaker, speaking coach, and creative consultant Tania Katan.[8] “Why not assemble your own board of directors to leverage resources to help make your career stronger, keep you in check and balanced, and advance your vision?”

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    “My friend Alison Wade, president of conferences, training, and consulting at Techwell, calls her personal board of directors her “front-row” — those are the people she invites to sit spitting distance from the stage, cheer her on, challenge her, and review her performance,” Katan writes.

    As for Katan, she calls hers a “legion of superheroes.” The reason? “I dig the idea of joining forces to do good in the corporate galaxy.”

    It’s important to have a diverse group of individuals who will defend you. Ideally, they should be varied in all dimensions, such as cultural background, way of thinking, and skills.

    Katan recommends that you meet together frequently, whether if that’s once a week or every quarter. “Share your experiences, fears, creative ideas, aspirations,” she adds. “Celebrate each other’s accomplishments.” You also need to both support and challenge each other. “Discover what you are capable of doing when you combine your powers.”

    7. Visualize Success

    Follow the example of a professional athlete by imagining yourself crushing that presentation or project. You’ll enjoy the relief from performance-related stress. And, more importantly, it can help you avoid focusing on the worst-case scenario.

    Final Words of Advice

    While there’s no single formula to cure imposter syndrome, the tips listed above are a start. After all, your success depends on your ability to fight the negative effects of it. For example, feeling unworthy over time can lead to crippling anxiety and depression if left untreated.

    If you’ve tried the above, then make sure that you speak to someone about what you’re experiencing, whether it’s a mentor, peer group, or licensed professional. And, above all else, there’s a place at the table for everyone — no matter what your inner voice is telling you.

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    How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

    Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via unsplash.com

    Reference

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