How to have more self-control

Jerry is a broker working on Bay Street.

His day typically starts at 5.30AM.  He sips a coffee and eats a Tim Horton’s breakfast bagel while he reads the Globe and Mail to get all the latest updates on what’s going on in the world.

Staying on top of events helps him better advise his clients, who trust him with millions of dollars.

He spends his day meeting with clients, taking phone calls, and watching the markets.  Some days the phone calls don’t stop.  He’ll either miss lunch, just have a latte instead, or have to be contented with whatever is being served in the food court that day.

Every day he makes more than a dozen decisions that could irrevocably affect the financial future of the people he represents.  Some days, Jerry doesn’t leave the office until 8PM or 9PM, and retreats to his appartment exhausted, stressed, and hungry.

He knows he needs to eat better.  His weight has crept up over the last few years.  He’s even gone as far as to see a nutritionist that created a simple-to-follow meal plan, which he has every intention of putting into practice.  Yet today he’s so tired, and so hungry.

On the way into the elevator at his building he meets a delivery guy who’s just delivered a freshly baked pizza to someone two floors above him.  The smell wafts in the air, to the point that he can almost taste it, “ooh that smells good.  Pepperoni or Italian sausage?”  He requests a business card from the delivery guy, goes upstairs, and orders his own pizza.

Timing is everything.

According to a recent New York Times article, this is what researchers discovered after considering more than 1,100 cases of prisoners in an Israeli prison going before a parole board.  They identified a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it had little to do with the ethnic background, crimes, or sentences of the prisoners.

It had everything to do with the timing.  For instance, prisoners who appeared before the parole board early in the morning were paroled about 70% of the time, while those appearing before the board late in the day received parole at a rate of less than 10%! 

Need a favor from someone?  Better ask first thing in the morning.

The study contributes to mounting evidence that we possess a finite store of mental energy for making decisions, one that gets depleted with use.  In other words, your willpower goes down the more decisions you make.  The parole board makes decisions all day long.  Whether it’s at the end of the day, or after several decisions, not paroling someone mostly maintains the status quo, which therefore makes it less of a decision.

The limited nature of our “decision making energy” has been amply demonstrated in studies that tested willpower before and after a series of decisions.

What scientists are now realizing is that the fall off in our ability to choose has a lot do with brain glucose levels. 

Need another favor from someone?  Better buy that person a meal – or least some gummy bears.

In the study above, our inmates received very preferential treatment right after lunch.

They arrived at the glucose connection through an apparently failed experiment.  Researchers wanted to prove the Mardi Gras theory.  It’s the idea that people could restrain themselves better if they over-indulged first.  If you’re like most of us, you may have tested that theory on yourself a few times already.

Participants in the study were given a delicious milkshake, then tested.  Indeed, with an instant sugar fix they outperformed the control.  The only problem was, the control group, which was given a flavorless white glop, showed just as much improvement on the second test!  How could this be?

One optimistic version of the story was that it’s the glucose support, not the taste, that contributes to improvements in self-control.  This was later confirmed when the study was repeated using sugar versus artificial sweeteners.  Even though the artificial sweeteners taste sweet, it was a clear win for sugar in the brain boosting department.

According to the writer:

“The discoveries about glucose help explain why dieting is a uniquely difficult test of self-control — and why even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have such a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose.”

He goes on to say that people are then caught in a nutritional “catch-22”:  they need willpower to not eat, but not eating depletes willpower.


Not only that, but as the body uses up glucose, it seeks a quick way to replenish, leading to cravings for sugar.  Because people in self-control situations are using more glucose, it makes them even more susceptible to craving sweets.

We are the creators of our own appetite.

When you have intense cravings, it’s usually a sign that you’re not giving your body something that it needs.

So what can you do about it?  Simply limiting the number of decisions you make in a day doesn’t seem very practical.  Or does it?

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Don’t diet! I’ve always said any plan based on excessive deprivation is flawed.  I would say this latest article is more evidence that I might have something.  Diets are self-control killers and will eventually blow up in your face, as any former diet dropout knows.

If you thought you failed at dieting before, you now know that not only did you not fail, but in fact you’ve been genetically programmed not to succeed with diets!

But with no more hunger pangs, lightheadedness, lethargy, and general discontent, how will we know when we’re being good?

I guess all that’s left is to eat enough calories to support a healthy metabolism, learn to make better choices, and use how good you feel as a gauge.

