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Self-control and will power seem to come up more often at the end of the year during the holidays and especially New Year’s.

Between overindulging at holiday dinners, overspending, or making yet another New Year’s resolution this year because we didn’t stay with it last year, it seems that a lot of people struggle with maintaining self-control. There are ways you can make it easier on yourself and increase your chances of success.

I’ve listed a few ideas below that have worked for me and for people I know. Pick what you think will work, not every idea here is right for everybody. And not every idea here will fit what you are trying to accomplish. Some are more appropriate for meeting goals and some are more appropriate for managing through cravings.

People want to build up their self-control for many goals: overeating/weight loss, to stop spending so much, to stop smoking, to change a bad habit, get an exercise plan going, and the list goes on.

First – the basics. Build your resilience by taking good care of your body. When you are functioning well physically you are better able to handle stress and challenges to your will power.

  • Take care to get enough good quality sleep
  • Get enough physical exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet – protein and whole grains help your brain to work at its best, and this will help you when you are trying to resist impulses.

I do realize that the irony of saying what I just did is that getting enough exercise and/or eating a balanced diet may be exactly the thing you are trying to build your self-control to accomplish.

Read on for more ideas!

Put it in writing and track progress with a calendar or journal. For some people, a goal is strengthened when we put it in writing. Whatever you use to track your progress, keep it with you so that you have it at the very moment you need to add to it, or check your progress because your will power is feeling weak. Make it as detailed as necessary. Make it fun or rewarding if you need to – if a happy face or gold star sticker on each day you succeed helps you, then use stickers!

Share it with someone who will help you hold yourself accountable. This can be a very powerful (and annoying) way to succeed at maintaining your self-control. Somehow, when someone else knows what you are trying to accomplish and asks you about it regularly, you feel more motivated to keep yourself in check. The pain of having to say “I gave in today” seems so much worse than the pain of maintaining your will power.

Break goals up into manageable segments. Sometimes when you can simply focus on “what is the next thing I need to do” it helps you not feel so overwhelmed. For instance, if you are trying to lose 20 pounds and that seems like a lot, break it up into one pound a week. Focusing on this smaller, yet progressive goal may help.

Write down the reasons the goal is important to you and what it means to you. If it works for you to keep track of your progress in a journal or on a calendar, this may be a good place to remind yourself of the reasons why you want to accomplish this goal. If you are trying to quit smoking, you could list all the different health reasons you should stop. When you remind yourself of WHY, it helps you remain committed.

Wait it out. A craving usually won’t last so if you can wait at least ten minutes the power should be diminished.

Forgive yourself when you mess up! If you are like most people, you aren’t going to resist every single time. Move forward, and make a plan for how you are going to avoid the same trigger, situation, or problem with keeping your self control intact.

Use distraction. A craving will eventually diminish, if you can distract yourself with something else – work on a project, go for a walk, meditate, something that would be considered “self care” – it can help you until the craving passes.

Gradually increase the time you exercise self-control. If you can’t just stop altogether, work on increasing the amount of time you stay with your goal, or avoid the craving. Practice over time makes it easier.

Reward yourself. Take time to congratulate yourself because this can be hard work!

Challenge negative thinking. If you find yourself saying “I am never going to be able to do this,” challenge it and find evidence to show yourself that you can, and you will.

Now I’m interested to hear what works for you. Any ideas to add?

Catherine Wilson, LPC 

Image credit courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net