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March 22, 2018

Master your self. Master your destiny.

You make dozens of choices daily that affect your wellbeing. In that role, you are like a coach or parent to your child self. The child you is alive and well inside of you, and most children are only concerned with getting what they want — right now. They typically don’t have the capacity to consider long-term consequences. Mastering self-control requires being a loving and responsible manager for yourself.

How important is Self Control?

Results of the Marshmallow Studies reveal traits that determine success in everything from K-12 to careers. Children are presented with a marshmallow, then told they can eat it or wait 20 minutes and then the will get two marshmallows. Observers looked on as some children immediately gobbled up the confection while others waited to double their sweet treat. Those who waited were decidedly more successful in SAT testing scores and in career endeavors. The good news is that one can cultivate self-control. So how does one do that?

Recognize cognitive aspects.

Choices can be impulsive — hot, or, rational — cool. Hot choices are driven by the limbic system — emotional responses to physical stimuli. This includes sexual arousal, fight or flight responses, and physiological autonomic regulators. Cool choices are rational and driven by the prefrontal cortex. Here is where abstract thinking takes place, including through analysis and behavior regulation like surpassing urges. So, when you are feeling compelled by immediate gratification, cool your jets by distracting yourself. Notice the emotion. Analyze the allure. Remind yourself of the reward you will receive by not giving in to the temptation. Take control of your behavior with a choice to govern your self.

Install intentions.

Identify hot spots that could derail you and manage expectations. What impulse do you want to change or manage? Use if-then to build self-control. If walking past a bakery with fresh warm cookies triggers an impulsive response to indulge, then cool it with a deep breath and a reminder of family dinner where you will enjoy a favorite dessert. Or, if while you are knocking out details for your business plan your roommate tempts you with happy hour, then remind yourself that you can celebrate with friends and colleagues, guilt-free, once your work is complete.

Build willpower.

The right thinking will keep you motivated to forge ahead and meet or exceed goals. Think about the solution, not the problem. Keep focused on what is best in the long run. Realize that you have a choice and own that power. Cultivate self-control and then consciously decide on immediate or delayed gratification. One tool you can employ is your story. Your story defines your experience. For instance, the thought: “this energizes me” will strengthen your determination far more than “this is exhausting.” Align your thoughts, mental pictures, and words — change them if needed so they support your decision.

“The shortest answer is doing.” — George Herbert

Choose your battles.

Set up boundaries in your environment to protect yourself from your weaknesses as much as possible. When faced with a temptation, ask yourself, “what is best for me in the long run?” Give in to pleasure now or opt to wait for it, then enjoy it later. As you will. And remember, the best way to win a fight is to avoid it all together.

Connect with the future you.

Becoming the best version of yourself starts with a positive outlook. Think about your self in the future. Connect with that desired self. Do things now to benefit the future you — even if it requires delayed gratification. For instance, imagine zipping into your jeans next week to help you choose fruit instead of cookies for your snack. Or imagine presenting to investors and obtaining buy-in for your business. See your current self as integral to your future self. Don’t do things to harm future self, but instead, prepare a great future for yourself. Fortify motivation to choose that which will set up yourself for success.

Keep calm and breathe.

Manage stress so that it doesn’t hinder you. One technique to practice when upset is the 4–2–8 breath. Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for two counts, and exhale for eight counts. Making your ‘exhale’ longer than your ‘inhale’ automatically calms you and helps you can think clearly. Another way to control your thoughts is through meditation. It will help you find balance and suppress the “fight or flight” response, common in stressful situations. Devote a few minutes daily to simply focus on your breath, you will be more centered and your decision making will be more sound.

Form supportive habits.

Depending on you and depending on the habit, research reveals it takes at least one to two months for a new habit to form. So, keep pushing until your efforts start to feel ‘effortless’ in your established supportive routine. Pick one tool to install in your routine until it becomes an automatic process. Then install another one.

When it comes to self-control, make it your priority to be the master of you. Self-awareness will help fortify you against whatever temptation might arise. Be clear about the benefits of sticking to your goal — let daydreaming about your success be a core distraction to keep you on track.

Originally published here.

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