Self-control is a skill you can sharpen like any other. All it takes is consistent practices and gradual progress. There’s no overnight self-control breakthrough that lasts for long.
On the other hand, when you cultivate small habits and focus on the long-term perspective, you’ll eventually notice a huge milestone that you’ve accomplished. Day by day, your tiny habits lead you either in the right or wrong direction. There’s no neutral zone. You can move forward, becoming slightly more disciplined one step at a time or slowly kill your ability to control yourself.
Act in spite of discomfort
I’d like to show you a few habits that seem insignificant, but when practiced for long enough, will make an important difference.
Things that feel great from a long-term vision are tough to get through at first. A healthy diet makes you feel incredible but abandoning your bad eating habits is no doddle. Things are tough at the very beginning: your mind craves comfort, but it’s leaving your comfort zone that is a true game-changer.
I love going through the writing process. Outlining the article, writing the first few lines only to eradicate them a moment later. Then I find my flow. The final outcome feels great and when I receive a positive feedback from you, it’s all rainbows and unicorns. But even though I love the final result, I have to ignore the idea of discomfort in order to make that initial step.
Define your higher values
It’s easier to browse Youtube and watch funny videos… and I find time to do that too. However, what I realize is that I attach a higher value to certain things, such as writing. Which brings as to the next point:
When you’re in doubt and your self-control levels reach the bottom, knowing what truly matters to you might save the situation that could have been ruined. At the very moment, you might feel the urge to procrastinate on your meaningful project, but deeply inside you know it’s way more important to you than a brief grain of comfort procrastination would provide.
Ask yourself, what are the most important goals to achieve in the areas of life such as your health, wealth, and relationships. These are the things of a higher value and importance.
If you aim to lose 20 lbs and love chocolate, you know that even though you crave the dopamine release the latter releases, your weight loss goal is much more significant.
To clarify, I’m not trying to say that by just defining your higher values you’ll be immune to bad habits. Again, remember what I told you at the beginning, it’s the gradual progress that matters. No sudden breakthroughs.
Each time you remind yourself about things that truly matter to you, it becomes slightly easier to actually pursue them.
Since I already mentioned food, it’s time for a habit that’s really easy to do, but it’s just as easy to ignore it.
Wait 5 minutes before you eat
And 10 minutes when you’re really hungry. In today’s world, we’re getting used to the instant fulfillment of our needs. Just look how angry you are when you have to wait 10 seconds more than usual for a website to load.
When it comes to hunger in western societies, it is oftentimes an emotional hunger caused by boredom or addiction to sugar. The point is when you feel like starving, what really happens is your mind screaming for a little dose of satisfaction that food gives. Your body that’s in danger.
Controlling the amount of food we eat is a huge problem which is obvious when you look at the data. Thus, this exercise is a great way to strengthen your self-control one plate at a time. Before you get to eating, wait 5 minutes. It won’t kill you.
What it does is making you realize that a moment of discomfort is a good thing. And food tastes even better once you wait for it.
Set a sleeping schedule
Going to bed regularly and waking up when it’s time to wake up is a real struggle for many people. The thing is, the lack of control is contagious, meaning that when you suck at managing a certain thing and don’t try to fix it, it will eventually spread to other areas of your life.
This is what I experienced many times. Whenever I neglect a particular domain, say sleeping, I’m then more likely to eat crap, lead a sedentary lifestyle and procrastinate.
I noticed that at night I’m very likely to browse the Internet without any real goal. Watching videos, jumping from article to article and so on. But it doesn’t end once I go to bed. When I wake up, the urge to do meaningless things is still there.
On the other hand, when I set myself a sleeping schedule and stick to it, over time things become easier. There’s less wondering whether I’ll work first thing in the morning or procrastinate. I just do what has to be done.
The ability to control myself when it was time to go to sleep and wake up influences my reaction next time I need to make a decision. Since I did the right thing regarding my sleep, the next right choice is less of a struggle.
Make your bed immediately after waking up
To be honest, this is one of the key elements to my productivity. I’m being dead serious right now. A task as simple as making my bed has a huge impact on my productivity and self-control later during the day.
If I make my bed immediately after waking up, my mind switches to the work-mode. Doing this makes me realize the time for sleeping is over and the new day has just begun.
On the other hand, when I wake up and jump straight to the computer to check email or go to the kitchen to eat something, I’ll be much more likely to procrastinate. Why? Because I already procrastinated on such a simple task as making my bed, which takes a minute.
Do a 7-minute workout
I’m not associated with the founders of this app. In reality, it simply deserves to be shared with you. Soon, plenty of people will begin setting their training-related goals as a part of their New Year’s resolutions. Instead of starting a serious training in January, you might do the tiny initial step today.
All it takes is 7 minutes out of your day. Working out is a great self-control builder, but I promised to offer simple solutions, so a 60-minute workout is out of the question as for now. But when it comes to a 7-minute guided bodyweight training, you can’t find a reasonable excuse not to do it (unless you’re disabled or injured).
The rules are simple, get the 7-minute workout app on your device and perform it on a daily basis. I promise you, at some point you’ll question whether you should do this or not. This is your mind trying to come up with a reasonable excuse. Ignoring that voice is where your self-control is created.
Meditate for 5 minutes
Meditation for your mind is like lifting weights for your muscles. It makes your mind stronger and perform better. When you lift weights, over time you gain more control over the barbell and dumbbells. The same rule applies to your mind, the more you meditate, the more in control you are. And believe it or not, but being able to control your own mind equals being literally unstoppable.
But how do you get started if you never meditated before? Well, some time ago I had no experience with meditation either. All it takes is making that small step forward. What I found to be extremely helpful are sites or apps that guide you through your meditation process.
I recommend you to try out Calm.com and Headspace (10-day free trial). The guidance is incredibly useful at the very beginning when you don’t know what to do with the overabundance of thoughts in your head.
A 5-minute meditation session is something anyone can add to their daily schedule, no excuses! It’s easy to do, but it’s as easy to neglect it. Therefore, I recommend you do meditate on fixed times or parts of your day, e.g. 7 am, or first thing after breakfast or last thing before going to bed.
Meditation itself will help you to gain a better control over your mind which inevitably leads to a higher self-control. Also, the challenge of doing it on a daily basis is a great way to strengthen your discipline.