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The Myth of Self Control

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“I can’t stick to my diet.”
“I can’t show up at the gym.”
“I can’t keep up with diabetes self care.”
I have no self control.

When we struggle to stick with healthy habits and fall short of our goals, we tend to blame a lack of self control. But should we?

What is self control?

Self control is a uniquely human trait that allows us to suppress impulses. It’s that voice in the back of your head that says, “Don’t eat that cookie now, you’re eating dinner in 30 minutes.” Self control can help us avoid things we may regret later.

Unfortunately, self control requires a ton of mental energy and is therefore a limited resource (1). If we rely solely on self control to make the right decisions, we are out of luck when that resource runs out.

For example, if you spend your workday depleting your self control avoiding the doughnuts in the break room, it might be harder for you to lace up your sneakers and go for a run when you get home.

Don’t rely on self control

Research shows that resisting temptation through self control results in short-term benefits only or total failure. Give yourself an advantage by tailoring your environment for success and putting systems in place that prime you to make good decisions.

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How to REALLY make change happen

Set the stage

If you can’t have a spoonful of ice cream without eating the entire gallon, don’t keep it in the freezer. If you want to wake up for a walk instead of hitting snooze, put your alarm clock across the room. Simple changes to your environment eliminate decision-making and the need for self control.

“If… then…”

“If-then” statements can help you plan for situations that test your willpower. For example, someone who is limiting their carb intake might think before dining out, “If the waiter asks if I want bread at the table, then I will politely decline.” Having a plan in place ahead of time will allow you to make decisions with ease, rather than relying on self control in the moment.

Make it a Habit

Approximately 40% of our daily behaviors are habit driven (1). Breaking bad habits (e.g., eating fast food) and replacing them with healthy ones (e.g., cooking dinner at home), make it easier for you to do the “Right Things” the majority of the time. Consider incorporating the following habits:

  • Stick to a schedule: Be consistent with your exercise and sleep. Try to wake up, workout, and go to sleep at approximately the same time each day.
  • Slow down when you eat: Rather than going through the drive through or eating while you work, sit down at a table during meals. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to register you’re full! (2) Slowing down will help you savor your food and pay attention to your hunger signals so you don’t over eat.
  • Swap sugary drinks for water: Sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to obesity, impaired fasting glucose, and high blood pressure (3). Yikes! Water is calorie free and can actually help you control your overall calorie intake! (4) TIP: Put a big glass of water next to your bed to drink as soon as you wake up!

Check out our One Drop Guide to Making a Habit to get started!

Find your why

In the end, the biggest key to success is understanding WHY your goals matter to YOU! Making healthy choices, sticking to habits, and staying motivated are easier when your goals are personally relevant and important.

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About the Author

Andrea Lagotte
Marketing & Customer Experience Specialist at One Drop. All about positive psychology, mindfulness, diabetes management and digital health.

4 Comments

  1. Lisha Says :
    Posted on March 10, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you for another fantastic post. Where else could anyone get that type of info in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  2. Cynthia Mann
    Posted on March 3, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    This is fine advice if your work schedule is the same every day. But having to deal with rotating shifts makes it super difficult to adhere to any kind of schedule.

  3. Lynne M.
    Posted on March 3, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Thank you for the tips provided in this article. I am diabetic and often times I did and do depend on my own self control. These tips I will implement in the hopes of leaning less on my own self control.

  4. Karen Huston
    Posted on March 2, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    This is wise advice. For me, many of the things I do during the day are habits. If you make something a habit then it becomes second nature & it is ingrained into your mind & actions. One good habit I have is to log the foods I eat & the exercise I take. That way I know whether I m sticking to my management plan. It is so easy to forget what you’ve eaten on a busy day & feel too tired to exercise but if you’ve planned these things into your day & made them habits you are far more likely to accomplish them. That’s a pathway to success!

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