Tips on self-control and will power
How to be proactive, stay consistent and do what you think is right.
Self control and being proactive is hard. Trying to follow through on your decisions is one of the biggest challenges you will face.
One of the most important skills to achieve your goals and become an awesome person is being able to stay consistent, to act based on your decisions, not on the emotion you’re feeling in the moment.
Of course, the best situation is when you’re “naturally” driven to do the right thing, so you do that just because you want to. And I think you should always try to do things that way — it’s more fun and efficient.
But often to make cool lifestyle easy and natural you need to implement some habits, switch your old action patterns and get used to new behaviors. I came up with some ideas that helped me to make this process much easier. Here they are:
Learn to distinguish rationalization from the “real” thinking. Realize that it’s not a logical issue — it’s an emotional one.
Often you can spend a lot of time and energy just on deciding whether you should act the right way or “cut yourself some slack” and do what you feel like doing. For example you decided to get on the diet, and on the next day you start thinking “well, one little candy is not a big deal”, “so what, now I will never eat a cheseburger in my life? that’s not cool”, “well, coffee is kind of healthy, energy drink could make me leaner”. And you start thinking that you have logical dilemma here. At that moment you need to recognize: This is not a problem of logic or understanding, it’s an emotional one.
Rationalization is a psychological tool that everybody uses every day to maintain the illusion of being in control of his actions. We think that we act based on our logic, but very often we don’t. What happens is that we act based on our feelings/emotions, and then our brain tries to rationalize — logically justify these actions.
And what you need to do — is to learn to distinguish the “real”, rational thinking, when you use reason and logic to find out what’s best for you, from rationalization — when you are basically just coming up with excuses to do what you feel like doing, excuses that look so similar to logic, but aren’t it.
You can think rationally and make real decisions about diet when you’re in a comfortable, not hungry state, but if you get hungry — don’t trust your brain, what you’re thinking about has nothing to do with logic.
Another good way to call this is “trusting in your higher self”. There are moments in your life when your mind is bright, sharp, alert — when you can think clearly and make the best decisions. That’s your “higher self”. And then there are moments when you’re angry/hungry/horny/lazy/sleepy/etc, when you’re in haze and out of state, when you can’t think clearly.
Make decisions when you’re in your higher self, and when you’re in the mode of lower consciousness — just trust them and don’t argue, understand that now it’s not the best time to change the plan that you’ve developed when you were much smarter.
So — learn to distinguish true thinking from rationalizations, recognize when you’re in the lower consciousness. And once you do — realize that you don’t have the logical problem, you don’t need to “understand” anything right now, you know exactly what’s the right thing. You just don’t feel like doing it.
And now you don’t have doubts anymore, you trust the decisions that you’ve made when you were in the higher state, you can clearly see what you should do. And instead of dealing with understanding and emotion, all that’s left is to deal only with the emotion/mood, make yourself to take the right actions.
You know what’s right, and your task is clear — get yourself to do that.
You need to know that whatever negative habits you having — you’re having them for a reason. They’re satisfying some of your needs, and that is good. They’re just doing it not in a way you like, for example dumb, unhealthy, or counterproductive.
Like TV satisfies your need for stimulation and adventure, or like crappy food satisfies your hunger and desire for salt/sugar. And you can’t just reject that need, unless you’re like 120 years old yogi, or the hulk of the will-power. So the first thing you do — find a good and healthy ways to satisfy all of your desires, that will make your life so much easier.
First step of starting the diet — stuff the fridge with healthy food and fruits. First step of quitting TV — buying bunch of cool books you’ve always wanted to read. If you’re thinking about eating some junk food—the first thing to do is to eat a ton of healthy food.
If there’s a craving — don’t reject it, satisfy it. In a healthy way.
Direct your focus. Use meditation to direct your thoughts. Master your emotions.
Marshmallow experiment— cool experiment done by Stanford scientists. They put kids in one room with a tasty marshmallow, and told them that “I will walk away now, if you won’t eat this marshmallow in the next 15 minutes I will come back and give you another one, so you’ll have 2.″ And walked away.
Then they observed how kids were trying to avoid eating the marshmellow. Turned out that the ones who succeeded did the same thing — turned away from it, found some distraction, way to stop thinking about it.
Understand — no way in hell you will act right if you’re constantly thinking about marshmallow. This will deplete your will power in no time. If you want to do the right thing — consciously direct your focus away from thinking about doing the wrong one.
The best way to learn to do that — is to learn meditation. This will teach you to control your thinking, and think only the thoughts that you want.
Will power is more emotional issue than an intellectual one. Trying to convince yourself to act right is fine, but don’t “argue” with yourself, it’s futile and only burns your will power. Stop the “thinking” about whether you should do the right thing, don’t question it, and switch to thinking about something productive as fast as possible.
Learn to control your emotions, develop the emotional intelligence, learn to feel what you want to feel at will.
Right associations. Pain/pleasure. Value.
We’re evolved to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Our actions are controlled by the oldest and dumbest part of our brain. This thing can not do any sophisticated reasoning, it just makes you to go where it thinks the value is.
Of course it developed to help us to survive, but, especially in modern times, this mechanism is very often misfires. So — don’t associate value with wrong stuff.
