Where Does Self-Control Come From?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

One of the main things that differentiate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to control urgers and impulses and to regulate emotions and behaviors while factoring in long-term implications and goals. The part of the human brain that is larger and more complex than other animals is the prefrontal cortex, right behind your forehead. This part of the brain is often referred to as the executive center. It controls concentration, decision making, impulse control, problem-solving, planning, foresight, and other higher-level skills.

Self-control is also referred to as willpower. This ability allows people to maintain focus and energy on a task despite other things trying to get our attention. This ability often drives achievement and success in school, work, finance, and even relationships. More studies and research are showing that willpower is not a stable trait or attribute like introversion but a fluctuating ability that varies similar to physical energy which often dissipates or depletes throughout the day. Along this line of thought, many experts believe willpower can be nurtured and built up like a muscle.

How Do You Cultivate Willpower?

The first step in developing and enhancing willpower is to realize that it is not about depriving yourself or punishing yourself. If this is how you define willpower and self-control, who would want more of it? For many, this becomes about redefining what is pleasurable and separating from those things that are ultimately self-destructive. Having a drink can be pleasurable, but routinely getting drunk is self-destructive. Going a step further, those who practice “good” or healthy habits regularly find they do not have to exert as much willpower. Aligning yourself with healthy and productive goals will limit the amount of self-control you have to exercise over unhealthy things. Focusing on why (the purpose) you do something will do more to align you with objectives than focusing on how (the steps) you do something. How turns it into a task. Why connects you to the mission.

Here are some other avenues to cultivating willpower. Steer clear of your weaknesses. Everyone has their kryptonite whether it is candy, chips, beverages, or spending. Don’t put yourself in harms way and you are more likely to avoid them. Positive reinforcement works great for everyone, including ourselves. When you achieve a goal, celebrate and reward yourself. Make sure your goals are attainable and realistic. Don’t set up yourself up for failure or to be overwhelmed. If you have a large goal, consider breaking it down into smaller subgoals. Having an actionable plan is also important to achieving any goal. By sticking to the plan, it will be easier to exercise willpower and recognize when you are deviating from the plan. Lastly, utilize support. Having a system of accountability and encouragement makes it easier to exert self-control when you have others that you are checking in with you as well.

Maple Grove Psychiatrists

If you are looking for help with improving your self-control and willpower, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an individual consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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