  1. Smaller, more frequent meals, containing protein and low glycemic index carbs will keep the glucose levels steady, prevent excessive hunger and cravings, and give you the best possible opportunity to make better decisions as the day progresses.

According to the author: “The problem is that what we identify as sugar doesn’t help as much over the course of the day as the steadier supply of glucose we would get from eating proteins and other more nutritious foods.”

Say no more.  A wink is as good as a nudge to a blind bat, or something like that. 

  1. Plan ahead.  Let’s take this a step further.  In light of the above, I’ll suggest that planning and preparation are even more essential to success.  When you fail to plan, or prepare for the day or week ahead, you are deliberately placing yourself in a position where you’ll need to make many more tough choices throughout the day, thereby inducing a state of “decision fatigue” which leads to comparatively worse choices.

When your meals are planned there’s no need to think.  When you think less, you retain your self-control longer.  The longer you retain your self-control, the better your choices will be.

Make better choices by making FEWER choices.

I like it.

It’s a bit wordy to go on the back of a t-shirt though.

The good news is that if you make the right choice enough times it eventually becomes easier.  When less mental energy is expended with each decision, you increase your power to make supportive decisions in general.

Self-control is like a muscle; you’ve gotta flex it a few times before it gets stronger.

To Your Success,

Conor Kelly

Why goals are pointless unless you have this

Comedian Louis CK has a great bit about how people on airplanes are the worst.

“I had to wait 40 minutes on the runway.”

Really?  You left out the part where you flew through the air…like a BIRD.  What about the miracle of air travel we all take for granted?  Nowadays you can do New York to L.A. in 6 hours.  Once upon a time the same journey could take thirty years, and about half of you wouldn’t survive.

That’s one reason I like stand-up.

Nothing like a little pointed ridicule to remind us when we’re acting like attention deficit millennials who freak out in a brunch line.

Look, we all have problems.

But here’s a rule of human achievement too powerful to ignore:

Until we appreciate the good we have, we won’t get any more.

Think of a child.  You buy her a toy.  She turns it over in her little fingers a few times, then chucks it on the floor and demands new one.  How inclined are you to buy it for her?

The energy of GRATITUDE is a prerequisite for GAIN.

That’s why it’s pointless to have goals unless you start from a place of gratitude.

Want to be healthier?  Appreciate whatever health you have now.

One reason New Year’s Resolutions fail is they’re big lists of things we don’t like.  And often, we’ve been stewing in our resentment of these things for a long time.

But consider this…

It’s impossible to feel resentment AND gratitude simultaneously.

They’re incompatible.

Similarly, you can’t experience FEAR and ANGER when every cell in your body is vibrating at the frequency of LOVE.  Negative emotions are ancient brain states designed to protect you by keeping you ensnared in the known.  That’s why gratitude is a launching pad.  It puts you in a state that makes you more receptive.  It inspires right action.  And it acts as a beacon that draws in the abundance all around you.

So don’t make lists of goals…

Make lists of what you’re grateful for.

Do it daily.

Don’t leave it to chance.  They’re YOUR thoughts, take responsibility for them.  Prime the pump and appreciate any time it feels right to do so.

Goals, and *what’s next* flashes are the natural offspring of this process.

One last anecdote: when I worked at Extreme Fitness, the cleaner was a Mexican guy called Carlos.  Every day Carlos came to work, he wore a beaming smile, and greeted everyone with an enthusiastic, “ehhh, Muchacho!”  Carlos had a lot of friends, and despite what we might consider his relatively humble position, a great life.  I once asked him why he was so happy.  He seemed puzzled.  “Life is BEAUTIFUL,” he said.  “I have my family.  I have a job – so many nice people here.  And I live in Canada, where it’s safe.”

Good share.

Make it a point to count your blessings on the regular…

Then, let goals be the sincere expression of living a life of gratitude.

Happy Appreciating,

Conor Kelly

The MYTH of Hard Work – Motivational Video

Bill Burr has a great bit about antagonizing his girlfriend while she watches Oprah.

Oprah introduces her guest as doing “the hardest job in the world”…being a mother.  Bill says, really?  Being a mother is the hardest job?  Then he goes on to compare it with coal mining or “roofing in July as a red head.”

He says any job you can do in your pajamas can’t be that hard.

Of course, his goal is to get a laugh.  I’m a parent, and I’m not saying it’s not a hard job (and also clearly harder for the mother).  But I think whole thing is a funny caricature of the glorification of hard work in our culture.  We tend to want to make things seem harder than they are.  We wear it like a badge of honor.

