By: Ron Patulski
Close The Elusive Gap of Self-Control: Activate Your Power to Persevere
In our increasingly fast-paced world, a daily sense of self-control is not only comforting but also essential to your success. We all encounter impulses that throw us off course, and sometimes those impulses can be relentless. When you build the muscle of self-control, you experience more discipline and consistency to carry out the actions essential to achieve a desired outcome.
As Neuro-Performance Coaches at Your Performance People, we’ve spent over 25 years pondering, questioning, and gathering experience and feedback from our clients and their relationship to “self-control.” To increase your self-control, you must understand what it is, how to monitor it, and learn practical tools that are proven to work.
What is Self-control, why is it important, and what impacts it?
Self-control is a cognitive process that allows a person to regulate their behavior in pursuing goals or the desired outcome. Self-control is considered an advanced brain process that allows a person to prevent impulsive responses in behavior that would otherwise derail the actions necessary to realize the intended outcome. It’s a vital ingredient in the recipe for stability. Stability fuels a sense of personal power and confidence, which in turn fosters performance at higher levels.
Self-control begins with awareness, and awareness allows for better self-regulation. Awareness is the recognition of what’s happening in the moment, while self-regulation is the ability to use that awareness to adjust thinking and/or actions to stay on track.
Our approach considers self-control as either a systemic or structural issue, an operational issue, or a combination of both. Let’s examine six areas that we at YPP consider to be the most significant when it comes to self-control. We see these as practical tools to help you increase your own self-control. You will note that awareness plays an integral part in each.
Six Key Areas in Assessing and Increasing Your Self-Control
1. Your Self-talk
Self-talk forms your perspective and your belief about success. Does your current self-talk support successful achievement of your desired outcomes? Awareness is the first step to change because it provides new choices which provide the possibility of different results. Your self-talk about achieving an outcome sets your overall enthusiasm and focus. If these are not aligned, how likely is it that you will feel empowered?
Awareness also allows you to recognize what you’re telling yourself at the moment when you’re not reaching the desired result. It is not unusual to gain awareness of being off track and turning that awareness into something negative about yourself such as you’re not deserving of the result, fabricating a character flaw, or incessantly berating yourself.
We all are human beings who have amazing intelligence wired into us. You have millions of processes happening inside your body right now as you read this which don’t require any thought at all. What does require thought is developing awareness about what you’re saying to yourself, about yourself and your potential based on past and current behaviors. Henry Ford’s famous quote, “If you think you can, or you think can’t – you’re right,” sums up the idea that what you repeatedly tell yourself becomes your truth. If you say or think, “I have no self-control,” how much self-control will you display? When you talk to yourself negatively you diminish the possibility of gaining more self-control.
Take Action: Change your self talk
It’s time to get real: tune out the external noise of the world and tune into yourself. Pay attention to your self-talk and your beliefs around your discipline and self-control. What you say to yourself IS your truth, so being aware of what you’re saying is imperative to elevate your internal conversations. New internal conversations drive new results. To create a new conversation, challenge the existing one by asking yourself:
- Is this really true?
- How do I really know it’s true?
- What do I feel when I think this thought?
- Who would I be without this thought?
Remember, you can have more self-control despite any contrary evidence from your past. Your past does not define you; it refines you.
2. Your Reason
Based on years of experience in coaching, we see a strong correlation between an individual’s clarity of what’s important to them and self-control. Clarity is why the outcome is important combined with the awareness that it’s important enough to warrant a strong effort that will bolster an individual’s self-control. The more important the outcome and the clarity of why, the stronger the potential for self-control. The stronger the alignment, the stronger the cognitive motivation toward consistency will exist. Consistency is crucial and increases the probability of achieving the desired outcome. Alignment alleviates frustration and needless self-denigration. For example, thinking you’d like to be 15 lbs lighter is not as powerful as having a strong reason and purpose for being 15 lbs lighter. The why for the loss of weight matters. A strong reason combined with clarity around why it’s important fuels action toward success.
Take Action: Identify your reason
Answer the following questions to create clarity about your desired outcome and determine whether it’s important enough to enlist self-control and persevere through setbacks and challenges.
- Are you clear on why you want the desired outcome?
- Is the result important enough for you to focus your time, attention, and effort toward obtaining it?
3. Your Purpose vs. Your Impulse
We are wired to stay engaged through interest, variety, and novelty. This is why we can be easily distracted and have our attention captured by something shiny and new. To avoid potential impulses that can throw you off course, awareness, once again, is a key player. Awareness about what you think of an outcome is an important factor in self-control and successful achievement. Research shows that having a high level of consciousness (awareness) about an outcome, as opposed to acting on impulse, strengthens character and increases the strength of intention. Being intentionally purposeful allows you to avoid random impulses and creates focus to stay on track.
The impact of following impulses is substantial. Case studies about distractions show it takes 23 minutes on average to get back on track. A commitment to building awareness and practice around being purposeful will result in mindfulness that allows you to make better decisions in real-time and stay focused. The more you notice when distractions are happening, the less you will be influenced by these distractions or impulses. Awareness of the reasons for the outcome will create more choices to allow you to stay on track.
