Our actions originate from our thoughts. These usually range between impulsive and deliberate thinking. The ability to manage what behaviors will result is found in our self-control. There have been numerous texts written on its effects. One of the most fitting descriptions is encapsulated In the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Biologically, it is our pre-frontal cortex that is responsible for guiding our decisions and behavioral patterns. Our will power or self-control is housed here. Aside from our behavior and judgment, the pre-frontal cortex is also responsible for our attention span and emotional reactions. Making sure that it well-taken care of has definite benefits. Our decision making process is clearer and it is easier to make positive, objective choices that would be beneficial to us in the long run.
- Get enough sleep
Our brain represents only 2% of our body weight yet it uses up 20% of energy derived from glucose, its main supply of energy. When we lack sleep, it is unable to metabolize this energy source properly. It leads to a decreased ability to effectively exercise self-control because the brain is not able to function efficiently. This results in increased engagement in impulsive behavior and the reduced capacity to maintain attention. Resisting the physiological urge to sleep is not only unwise, it could also lead to health and safety risks.
- Healthy lifestyle (exercise, meditation and nutrition)
Boost your will-power reserves by incorporating meditation in your regular routine. It increases positive effects on brain processes in as little as eight weeks. Exercise releases endorphins which helps you feel good. It promotes resiliency to stress, making it easier to train yourself to see tasks through even though it appears difficult in the beginning. By eating the right types of food, you are feeding your brain’s pre-frontal with good sources of energy.
- Prevent decision fatigue
Making many choices no matter what they are, diminishes your ability to exercise self-control. Every act of subsequent self-regulation reduces the cognitive resources to do so compared to the first time. Also known as ego depletion, it makes no distinction between important, mundane or routine tasks. Determining which ones to do or avoid requires energy which eventually needs to be replenished. Structuring your day to do the most important functions first, ensures that you have enough of it to perform them properly in a focused manner.
4. Manage your sugar and stress levels
It has already been mentioned that the brain relies on glucose for energy. When your blood sugar drops, it is more difficult for your pre-frontal cortex to resist impulsive urges. This however is only part of the problem. The dip in energy reserves also increases your stress hormones. Studies have found that it was stress that had the most impact on the brain’s reduced power to exercise self-control.
5. Devalue distractions increase value of tasks
Take out or minimize your contact with things that undermine your productivity. This could be your gadget usage, checking of email, social media, chit-chat or phone calls. Try to block out those that will take your attention away from the task at hand. The key is to focus on what your are doing and take things on one at the time. Multi-tasking is actually counter-productive to the quality of your work output.
BONUS Tip: Remember, be SMART plus If-Then
A great predictor of success is having high emotional intelligence. One of the cornerstones of this is the ability to exercise a high degree of self-control in short-term daily tasks. This is different from grit which is used to complete long-term goals. To be able to achieve either, you must incorporate SMART moves into your plans. This stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based.
Form if-then plans that can automate certain behaviors. An example those trying to lose weight would be “If I am tempted to eat a slice of cake, Then I will drink two glasses of water to get full.”
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