A good portion of Self-Control one of the keys to success – see how you can train your Self-Control
When we think of self-control we often associate it with dieting as in poor food choices or impulsivity but it can be so much more. It has everything to do with emotion regulation, stress coping, attention control, task performance & of course impulses.
Roy Baumeister is one of my favorites researchers within the psychology department, due to his research on self-control. According to him, self-control works like a muscle. What happens when we train our muscles? Yes, they grow bigger, however, it can all vary from day to day or even vary from an hour to hour during a day. Some days we are in better shape to train our muscles while some days we are not. It is the same with self-control.
When our self-control is low we tend to perform worse, we act in a more impulse way, cope worse with stress, and are overall worse at regulating our emotions. Therefore we might do things that we regret.
I like to think about my self-control as a fuel tank. If I get a good night’s sleep I wake up with my fuel tank full. Then during the day, I have to use that fuel to resist things, be consistent in my parenting style, regulate my emotions (patience especially), use my attention for my tasks at work, and also do things that are good for me (train, eat well, etc.) but I don’t necessarily feel motivated to do. It is a constant battle during a full day with my kids, my work & myself self of course.
Imagine when you have a kid/s, the kid/s start taking your fuel because you are always regulating your emotions to meet their needs. Then perhaps after the morning shift you have used 10% or more of your fuel and then next up is work, perhaps you start using 30% of your fuel there only by focusing on a task, cause attention control is one form self-control. Then when driving home you have to use your attention and perhaps patience in the traffic. Therefore the tank gets less & less during the day. That is why we sometimes make poor choices at the end of the day like ordering fast food, drinking alcohol, or smoking.
Research that has studied work-life balance suggests that if you use up all your self-control at the workplace, then when you get home you have little left for being a nurturing parent or a spouse.
It can also be the other way around, if your family life drains you in the morning then it is hard to be as effective at the workplace.
We have probably noticed that drinking alcohol makes us lose our self-control a little bit. What happens is that alcohol reduces the glucose in our body and throughout our brain and thereby impairs many forms of our self-control.
What can we do about this and can we run out of self-control? We can actually do a lot.
Past research suggests that self-control is linked to the energy source. Blood glucose is one of the most important sources of our self-control. Failure in self-control is most likely to happen when our glucose is low. What happens is that when our blood glucose or insulin is low is that impairs our self-control. Then when we restore the glucose it can most often improve our self-control again.
Hence since self-control depends on our bodily energy it can rise and fall with our sleep quality and poor food choices. Good sleep & a healthy diet has a more lasting effect on our blood sugar and can really help us concentrate, be more patient, be more resilient, and overall help us maintain a healthier lifestyle like smoke less, drink less & make better food choices.
Furthermore, should we be training that muscle every day? Yes, start by implementing small things in your life that you want to improve. Perhaps you can start by setting your alarm clock 5-10 min earlier every day, reduce your screen time in the evening, meditate for a couple of minutes a day, make your bed every morning, exercising just a little bit more every day, make better food choices or whatever is good for you and requires a little bit effort from you. By doing this you will gain better self-control with time. Because you are training that muscle, it is just like going to the gym. You get better at it every time you show up.
By starting to train it you start to shift your focus on the positive changes you are making in your life instead of putting attention on things that you should be improving. Good self-control has also been linked to better sleep, better communication with people, better mental & physical health.
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