No matter who you are, self-control is something we all struggle with every single day – from staying up too late to overeating, to checking our phones obsessively. However, self-control is an ability you can learn and develop. Instead of immediately responding to impulses, you can plan your response and path of action, or you can simply choose to not respond at all. By mastering the following skills, you can take back control of yourself and stop being a slave to your impulses.
1 – Research The Behavior You Want To Change
You’re not the first person to decide to change their behavior or break a habit, so learn from those who’ve done it already. Look for other people who have dealt with a similar problem to yours – find out how they developed self-control. Maybe you can ask your friends or even your family who’ve been through something similar.
If you can’t think of anyone to ask, or feel a bit uncomfortable asking, don’t worry; a quick internet search will help you find the information you need. Gather as many helpful strategies as you can. This will give you the chance to see what worked for others – helping you to better choose the most effective approach that will work best for you.
2- Be Sure To Set Realistic Goals
One of the main problems with trying to curb certain behavior is how easy it is to get frustrated with yourself for not magically changing overnight. Changing habits and building self-control are investments of your time, effort and energy, so it’s important to set realistic goals that are achievable for you. Be realistic about what changes you can commit to in your life, schedule, and routine; and make sure you’re honest with yourself about your abilities. Maybe you want to focus on exercise as a new habit. Don’t jump right in – trying to train for 2 hours a day, seven days a week. Not only is it too dramatic a change – it’s unsustainable and will push you toward feelings of frustration that would be best to avoid.
3- Take An Honest Inventory Of Yourself
Keeping track of your journey will allow you to learn what factors in your life may be pushing you toward your habits. Keeping a personal journal can reveal those emotional triggers that cause impulsive behaviors and stop you from being able to manage your habits.
Having the ability to recognize your triggers is essential to moving past them! For example, if you seem to have trouble with restraint when it comes to alcohol, examine how you feel when you drink impulsively. Do you tend to reach for a drink when you’re stressed?
Maybe you drink to celebrate, or you could find yourself drinking when you feel anxious or sad. By taking note of the factors that push you toward your habit, you can better prepare yourself to avoid them.
4 – Motivate Yourself
Committing to a big change is a challenge, but you’re doing it for a reason. Don’t forget to focus on WHY you want to control certain aspects of your behavior, and remind yourself of these continuously, to avoid losing sight of your end goal. Let’s say that you’re trying to quit smoking. You can write down the negatives of cigarette use, which would include: the growing cost of buying them, how it affects your breathing and overall health, how the unappealing smell sticks to your clothes even after you’re finished smoking, how it impedes efforts to care for your teeth, and so on.
In addition to making a list of all the negatives of going back to the behavior you’re trying to avoid, make a list of the positives of steering clear of it, such as: having more money to spend on other things, having better dental hygiene and whiter teeth, having healthier lungs which will improve breathing and other aspects of your health – or whatever else you can think of to keep you motivated.
5- Use Your Support System
Change comes from within, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Your friends and loved ones are there to help you; they want the best for you, so it’s OK to tell them that you’re trying to change behavior. Look for the people in your life who you trust, and ask them if you can call or text them if you need support. Part of believing in yourself and creating change also means being honest with yourself and accepting that sometimes you need others to help you. Whether they give you pep talks, try and motivate you, or just be a sympathetic ear when you need it, getting support from others will reinforce your decision to create change.
6- Channel The Energy Into Positive Behavior
When you drop a certain behavior, a gap will inevitably be left behind, and so you should look to a different behavior to fill this gap – taking the space of the one you’re trying to gain control of. You must take the time to find out what works for you. And if a coping strategy doesn’t quite resonate with you, don’t get disheartened or stressed out. The odds are, there’s an ideal strategy out there for you, so make the move and find it. Care for yourself to reinforce the reality of your situation – that you are actively trying to change – despite how hard it may feel at times. If you bite your nails when you are stressed, give your nail-biting energy another place to go. You could find something to fiddle with – like a stress ball or a pen. You can also chew gum so your mouth has something to do. Beyond that, try to incorporate some stress managing exercises. This could be anything from going to the gym, taking up yoga, or even going for a run. You could also look into meditation and mindfulness to help you manage stress in your life.
7- Reward Yourself
Sometimes when you focus on your end goal too much, it can start to look like an uphill battle. Make sure to celebrate the small wins, and give yourself credit for the progress you do make as you curb your behaviors and change your ways. Rewarding yourself for practicing self-control, will help reinforce positive practices, which in turn will replace negative and impulsive ones. Let’s say you want to stop eating sugary junk food. You could save the money you would spend on these sugary treats, and buy yourself a small gift.
The reward doesn’t have to be something elaborate, and you don’t need to wait weeks before rewarding yourself. Some days will be harder than others, and getting through these days is a cause for celebration.
8- Escape From ‘Decision Fatigue’
Thanks to the work of numerous researchers, we now know that after people make several decisions, they experience ‘Decision Fatigue’ in which their willpower gets worn down and ultimately self-control is compromised. This exhaustion from decision making can have a counter-productive impact on our ability to make good choices. Simply put, when a person suffers from decision fatigue, they feel over-tired and they are susceptible to making irrational decisions prompted by impulse, or they simply make no decision at all. We face countless options every day, from what to eat to what to say, therefore, you’re more than likely to be dealing with decision fatigue at day’s end. So keep this in mind.
9- Ride The Wave
When the impulse ‘you need to control’ is strong, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing – to wait out the wave of desire. Most of the time, it’s all you need to do to keep in control.
When you feel overwhelmed, just take a break. You don’t need to do anything too drastic, nor should you be too lenient. The general rule of thumb is to simply wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation. You’ll often find that ten minutes is more than enough time for your mind to clear, and for your priorities to refocus.
10- Forgive Yourself
A common, and vicious, cycle when it comes to self-control is experiencing negative thoughts – and even self-hatred – when you fail to control your impulses. Feelings of failure can make you feel hopeless as if you’ve tarnished any progress you’ve made, and there’s no point going on. It makes sense then, that these feelings also lead people to over-indulge in the very behavior they’re trying to get away from! When you slip up, you must forgive yourself. Try and move on, don’t obsess over it. Of course, I’m not saying to ignore how the mistake makes you feel, or to pretend that it didn’t happen; just don’t allow your shortcomings to be all you see. Instead, refocus your attention, look at what you’re going to do to improve yourself in the future.
11- Know When To Seek Professional Help
Building self-control is a wonderful and ambitious feat that will have a ripple effect throughout your life. You will have the feeling of being in charge of yourself and your choices – seeing positive change as you continue to grow. However, it’s important to be realistic and realize that everyone has their limits. Each person is different, and as such, there may be circumstances when a person needs more help than just their drive or willpower alone. If this is the case, you may need a professional’s ‘help and support’ to guide you through the process.
For instance, you may be struggling with alcohol abuse, or with controlling your temper – either of which has the potential to not only hurt you but those you care about too. Being truthful with yourself and seeking outside help can be just what you need to guide you through these struggles. While improving your self-control will more than likely be a challenge, it is possible to create change in your life and manage impulsive behaviors. The important thing to remember is that you have to stay committed to these strategies, and they will take time – to give them a chance to work. Gaining better control over your impulses will lead you to feel more in control of your actions, yourself, and life in general. You will feel more empowered about who you are, and this newfound self-assurance will strengthen and increase your self-esteem.
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