Self-control is a muscle. It can’t be flexed forever.
I am a former overweight teenager, pack-a-day smoker, and messy slob, so I’ve had many battles with self-control.
A few months back I found a book which spoke volumes to my struggles. In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explains that self-control is a muscle, and it behaves exactly like one.
Small daily exercises strengthen its build and capacity. Over time, tiny efforts add up to immensely powerful results. You may not think it makes a difference when you decide to cut back on your daily coffee just for the sake of strengthening your self-control, but the effects of making that goal and forcing yourself to meet it can echo into other sides of your life with great intensity. The psychological effects are undeniable, and yet it is hard to notice them with your conscious mind. Focus on one form of self-control, and before you know it you’ll see yourself practicing it in other sides of your life without even thinking. One year later you will have accomplished more than you ever thought possible.
Like muscles, self-control cannot be “flexed” forever. One of the main reasons we commonly find ourselves masterfully keeping to our goals for the first three months and suddenly dropping them altogether for no apparent reason is that we expect our will power to be “flexed” forever without ever releasing it. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I spent a total of 5 years dieting four months, gaining it all back the next four, and losing them again back and forth, completely baffled as to what was causing those intense swings. Why couldn’t I just keep myself in check forever?
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It is just not possible to flex your self-control forever, and if you read Duhigg’s book, you’ll see the science backs this comparison up. You have to flex and release, flex and release, flex and release, and over time you will see its strength growing exponentially. I have seen great strides in keeping my own commitments by understanding that they only apply between Sunday morning and Friday night (that includes working out, watching my spending, cleaning, reading, and eating healthy). On Saturdays, there are no rules, and I fully release my self-control muscles for some much needed rest (which is the most fun you will ever have).
On a Saturday, I’ll knock back 7 beers, sleep until noon, throw my shit all over my room, eat seven pounds of sushi, watch a full season on Netflix, and basically become my former self. I have a full 24 hours to indulge my worst tendencies. Then I haul it in for another week.
You could say it is impossible to let yourself go that much and rein it in after just one day. You could say that in that “cheat day” you would spend all the money you had saved or gain all the weight back. It really hasn’t happened, because I am more controlled when I cheat after being good than I would after months of indulging. What has happened is that I don’t kill myself with internal debates every time I see a muffin or a price tag that look tempting. I just say “wait till Saturday”. Chances are, when Saturday comes along, I will find other things to indulge in that are much better suited to my needs.
Read the book and try it out.[icegram campaigns=”379″]
Andrew Gabelic is the CEO & Founder of Teledipity, a free pocket life coach with an eerie ability to send you the right self-improvement content at the right time (based on your personality and life stage). Check out what it says about you!