Self-control is the grit you need to make all your goals a reality. You just have to know how to harness it. Read on for seven surprising self-control truths from research and willpower experts that’ll blow your mind, not your diet. Take that, temptation!
1. Choose The Right Friends
If your friend orders a salad, chances are you’re not going to inhale a burger and fries. That’s because self-control is contagious. A study by Dutch researchers found that people who toil with temptation can get a self-control boost by surrounding themselves with strong-willed types. Other studies have found that just thinking about someone with strong resolve or watching others practice positive self-control can help you overcome temptation. “Be around the people who are doing what you want to be doing, and it will rub off,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab and author of Secrets From the Eating Lab (HarperWave, 2015).
2. Get Out Of The City
Nature lovers, rejoice! Getting out in the great outdoors can help you hit the gym instead of the snooze button. In one study, participants who took a five-minute walk in nature versus an urban environment were more likely to choose the larger future reward (delayed gratification) than the immediate, smaller reward (instant gratification). No need to permanently flee the city; even views and scenes of nature can help. So switch your screen saver to a verdant forest or go eat lunch in a park.
3. Get To Bed, Now!
Want more self-control? Get more sleep! “One of the best predictors of people’s self-control isn’t personality but how much sleep you got the night before,” says Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of The Willpower Instinct (Avery, 2013) and The Upside of Stress (Avery, 2015). Lack of sleep impairs the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that rules self-control — and can even make you more likely to cheat on your partner. So how do you get more shut-eye? Go to bed 10 minutes earlier and get up 10 minutes later, power down technology an hour before bed (the blue light from screens disrupts sleep) or sneak in a power nap, McGonigal suggests.
4. Get Your Gratitude On
There’s an easy way to pass up that chocolate cake: Count your blessings. Researchers at Northeastern University found that tapping into feelings of gratitude could help people resist temptation. So how can you cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Write a gratitude letter to someone who changed your life, or keep a gratitude journal and list three things you’re thankful for daily.
5. Add Obstacles
When faced with an irresistible molten lava chocolate cake, most of us are going to cave. “The amount of willpower we have isn’t enough, and it’s far too easily depleted,” Mann says. Case in point: A Cornell University study found that women eat more than twice as many Hershey’s Kisses when they’re within reach. Instead, put obstacles between yourself and temptation, suggests Mann, who avoids driving by her favorite bakery on the way to work.
6. Go To Yoga
Namaste the impulses away! Yoga increases GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter involved in regulating self-control. A study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that GABA levels increased by 27 percent after a one-hour yoga session. McGonigal explains: “Yoga changes your biochemistry so that you’re not only less stressed out, you’re actually in a state that gives you more energy and courage to do things that are important,” like logging workouts instead of logging into Facebook.
7. Use Strategic Distraction
Yes, being distracted 24/7 drains willpower, but when you want to indulge in that chocolate cake, distraction can be your ultimate ally. “Apply the 10-minute rule,” McGonigal suggests. “Tell yourself, I’m totally allowed to eat that cake, and I can do it in 10 minutes.” Shifting your attention to something else can actually help harness self-control. You might find that when the 10 minutes are up, the cake isn’t as irresistible as it was before.