“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 controlResearch 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.
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” 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 HabitApproximately 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 article about Change Your Life When You Feel Stuck for more information and to get started today.
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.