This is the last in a series of articles (see part 1 and part 2) investigating the life-changing impact of self-control and how you can hone yours.
Below are five more tips gleaned from Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.
1) Avoid Goal-Sabotaging
Working toward a goal requires balancing between our desired outcome and our immediate urge for gratification.
Scientists have found those reminded of their progress toward a goal are more likely to backslide as a way of rewarding themselves.
If we’ve successfully resisted sugary desserts for a week, we begin to experience goal liberation, which tells us we deserve a little treat for being so good.
This can lead to a one-step-forward-two-steps-backward goal-sabotaging pattern. Be alert to this threat, and you’ll get a leg up on your temptation.
2) Don’t Let Your Brain Trick You
Our brains can mistake thinking about a goal for the actual work itself, causing us to pat ourselves on the back prematurely.
When fast food restaurants offer healthier options like salads, people are more likely to order unhealthy alternatives like burgers and fries. Browsing an eco-friendly site causes us to indulge in some not-so-green behavior, thinking we’ve already done our bit to offset our carbon footprint.
Simply considering the better option substitutes for action in the brain, giving us permission to deviate from our higher aspirations.
Penalties introduced to deter bad behavior often backfire for this reason. Daycare centers that imposed a fee for parents who arrived late found instances of lateness increased. Paying the fee assuaged parents’ guilt over being late, removing incentive for being on time.
3) Find Your “I Want” Power
The way to build self-control and overcome goal-sabotaging behavior is to focus not on your progress but rather on your long-term motivation (your “I want” power).
In one study, students asked to remember an instance in which they resisted temptation were 70 percent more likely to give in to their next temptation. An almost equal percentage—69 percent—fended off temptation when asked to recall why they had resisted in that past moment.
4) Befriend Your Future Self
People who have a strong sense of their future selves are more likely to make the best decisions when it comes to long-term goals like retirement savings.
It’s easy to let the demands of now interfere with our aspirations to set money aside, but that becomes more difficult when we’ve taken the time to envision ourselves at retirement age.
Studies show those with high future self-continuity tend to behave more ethically and responsibly as well as becoming a better person in the present.
People with low future self-continuity are more likely to cheat on tests, steal in the workplace, gossip and lie to secure short-term advantages.
McGonigal writes, “It as if feeling disconnected from our future selves gives us permission to ignore the consequences of our actions.”
5) Choose Your Friends Wisely
Poor habits spread like a contagion through social networks. You are more likely to smoke, drink heavily, gamble, engage in crime or succumb to addiction if you hang out with people who practice these behaviors.
While genetics influence obesity, there is also a cultural/social component that involves unhealthy lifestyle choices like eating processed foods and failing to exercise regularly.
Research shows a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 171 percent when a friend becomes obese, 67 percent when a sister does and 45 percent if it’s a brother.
But there’s a flip side to this phenomenon: surrounding yourself with people who have similar life goals substantially increases your chances of fulfilling those objectives. This is why regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is crucial to addiction recovery.
Want to eat healthier, take up marathon running, quit smoking or start writing that novel you’ve been dreaming about for years? Find a community that will support you in your goals, and they will help hold you accountable to your dreams.
Want a Coach in Your Corner?
Ready to go from wishing to achieving? Chris Cook can inspire, support and drive you to achieve your goals and live a happier, more fulfilling life. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris today.
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