A Sneaky Secret for (More) Self-Control

Here we are, heading quickly toward the end of the year. If you’re tempted to throw in the towel on your goals — whether work, fitness, diet — and just wait to start fresh in the new year (are you forgetting how much harder it’ll be if you’ve let everything slide?), here’s a powerful tip for increasing your self-control:

Remember that no matter how strong the impulse to do (or avoid) something feels in the moment, it won’t last. It seems like it will — that instant gratification-seeking voice in your head will pull out all the stops in trying to persuade you to have another slice of pecan pie or convince you there’s no point in making any sales calls.

Here’s the trick: negotiate.

Bargain with yourself to delay gratification just a little bit: “Okay, let’s have another slice…in 10 minutes.” (Hint: it has to be a compromise that your mind will agree to. Five days, no go. “Ten minutes? Okay, sure.”)

This works when you feel like not doing something too. In his book, “The Heart and The Fist,” Eric Greitens recounts his experience in Navy SEAL BUD/S training during the rigors of Hell Week (when 75% of the class are dropping like flies) and how his teammate, Eddie Franklin, used to talk himself out of quitting: “Eddie would say, ‘I’m quitting today for sure. Right after the run. Then I’m gonna go up to Pacific Beach and surf and hang out and eat tacos.’ After the run, Eddie would say: ‘Hey anybody want to quit with me after breakfast? I gotta eat, but then I’m gonna quit.’ We’d finish breakfast and Eddie would say, ‘PT (physical training), I love PT, I’m gonna quit after PT.'”

What this does is give your mind relief from the intensity of its desire. Why? Because it’s thinking that the current discomfort — whether it’s flutter kicks in freezing water or the even more excruciating pain of not eating a whole bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups (ha) — is only going to continue and get worse. Invariably, of course, the urgency of that particular impulse will fade. So tell yourself:

  • Let’s stay at this client party for 15 more minutes and then we can leave.
  • Let’s just work on the performance review for 10 minutes.
  • Let’s just stay at this bootcamp workout for 5 more minutes.

Once your mind thinks it’s going to get its way, it relaxes its insistence (it’s gullible that way) long enough for you to regain control.

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