Why Inhibitions Don’t Work and How to Develop Self-Control


The skill of self-control is important in both career and personal life. After all, it is through it that we can achieve long-term goals, avoid impulsive actions and avoid succumbing to momentary pleasures. Only prohibitions do not work, we need to look for other ways. Here are simple tips on how to develop self-control.

What Is Self-control

Self-control is often associated with some kind of restrictions. But what it really means is finding the right balance. Denying yourself what you need is just as bad as being overly enthusiastic about your desires. U.S. psychologists, in a study on self-regulation strategies, define self-control as the ability to control behavior to resist temptation and achieve goals, and the ability to delay fleeting gratification and resist unwanted behavior. There are two kinds of self-control:

  • Emotional self-control. It refers to consciously working to maintain a positive outlook while coping with difficulties. Suppose you encounter problems at work because your colleague who was playing at Bet22 instead of working and didn’t complete a task on time. And if instead of yelling, you can manage your emotions and find the root cause of the problem, the conversation will be more effective, and the employee will realize the consequences.
  • Behavioral self-control. It involves taking actions that align with your long-term goals and values. For example, you’re having a hard time making yourself practice French every day, but you’ve decided to move to another country where the language is necessary. This is the long-term goal.

Self-control is a limited resource. Awareness of this fact will allow you to properly allocate your power. That is, the more often you exhibit it, the more it affects you. When you excessively control yourself, you exhaust yourself and become prone to temptation. This is why total denial of pleasures, excessive strictness to yourself is only harmful. Self-control is the search for balance.

The Benefits of Developing Self-control

  • Achieving long-term goals. By learning to gradually give up momentary pleasures in favor of greater gains, you achieve long-term goals.
  • Getting rid of bad habits. It helps to stop impulsive behaviors, such as overeating, drinking, and smoking. Self-control includes mindfulness, so you won’t automatically reach for a cigarette, glass of wine, or hamburger. It also allows you to keep yourself from making impulse purchases.
  • Improved ability to concentrate. You have better control over your thoughts and, as a result, you can control your attention. This allows you to get into a working state, get rid of negativism and focus on the task at hand.
  • Conflict Resolution. Thanks to the fact that you control your own emotional reactions, you can avoid impulsive actions and try to make the conversation effective.
  • Time management. Self-control is directly related to the skill of time management. Time eaters such as tardiness and procrastination are minimized.

How to Develop Self-control

Set Clear Goals

The more specific the goal, the clearer the path to it and the higher the motivation. An abstract goal may be unrealizable and distant. For example, instead of “to become healthy,” formulate the goal as “to exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week”. Use the SMART methodology, which states that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Start With the Minimum

If you immediately decide to give up sweets or coffee altogether, or exhaust yourself by exercising, then there is a high probability of failure. Remember that self-control is a limited resource. So you should start small: for example, first devote 20-30 minutes a day to running or physical exercises, give up sweets not at once, but gradually reduce their consumption.

Look for a Replacement

Forbidden fruit is sweet. When we categorically can’t do something, we want to do it even more strongly. So do not put any bans, and look for alternatives.

For example, instead of chocolate – a fruit, instead of sitting in social networks – a 30-minute walk with your phone off.

Shift Your Attention Away From the Object of Temptation

The famous test with marshmallows, conducted by psychologist Walter Michell, showed that children who have self-control, know how to divert attention from temptation. To do this, they covered their eyes with their hands and played with marshmallows. In other words, they tried to distract themselves.

Before doing something forbidden, try to divert your attention to another activity: go into another room, talk to a friend, drink water.

Distance Yourself From Temptations

Create circumstances in which there are no objects of temptation. For example, reduce the visibility of unhealthy foods, take your phone to another room if you don’t want distractions.

Plan Your Behavior in Certain Situations

An “if-then” plan links a specific trigger situation to a specific behavior. For example, “if I order something for dinner at a restaurant, I’ll choose a low-calorie meal,” “if I go to bed at 11 p.m., I’ll turn off all devices half an hour in advance.” This way, you immediately make a connection between specific situational cues and your intended response.

Wait 5-10 Minutes Before Giving in to Temptation

During this time, you can over-want, calm down, remind yourself once again of your goal, or simply shift your attention. Stop yourself in the moments before you do something undesirable.

Write Down Intrusive Thoughts

You can write down your impulsive thoughts that get in the way of sticking to your plan and thus get rid of them. For example, “getting distracted by your social media feed,” “wanting to eat sweets,” “going to drink alcohol.” These may not really be true desires, but nothing more than thoughts to keep in your notes.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Celebrate your accomplishments, even if they seem insignificant to you. By noticing your results, you will become more motivated and realize what you are working for. It’s best to do this regularly – for example, on a weekly basis.

Forgive Yourself for Your Weaknesses

Self-control is a limited resource. And breakdowns don’t mean you’re weak, weak, and so on. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and remind yourself of your original goal.

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