How to Improve Your Self-Control

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You’ve spent a long day at the office, making one difficult decision after another. By the time you get home, you’re mentally exhausted. Is it any wonder that you snap at a family member? Not according to Roy F. Baumeister, PhD. He is a social psychologist who is one of the field’s leading researcher who co-authored a book called “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”. What he has found is that willpower is a limited resource that can actually be used up. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that self-control can be strengthened.


One thing that researchers have found is that the act of making decisions seems to use up a person’s willpower. It’s almost as though there’s a limited amount of energy that is available for self-control and decision making. Regardless of which activity a person engages in, it is drawn from the same source of energy. If you spend most of that energy exerting self-control, your decisions will be poorer.  If you use that same amount of energy making decisions, you will have less left over for willpower. So if you are able to avoid eating a doughnut for breakfast, it will be far more difficult to resist that same doughnut after a day of making decisions.


Most people spend three to four hours a day working at not giving in to their desires. It also takes self-control to keep emotions in check, thinking before speaking, and working on tasks. What this means is that most people are exhibiting self-control throughout the day, thus depleting their stores. Another interesting phenomenon is that emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, are felt more intensely when a person has depleted their willpower. As a result, the reactions to those emotions will be stronger. Even physical pain is experienced more intensely.


So how does one gain extra self-control? By practicing it on a regular basis. Research shows that just like a muscle, it can get stronger with exercise. Just a few times a week of practice can increase your stores. It doesn’t even matter what the exercise is; they don’t need to have any relevance to what you are trying to accomplish self-control wise. Simply using your non-dominant hand to do everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth, can improve the amount of energy you have available. The point of the exercise is to exert deliberate control over what you are doing.

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