Take Action: Overcome your impulse
To increase mindfulness and awareness of your thoughts, create the practice of meditation or purposely scheduling time to quiet your mind before you start your day. This primes your brain and creates space to be intentional which heightens awareness around your thoughts. Setting aside just 10 minutes a day consistently can have an incredible impact. Another way to prime your brain before you begin a task is to ask yourself, “why is this action important?” Developing mindfulness allows you to be more aware in the moment and in turn less unconsciously impulsive.
4. Your Environment
Environment is a powerful influence. How powerful? A major premise of Quantum Physics states “the field governs the particle.” When you consider the environment around you as the “field,” and you are the “particle,” you can see the powerful influence your environment has on you. Quantum Physics terms dictate that your environment can “govern” you and your actions.
Considering the forces of your environment, it’s easy to see the difficulty in exercising self-control. As you’ve likely experienced, it’s challenging to refrain from eating a piece of cake at a celebration party when you’re trying to lose weight and everyone else is eating cake. Being aware of your environment will enhance your success in gaining self-control. In those “I want cake” moments, revisiting your reason to achieve your goal helps you exercise self-control in a non-supportive environment. For some outcomes, a quiet environment can make all the difference. For others, it may be an environment with more people interaction or one with less activity or fewer amenities to tempt your impulsiveness. This physical tool when used with awareness and intention can really be used to your advantage.
Take Action: Change your environment
Being intentional about your environment will heighten your awareness of the impact of your environment on you. For example, some people need silence around them to be effective at writing a report, whereas others may not. In the case of a goal related to your weight, being mindful to eliminate foods in your home that don’t support your goal is a valuable way to influence and manage your environment. Becoming more aware of the environments that support or don’t support you, and the options within those environments, allows you to build the foundation to strengthen your self-control. Set yourself up to win by using your environment, and exercise conscious choices to support your achievement of desired outcomes. You have a choice. You can use your environment to work for you, or you can ignore it and let your environment work against you. To create an environment that works for you ask yourself.
- What does this work/task/project require me to do to be effective?
- What do I find distracting in an environment?
- What environment best supports success for this outcome?
5. Your Time & Experience
When it comes to self-control, time is not your friend. Research shows self-control dwindles the longer you perform a task to reach your outcome. This occurs due to a change in brain activity, which creates mental fatigue over time. You’ve probably experienced this in your own life. It’s said that “energy flows where attention goes.” Over time, focus (attention) weakens, and as it does, the energy of the initial focus decreases. As the attention weakens on the task at hand, a shift begins, and focus can easily be hijacked by thoughts such as getting a drink, calling a friend, or checking social media. The more this occurs while attempting to maintain focus on your original task, the more difficult it becomes to maintain focus, and the less productive you become. This is why it’s important to monitor your state of mind and progress as you’re working. Be sure to schedule breaks at least every 90 minutes. This condition is supported by research which shows your cognitive ability, and ability to focus diminishes after 60-90 minutes. Obviously, it’s valuable to take this into account and use it to your advantage when planning your work.
Take Action: Master your time
Schedule breaks every 60-90 minutes to achieve an outcome that requires focused attention for extended periods of time. Mental fatigue is a product of “time on task.” To alleviate mental fatigue, be strategic in creating breaks that enhance your productivity and your experience to successfully accomplish your intended outcome.
6. Your Progress
While it may not be important to track every detail of your progress, tracking some detail provides helpful feedback to provide additional motivation and more potential interest. Tracking when used like a game can increase engagement in the process on the way to your intended outcome. It provides evidence of small wins to feed a sense of accomplishment.
Recently, I committed to a deeper level of health and exercise. As part of this commitment, I began using three simple apps on my phone to track exercise, meals, and fasting periods. Frankly, I’m surprised what a difference it’s made in my daily engagement and enjoyment in the pursuit of my commitment to a deeper level of health. As I track my daily effort in these areas, I feel noticeably more inspired to keep it up and feel more accomplished to reach my goals. Also, there is no doubt that my efforts have increased and it’s rewarding to see much more significant results than before. The tracking provides feedback that shows I’ve gained a 141% increase in exercise effort, increased fasting periods by almost two hours, and I’m eating far less unhealthy food. The best part is it’s now an engaging game, and it’s fun rather than the previous feelings of drudgery and a sense of duty.
Take Action: Monitor your progress
Be intentional to create ways to evaluate progress on the way to outcomes that require multiple or repetitive steps. With technology so readily available and inexpensive as the saying goes, “there’s an app for that.” Find an app whenever possible. Take advantage of our human interest in games and experiences to provide feedback on your progress and wins along the way. Make what you do a form of game that engages you more deeply to enjoy the steps along the way.
A Final Thought:
There is no doubt you can increase your self-control. Give yourself the gift this valuable quality offers and enjoy the success of accomplishing higher outcomes and experiences in your life. Embrace these tools to increase your ability to impact the world in your own unique way. It starts with taking this first step to increase your self-control and close your gap.