What you need to do is to train your mind to associate the pain/pleasure with the right thing. Condition yourself to associate the good things with the joy of life and fulfillment, with the ultimate pleasure. And bad things with pain.
If you associate hamburger with tasty nutrition it is almost irresistible, if you associate it with heart disease and cancer — it’s becomes lot less tempting.
To make right associations use
Reframing is simply looking at things from the different angle, perceiving the world differently.
For example you can reframe feeling hungry into the feeling of getting lean. You can actually learn to enjoy being hungry(to some extent), because you choose to perceive it as pleasure, as something valuable. Make a connection in your mind “I’m hungry = I’m getting prettier and healthier”.
Same thing with exercise or with work — reframe the feeling of being tired into feeling of getting stronger.
Realize that it’s a bigger choice. Upwards/downwards cycles.
Realize that this little decision affects a lot more than you think. It’s very easy to do some little thing wrong, like eat a little cookie when you decided not to, precisely because it’s “not a big deal”.
But you need to see that in fact it’s a much bigger deal than it seems. All of your decisions and actions depend on each other, and every little step either triggers the positive chain of events, or negative.
“Well, I ate a cookie, I might as well eat this chocolate/watch this movie/etc”.
For example you go to the gym -> your self esteem grows -> you’re proud of yourself and inspired -> you decide to read a good book instead of watching tv -> you’re even more proud, you want to eat healthier -> next day you feel even better so you’re more likely to go to the gym again.
Or you eat hamburger -> you feel bad, your brain works worse -> you’re less likely to exercise -> you’re even dumber and in lower state -> you’re less likely to do exercises and eat properly -> you’re more likely to eat one more hamburger -> you feel even shittier and dumber -> etc.
Bad decisions mess with your vision of yourself, your identity as a proactive happy person, they harm all the areas of your life.
You know that it’s true. Eating a little cookie is not just about consuming little amount of calories, it makes you MUCH more likely to screw up in other areas of your life.
Always be aware, every little decision triggers chains of events, so when you decide to fail in executing some “unimportant” action — you need to see how it may really fuck you over in a bigger picture.
So look atthe big picture. Eating a little candy is not a big deal, but you know that the fact of eating this candy will affect your self-respect, consistency, and will damage your other areas. It’s not just about a candy. It represents all the bad things in your life, shitty patterns of behavior.
And at the same time — see all the beautiful things, all the happiness that good decisions may lead to, even very little ones.
Gradually build macro momentum.
Watch the video above, Tyler explains this idea amazingly. See the level that you’re at, and gradually build up your powers to do more and more complicated stuff. Don’t expect to get amazing in a matter of days, take right but simple actions that will make you great in a year. Start simple and improve gradually.
Avoid micro fuckups.
Idea related to previous one. It’s so easy, and so destructive to fail at little things. Learn to see the moments when you make a small wrong decisions, they’re easiest ones to miss, and they’re the ones that bring you down. When you have a great momentum going on — no way you will start screwing up with something big — you see the harm behind it too clearly.
Nobody ever starts taking drugs from heroine. When you’re doing good — you won’t just go and eat at McDonalds or get depressed, but it is very possible to gradually slide down into that. So be aware of micro-fuckups, little failures that are turning into a large trouble over time. See the pain behind them, focus on it. Pay special attention to failures that seem like “not a big deal” and don’t allow them to happen.
Don’t just try to change your behaviors, try to change your identity. Instead of just developing your habits you also need to develop the right beliefs about yourself.
It’s easy for you not to murder people, or to not steal, or not to do drugs — because you know that you are not “that kind of person”. You’re not prohibiting yourself to do that, you just believe that you’re not a guy who would do such a thing.
What you need to do is to develop similar kind of beliefs about any kind of behavior that you want to change.
“I’m not the kind of person who eats shitty food”
“I’m inspired and do what I do because I love it”
“I’m not forcing myself to act right, that’s just the way I do things, because I’m awesome”.
Knowing that you can.
Your desire to do some particular activity is calculated by a simple formula: (Perceived value, how much do you want to achieve something)*(probability of the result).
If your chance to get the reward by doing certain thing is 50/50 — it means that you will have half as much motivation as you would have if you would be 100% sure of the reward.
That means that the more optimistic you are, the more you believe that what you do will give you results that you want — the more motivation you will have.
Know that “last time” is always a lie.
How many “last times” did you have already? Saying that “I’m doing this for the last time” is always a lie. If you don’t have enough reasons to act right today — you won’t have enough reasons to do that tomorrow, in the same situation.
Turn bad habits that you enjoy into reward instead of eliminating them completely.
Instead of quitting TV forever — decide to watch an episode of your favorite show once you’ve accomplished some task. That way you won’t feel pressure of cutting something that you like out of your life completely, and at the same time — have a nice little motivation to do the productive things.
Make it natural.
Don’t overestimate your will power, it can get you only so far. Strive to achieve the real joy from what you’re doing, act right because it feels good. No tricks will keep you motivated fo a long time unless you’re doing something that “works” for you, unless you’re getting a joy out of it, at least on some level.
Find ways to make doing the right thing “naturally” fun and easy for you. Always look for ways to do what you love and love what you do.