How to have more self-control

One of the major tenets of my success philosophy is to limit the extent to which you rely on self-control for getting things accomplished.

This ties into to a revelation in psychology studies that willpower, or more generally *self-control*, is like a muscle that fatigues the more you flex it, and ultimately tuckers out.

Thus, you make better choices by organizing yourself to make fewer choices.

That’s the mantra.

(Check out my post Give Up The Willpower Binge for more on this.)

The flipside to this deeelightful little nugget is you can actually build your self-control muscle for times when some good ol’ fashion, forceful decision-making is required.

In brain science terms, the neural connection between the instinctive emotional functions of the limbic structures and the thinking capacities of the cerebral cortex can be strengthened, lending some additional juice to your resolve.

To this end, experimental psychologists have prescribed everything from journaling food, to money management tasks, to more adventurous themes like avoiding curse words, or never beginning a sentence with I.


Subjects on these mini power programs are more resistant to the standard pattern of self-control degradation.  They even show improved discipline in their lives…watch less tv, drink less alcohol, eat less junk food, exercise more often, and study longer.

In the same way regular workouts can improve your body, the habit of deploying your self-control in measured bursts can help your brain.

The key is to do this on little things first, then let it expand into other areas of your life in which you’d like more self-control.  Something as simple as brushing your teeth or operating your mouse with your non-preferred hand can turn up your impulse control a few notches.

Here are a some of my preferred self-control boosters…

*Keeping a nutrition journal
*Daily exercise (even if it’s just going for a walk or doing a few pushups when you wake up)
*Reading instead of watching tv
*Going to bed 30 minutes earlier
*Eliminating starches from your diet 1-3 non-consecutive days per week (eat just proteins and veggies)
*Talk to strangers (seeing as you’re not five years old anymore and can probably update Mom’s advice)

And my favorite – if less obvious – self-control adjustment: learn a new language.

Language is one of the most transformational forces on the planet.

(More on this in another email.  Suffice it to say, the hippocampus lights up like a Christmas tree in language learners, affording you improved memory, and easier adaptation as your brain reshapes itself.)

Whatever self-control regimen you choose, start small, with seemingly unnecessary, and emotionally neutral tasks.

Be persistent.

You’ll pick up steam as you go along.

If it becomes a permanent part of your daily routine, then, in the words of William James, “[you] will stand like a tower when everything rocks around [you], and when [your] softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.”

Dude could write.

Happy Self-Controlling,

Conor Kelly

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