One of the most difficult things to conquer in life is mastering self-control. Self-control ultimately means being in charge of your own choices, both physically and mentally.
Why learn self-control? Because it will make you happier — and able to achieve your goals better and get the most out of life. Truly. A 2013 study from researchers at the University of Chicago found a strong correlation between self-control and satisfaction. It also found those with self control had more of the “positive affect,” which includes daily positive emotions, sentiments and experiences.
It goes beyond even that. That same study showed that people who had more self-control were able to deal with conflict better and had less stress in their lives.
And then there’s an even more obvious benefit of how mastering self-control can make a difference in your weight loss goals.* By learning the discipline to eat healthier and exercise, you’ll find your goals are more easily within your grasp.
We’ve got 9 tried-and-true ways to master self-control — and get all the happiness and improvement that goes with it. It’s part of our “2021 Is My Year” series, which aims to help us shed the barriers that have held us back in the past, break down those walls and set us up for long-term success.
1) One small step at a time.
Remember when you were in grade school and things like arithmetic or reading felt hard? You had to learn them, and they took years to master. That same philosophy goes for anything you’re doing in life. Learning self-control isn’t going to happen overnight, and if you try to force it to, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and failure. Instead, look at self-control as a new skill you’re learning that will take time and practice.
Start small, trying to learn to control one thing at a time. For example, if you have a habit of eating an unhealthy snack shortly before bed, work on controlling that ONE issue for a full week. Once you make it through that week successfully, then add on the next thing, such as eating out one or two fewer times a week.
Build on each new self-control skill you master until it becomes routine. Accept that, with practice, patience and time, you will get to the full level of self-control mastery you desire.
2) Take out the temptations.
Ever heard the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”? When something is in front of you, it is MUCH more difficult to control yourself. Take junk food, for example. If your pantry has bags of potato chips and stacks of cookies, it’s going to make it that much more difficult to avoid eating. Do yourself a favor, empty out all the bad food in your house or other things that trigger your inability to control yourself.
3) Set yourself up for success.
The whole “take out the temptation” idea also works in reverse. Not only should you remove things that trigger your inability for self-control, you should add in the things that can help you achieve whatever area of your life you want to control better first. For example, say you want to learn the self-discipline to wake up early and exercise three times a week. The night before, set out your workout clothes and prepare your gym bag with everything you need first thing in the morning. By doing this, you’re making a commitment to your goal and taking a positive step towards self-control.
4) Exercise at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week.
You probably already know that exercising has been shown to have a lot of positive impacts on physical and mental health. And one of those impacts extends to the ability to control impulses. A 2017 study that followed people who started an exercise regimen and tracked their responses to a self-control questionnaire found that people who stuck with the exercise program reported fewer and fewer instances of impulsivity. Ultimately, those who exercised regularly not only established healthier routines that became habit, but also learned better self-control in other aspects of their lives as well.
5) Plan through scenarios.
Are there situations in your life that seem to happen often, where you know that you lack self-control. Take some time to ask yourself, “What if” something happens, with a particular focus on things you know might happen, and then think through how you will respond in a self-disciplined manner.
Mental preparation can play a big role in ensuring you can succeed in mastering self-control.
6) Practice meditation.
One of the many benefits of meditation is gaining control over your emotions. Meditation has long been a practice of the most powerful thinkers throughout history. Meditation makes your brain more efficient at managing stress, anxiety and other emotions that go hand-in-hand with self-control.
You can learn more about meditation, and find apps that will help you learn how to do it, at this link.
7) Surround yourself with the right people.
Part of learning to master self-control is to build relationships with people who are already good at it. A study from researchers at Duke University demonstrated that. It found that people who already struggled with self-control were more likely to act impulsively when they were around others who did the same. Conversely, those who made it a point to hang out with people who were in better control of themselves were more likely to demonstrate higher levels of self-discipline.
Birds of a feather really do flock together. If you’re surrounding yourself with people who are impulsive or lack self-control, you’re only making it more difficult on yourself to master it.
8) Eat a healthy diet.
Food can be addictive, particularly junk food. Once you start downing a bag of chips, for example, it takes some measure of self-control to stop eating them. And the problem only gets worse the more you eat.
By switching to a healthier, more consistent diet, you can work wonders for your ability to control yourself. If you’re not sure where to start, consider a healthy eating program that can take the thinking out of it. Diet-to-Go provides delicious, healthy foods that are prepared by chefs and delivered contact-free right to your door. Meals in one of our four menus are nutritious and calorie-controlled to help you eat right — and lose weight while you’re at it.*
9) Forgive yourself.
There are likely going to be moments here and there where you make a mistake and give into your inhibitions. And that’s OKAY — as long as you know how to forgive yourself and not let it be the reason you give up. If you take a step back one day and end up eating pizza and drinking beer or two with friends, don’t let your subsequent guilt ruin how far you’ve come. Say to yourself, “Ok, I made a bad decision there.” Ask yourself why you made that decision. Identify the cause and take the necessary steps to remove whatever triggered it so you don’t continue to make the same bad decision in the future.
We all make mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes, rather than letting them be an excuse to keep making them.
What steps did YOU take to master self-control? Share with us in the comments below!
Author: Caitlin H
Diet-to-Go Community Manager
Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.