Self-Control Can be Learned

December 7, 2011

Self-control is a predictor of success. Research shows that children who learn to control their impulses do better in school, college, work and relationships. But adults who never perfected their self-control can make significant and life-changing improvements with a few simple techniques and
practice. Picture this:

You’re ready to head for bed, emotionally and physically wound down. Just a few simple routines to complete and you can drift into the mysterious state called sleep – check the doors, turn off the lights, brush, floss and settle into the embrace of your bed and sleep.

As you shuffle through the kitchen one last time, the image of a bowl of ice cream snaps into your mind. Wouldn’t the creamy, sweet, cold taste of a small bowl of chocolate be delightful? If
you slow your steps, you’ll likely open the drawer for the ice cream scoop.

It is possible to learn to resist at will. Try picturing something else. Focus on images of your bed or an experience you had of stepping on a scale that stopped short of where it previously was. Too hard? Picture a great play from the last game you watched or some other really good experience. Just know that if you stare at the freezer, you are more likely to indulge.

Have you had the experience of walking away from temptation and having the image weaken and lose its urgency? Try it as an experiment; walk away and see what happens over the next few minutes. Focus on paying attention to your reactions and the process of learning instead of the treat.

Controlling your impulses can be learned, whether it’s to stop putting junk food in your mouth or quieting your frustration with yourself, employees, colleagues or clients. Maybe you’ll never find it easy, always have to push to keep your focus, even fall off track sometimes when you’re
tired, but you can develop improved strength and technique with desire and practice.

Eight Quick Hints:

  • Use distractions to pull your attention away from temptations
  • Don’t re-evaluate previous decisions when you’re under the influence of temptations
  • Develop an unbending pattern of behavior until you’re past thinking about a temptation
  • Understand that developing will power (self-control) is a process of learning and practice
  • Dump the old notion that your abilities or attitudes are set – they aren’t, you can learn new ways
  • Notice, celebrate and savor small bits of progress
  • Have a support person or group who you feel accountable to – who bolsters your self-control
  • Live for the changes that you’re working on and practice them into being

Multiple past failures to grow your self-control simply mean you haven’t yet found the right approach. It’s discouraging, but learning is often a process of gaining knowledge from failures until you start getting a hint of which directions are successful. Try getting a new perspective (a coach’s
point of view) and more emotional support. Remind yourself, “With practice I can learn this.”

Want a more complete primer on how to improve self-control and self-discipline? I help people develop new habits and behaviors; it’s what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. Change takes practice and support, but the actual process is simple.

Jay Livingston

Jay@LivingstonServices.com

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