SELF-CONTROL: Who has it and who doesn’t?

22 10 2014

I have talked with many of you who have been struggling with self-control. Everyone wishes they had more, but how can someone really develop or strengthen their self-control? First, we must review what self-control is. Self-control, otherwise known as self-discipline, is the ability to control oneself, in particular, one’s impulses and reactions. Self- control is very important when it comes to losing and maintaining weight, and here are a few reasons why:

  • It helps keep over-emotional responses in check (such as stress eating, emotional eating, etc.).
  • It enables you to take charge of your life.
  • It helps you make healthy, responsible choices.
  • It gives you a sense of mastery over your life, and brings balance into your life.

In order to work toward gaining more self- control, you must first identify the area of your life you are struggling with. This may be snacking, overeating, motivation to workout, or consistently choosing healthy foods. Next, you must identify the emotions that lack control, such as dissatisfaction, anger, resentment, pleasure, fear, or unhappiness. Finally, you have to recognize that at any point in time, you only have so much self-control in the tank. When you are working hard to strictly control yourself, your ‘tank’ will be low and you may be more likely to give into temptation, whether it be fast-food on the way home, or that extra snack at the end of the day when you are not really hungry. The greatest step is recognizing when your self-control is low, and finding ways to avoid temptation during those times. Acknowledging when you are at your weakest can be the difference between success and failure.

Here are some different ways to exercise and strengthen your self-control:

  • Rewards and Penalties– Using rewards can really help strengthen self-control. Research has found that participants are better able to make short-term sacrifices to help achieve long-term goals when they have a reward in mind. On the flip side, a penalty for bad behavior also reinforces healthy decisions.
  • Pre-commit- Pre-committing yourself to tough goals can lead to increased performance if you make the decision before you’re in a tempting situation. This can be hard for those of us who want to keep our options open, but if you truly want to change, pre-committing is key.
  • Be aware of your unconscious- Keep away from temptations physically and mentally, and keep close to things that promote your goals. Each subconsciously activates the associated behavior. In other words, even by the mere suggestion of temptation, you may be tempted to exhibit that behavior. Likewise when you are unconsciously triggered by behaviors that promote your goals, you may turn toward behaviors that support them.
  • Use your emotions- Use your emotions to increase self-control. By cooling down the emotions associated with temptations, you can be more successful at avoiding them. For example, a study showed when participants looked at a marshmallows but thought of them as white clouds, they were better able to resist eating them. You can increase the pull towards your goals in the same way. Think about the positive emotional aspects of achieving it, such as the excitement, the pride.

So how can we use this information towards losing weight? By reevaluating our surroundings and checking in with our thoughts and emotions towards food we can better understand where we are in our quest for higher self-control.

Try some of these exercises to strengthen your self- control and let me know how it goes!


By Health Behavior Specialist

Kelly Stubna, MPH




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