Self-control is like a muscle that we can exercise throughout the day. Usually at the end of the day it gets tired and that is the moment when it gets more difficult to stop ourselves from doing the things we do not want to do. If you are on a diet and try to restrain yourself from eating unhealthy foods throughout the day, when night time comes it will be a lot more difficult for you not to pick up that yummy snack!
Or you might want to exercise every day, but you have already used that self-control muscle of yours. So now when it is time for you to practice self-control and start to exercise it is very difficult to get yourself to do it. The thought of skipping today is becomes a more attractive option.
I truly believe that once we know how to best deal with self-control, we learn to discipline ourselves into doing the things that we truly want. The things that get us closer to our long-term goals, instead of giving in to temptation and immediate ‘pleasure’. Once we learn how to discipline ourselves, it feels like self-respect and it allows you to feel as if you are in control. Self-control gives you the sensation that you are free to choose what you want to do, and that you are not just being tempted by external factors.
‘One of the great lessons I’ve learned in athletics is that you’ve got to discipline your life. No matter how good you may be, you’ve got to be willing to cut out of your life those things that keep you from going to the top’
– Bob Richards
There is a psychological term for this called ‘ego depletion’. It means that your psychological energy is exhausted in that area. If you are continuously stopping yourself, just imagine how much energy this requires!
We can develop this self-control muscle and make it stronger. If you try to discipline yourself a bit more each day, you will notice it becomes easier and easier not to pick up those yummy snacks or to start exercising.
At one point the things you want to do that help you achieve those long-term goals, as losing those extra pounds or becoming fitter by exercising more often, will become (almost) automatic. This means that it requires a lot less effort than it did at the start. This is a process that can happen with many behaviours, thoughts, and emotions. At the start they are more controlled and require more effort, thus more energy.
‘It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through’
– Zig Ziglar
Once a behaviour is automatic, a habit, it requires less energy. Hence, you can perform more of it in a day and you can even use the spared energy for new things you want to achieve. If, however, you have experienced ego depletion, or an exhausted self-control muscle, there are ways to restore a bit of this energy.
- SLEEP: The most basic method being: sleep. Yes, sleep is important. While you sleep there is an incredible regenerative process going on. So do value your sleep, but not too much.
- POSITIVE MOOD: Do something that raises your mood. This will fill you up with that extra amount of energy that you need at the moment. Science has shown that people who are in a positive mood are able to deal with ego-depletion better.
- IF-THEN: If-then statements are also called ‘implementation intentions’. If I eat this chocolate, I will feel bad because I am on a diet. This allows you to think consciously about the action you are willing to make.
- MINDSET: As I have mentioned in this article, if you experience multiple successes when tyring to discipline yourself, you are going to become stronger mentally on that aspect. In the end it is about creating a stronger mindset and having your own bag of tricks that can help you to stay true to yourself and not give in.
If you would like to share your story and/or insights, or if you know someone who would want to, please let me know! You can send me a message or an e-mail. More contact information can be found here. Let’s grow together.