You may have heard that many high-powered CEOs often wear the same outfits every working day. They aren’t just channeling Mattlock, there’s a purpose to this seemingly tedious fashion choice. Recent advances in psychology and addiction medicine suggest that our capacity for self-control is a limited resource. This is known as the Executive Function: the ability to exert willpower, make choices, to plan and carry out a course of action that requires us to use specific neural networks in our brains. Like any other system, these neural networks have a limited energy supply that can be conserved through simple self-control tips to help reduce stress, which can place an inordinate amount of strain on this function.
The Limits of Executive Function
It isn’t surprising that it’s more difficult to lug yourself to the gym after a long day at work, or after experiencing a stressful situation. The more demands that are placed upon us, the harder it is to exert self-control. Not only is it harder to choose to stay on track with our fitness regimen, it’s harder to resist food temptations and other reward mechanisms that can lead to bad health and addictive behavior.
In addiction medicine, when an addict is stressed that the person is more likely to engage in addictive behavior. The same is true of all of us because every one of us has a reward pathway that’s been corrupted by guilty pleasures. An addiction is nothing more than an impairment in our ability to make healthy choices, and we all have addictions to varying degrees. That’s why, at the end of a long day, you are so much more likely to indulge yourself in a high-calorie snack and television than go to the gym. Your Executive Function is depleted and the old survival oriented “Do what feels good” brain has taken control.
How to Conserve Your Precious Self Control – Self-Control Tips to Help Reduce Stress
Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear the same thing every day, (though it might help). There are a few simple habits you can develop that will take the needless strain off your mind and save that energy to develop real meaningful willpower.
1. Plan the Small Stuff
Have your coffee pot set to automatic. Set your clothes out the night before. Plan your meals a week at a time. And most importantly, commit these things to habit- that way you will not be deciding when you complete these tasks. They will become automatic, freeing up massive reserves of self-control.
2. Don’t Punish Yourself for Little Failings
When you do flake out on your workouts, don’t let guilt become a part of the equation. Simply take it as a rest period. A rest period is functional, it allows you to return to your fitness routine with renewed vigor. The same goes for poor dietary choices. You may have eaten a large bowl of ice-cream the night before, but those extra calories can be used on the treadmill. Punishing yourself will add extra stress to your day-to-day experience which will sap your decision-making power and leave you helpless to resist further temptations.
3. Streamline Your Life – Self-Control Tips to Help Reduce Stress
This is the hard part. You should eliminate any habit that
does not bring you pleasure or serve a purpose. Many habits, once developed to
the point of addiction, are not pleasurable. We simply do them to maintain a
baseline of well-being. Such things like spending too much time online, smoking
cigarettes or what-have-you are little more than drains on your valuable
self-control. You should eliminate every needless thing that does not have a
boosting effect on your energy level.
That sounds like a lot of changes to make, and it is. But don’t worry, you don’t have to do everything we’ve discussed in order to improve your self-control. Just begin with one or two small things. Chances are, you’ll notice feeling a little freer, a little more energetic. That will serve as your motivation to push yourself even farther.
Before you know it, you’ll be in the business of developing self-control in the same way you have been using your workouts to develop strength and fitness.