I find business people particularly guilty of this.  It’s about how early you get up, or how many hours you work.

The real question is, what’s it all doing for you?  A lot of people who work very hard are going in circles.  There’s a big difference between being busy and being PRODUCTIVE.  The danger in always working harder is it tends becomes hard work for its own sake.  It’s like we’re staying busy just to feel like we’re doing something.

The concept of hard work as it’s commonly understood ignores an important fact: that the people who are working the “hardest”, at the highest echelons of success, are doing it because it has inherent rewards for them.  If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing it.  Something innate drives them.  This doesn’t mean that they never do anything they don’t want to do, but for the most part, they’re compelled to do what they do.

What we really want is not hard work, it’s INSPIRED work.  That’s when our efforts are guided by higher principles.

This is more the terrain of THINKING and PLANNING.

When your work becomes a grind, there’s resistance in it.  But you’ve gotta feel good to be at your best.

Think of an airplane trying to take off.  As it accelerates, you’re aware of the motion of the plane.  The friction created with the wheels on the runway results in a lot of shaking and noise.  But when you’re in the air, you’re moving a lot faster than you ever could on the ground and you don’t feel as much.

Real momentum is like that.

You’re at your most productive when it doesn’t feel like work.

One reason we can get addicted to being BUSY is that we mistake this feeling for traction, like the plane trying to leave the runway.  But when you can achieve without trying so hard, when it feels natural to progress, you unleash your potential.  There’s less friction, less resistance.  You move unobstructed.

And your innate goal-seeking abilities have a chance to work for you.

Happy Producing,

Conor Kelly

St. Patrick’s Day musings on what it means to be Irish

At Boolavogue, as the sun was setting
O’er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier,
A rebel hand set the heather blazing
And brought the neighbors from far and near.
Then Father Murphy, from old Kilkormack,
Spurred up the rocks with a warning cry:
“Arm! Arm!” he cried.  “For I’ve come to lead you,
For Ireland’s freedom we fight or die.”

Over miles of narrowly paved roadways sheathed in thick brush you can wander, and not hear anything but the rustling of leaves and branches, or the swell of the breeze.  You can see fields peppered with livestock, draped over hills with ragged boulders clamoring to break through the cascading green of the lush countryside.  Opposite the farms, ripples of the ocean land softly upon the coastal beaches and lap against the rocks, foaming at the edges.

Welcome to Ireland’s “sunny southeast.”

If you continue to the peninsula, you discover The Hook – Europe’s oldest operating lighthouse – standing watch against the encroaching waters, and held aloft by layers of grey, muscular stone, sharpened to a knife’s edge by centuries of salt water erosion.  There the wind intensifies, echoing the demise of fishermen swallowed into the sea by rogue waves throughout the ages.

You are now not more than a few miles from Teac Colmcille, our family’s vacation home in County Wexford.  If you continue up the coast, you can visit the town of Boolavogue, where a priest named Father Murphy led an uprising in 1798, a place later to be immortalized in Irish Folklore with a lyric and melody of breathtaking depth – the song that bears its name.

The history of Ireland is violent, going back to its early days when it was a smattering of Kingships and warring clans locked in a Game Of Thrones death battle, to the epoch of British rule and bloody uprisings like the one at Boolavogue.

Yet the land itself portrays a beauty no painting can convey, and no photograph can capture.

It’s hard to describe the connection to a place that I’m certain all Irish living abroad never fully disentangle themselves from.  I myself have never lived in Ireland – at least not longer than a couple of months, one summer as a teenager – and I’m only half-Irish, however, for some reason setting down upon the Emerald Isle feels like coming home.

Ireland has many famous tourist attractions, the Cliffs of Moher, The Ring of Kerry, The Giant’s Causeway in the North – but for every jaw-dropping vista regularly frequented by tour buses, there are ten equally awe-inspiring nooks of natural canvas, dropped on the landscape as though by God himself.

The lesser-known Beara peninsula in County Cork, for example, cradles The Healy Pass.

There, stony mountains and harsh valleys weave together in an immortal tapestry, seemingly at the crossroads of time itself, where they exist at once in a single moment and in all of eternity.

The Irish are expert court-holders.

And they come by this pedigree honestly.

St. Patrick brought to Ireland the civilizing power of story.

Story draws from images and emotions and words, and imparts to them a logical sequence.   The human animal alone is equipped with the facility to reconcile these varied and disparate chunks of meaning.  St. Patrick wielded narrative like a sword, severing early Irish society from its attachment to chaos.  His words conjured in the natives’ minds the vision of what Ireland could be, and diverted their gaze from the flickering shadows of instinct, to the vibrant sunlight of reason.

In Patrick, the Irish found someone they could respect.

He recreated their culture using the symbols of Christianity as mythology.  In it, they could see themselves living with a courage forged in faith rather than in the tempest of battle.  This brought relative stability, growth, and intellectual rebirth.  Patrick’s own story is one of incredible fortitude in the face of calamity.  (Click here to read more about St. Patrick’s life.)

It’s said that if you capture a Leprechaun he can grant three wishes to secure his freedom.

This day, the three things we should hope St. Patrick’s legacy gifts us are first, the ability to laugh despite misfortune (the Irish are famous for their sense of humour – insert dirty limerick here), second, the wisdom to recognize the freedom in diversity (Patrick was not Irish by birth, but he believed in the Irish, and proved that when each of us is allowed to express his or her talents, all of humanity benefits) and third, awareness of the power of story, which can build or destroy not only individual lives, but entire civilizations.

With this knowledge, let us choose carefully what stories we entertain.

All of this is why St. Patrick is just as relevant today, as ever.

And why, as we wear green and gather with friends and family for a drink, we should want some small part in all of us to be Irish.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day,

Conor Kelly

5 Tips for how to be a more confident speaker

I’ll never forget the first public talk I ever gave.  It was right after I’d started my personal training business.  Someone said I should do public speaking to promote myself, and even though the idea terrified me, I decided to give it a try.

I scripted out a 45 minute presentation, and memorized the entire thing.  On the day, a grand total of 13 people showed up.  About 10 minutes into it, there’s a guy right in front row who starts dozing off.  But I got through it.  I can’t imagine it was a great talk, but the feedback was very positive.

A couple of month later, I did another one, and then another one, and pretty soon it turned out that it was something I have a talent for, and really enjoy doing.

Here are a few suggestions to help you become a more confident speaker:

(1) Don’t memorize.  I don’t recommend you memorize your speech like I did that first time.  Trying to remember lines can make you nervous and distract you from what you should be focused on, which is communicating your ideas.  However, I suggest you script and practice key parts like your intro, or any essential stories.  The intro in particular should be well planned, because your nerves will be the highest at the beginning.  Once you get past the first 5-10 minutes or so, you’ll start to settle in.

(2) Embrace your feelings.  Don’t try to fake being confident if you’re not.  It takes too much energy, and feels less authentic.  Remember, your audience is rooting for you to do well.  If you’re nervous, acknowledge it.  Fear and excitement are made of the same stuff.  So call it excitement.  For me, when I feel those butterflies, I know I’m ready.  It energizes me.  It raises my awareness, so I’m sharper.  So if you’re nervous, embrace the feeling.  Tell yourself, “perfect…that means I’m ready”.

(3) Honor your topic.  Once upon a time I’d organized a talk and registration was very low.  I was debating cancelling it.  So I went for a walk to clear my head, and when I came home, I picked a book from the shelf and opened it to a random page.  On that page was this line,

“A great speaker is someone with knowledge of a topic, and a burning desire to share it.”

I thought, I have so much knowledge on this topic, and I want to share it.  So I went ahead.

Since then, I make it a point to remind myself before each talk how excited I am about what I have to say.  Nerves come partly from focusing on the wrong thing: yourself.  Give your topic center stage.  Remember that you have valuable information to give.  Focus on that.

(4) Embody the experience.  On a recent episode of the voice, someone asked Pharrell Williams what he thinks about right before going on stage, and he said without hesitation, “how much fun I’m gonna have.”  As a general rule, if you’re not having fun, the audience isn’t either!  Audiences love to feel like the speaker is enjoying him or herself.  Your goal should be to embody whatever experience you want to convey.  If you want to inspire, YOU should be inspired!  If you want them to have fun, you should be having fun.

(5) Learn by DOING.  There aren’t short cuts.  If you want to be good, let alone great at speaking, you have to take every opportunity you can to SPEAK.  Joining a group like Toastmasters is good, mostly because it gets you up in front of people each week.

You learn through doing.

Finally, I’d just say, do your best to prepare, but when it’s your time to take to the front of the room, dismiss any care you might have about the outcome.  Have fun!  If you do that, and you learn from every experience, it won’t be long before you are a much more confident speaker.

Happy Speaking,

Conor Kelly