You might have said no to your first pizza craving and then your second. But the third time it hits you, you succumb and order a large one all to yourself. When you’re done, instead of feeling good, you’re overcome with feelings of guilt and shame. You believe that you’re weak and you’re aware of how far back this has set you on the journey to your goals. Even though all of us have some level of self-control lying dormant within us, few of us really develop it. Here are a few tips for you to become mentally stronger and practice greater self-control.
1. Don’t Stay Hungry
Unless you have superhuman powers, you’re likely to stray from your diet at least a few times. Think back to your last guilty binge. Did it happen when you were hungry? It might seem counter-intuitive to eat more to avoid eating more, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Glucose is our brain’s main source of fuel. When we’re trying to exert self-control, our brain burns through its glucose store. The lower the level of glucose you have, the more likely you are to go on a food rampage. But that doesn’t mean you should keep eating from a bag of M&M’s either just to make sure you have enough glucose. Sugary foods spike your glucose levels for a short time, but then bring them crashing down again, leaving you feeling tired and guilty. Instead, try eating complex carbs to keep you full. They release glucose in a slow, steady stream, leaving you better equipped to exert self-control.
2. Sleep More
It doesn’t seem very hard so far, does it? Eat more, sleep more, those are things you probably love to do anyway. When we’re tired from lack of sleep, your glucose reserves are seriously low. Like in the previous case, your brain’s ability to control impulses is severely impaired when it doesn’t have enough glucose to run on. What’s worse, to make yourself feel less tired, your mind is going to push you to eat sugary foods which will increase your sugar levels again. Keeping yourself well rested is very important if you want to make good decisions.
3. Get Some Perspective
If you’re trying to give up something, it might be easy to lose sight of your end goal in the face of smaller obstacles. Giving up your smoking habit for example, might give you cravings for just one more cigarette, making you forget the larger health reasons for quitting. When you feel yourself caving in, try to preoccupy your mind with thoughts of the larger picture. Sure, that tub of ice cream might make you feel good now, but what about your larger health journey?
4. Gargle Sugar Water
A salt water gargle might help you with a sore throat, but sugar water will help you fight cravings. For a short-term fix, a sugar water gargle could trick your brain into believing that you’re satisfying its cravings, even if you don’t swallow it. The taste of sugar could trigger your brain into thinking that you’re going to eat more sugar and will momentarily calm down your impulses. Of course, whether this technique could work multiple times is uncertain, but initially, it could help you resist immediate urges.
5. Practice The Rule Of Ten
The good news is, our cravings might be intense, but they’re often short-lived. The next time one hits you, try holding your ground for just ten minutes. At the end of it, you’re likely to find that your craving is nowhere as strong as it was at the start. Now you need much less willpower to stamp out whatever is left of it, than you would initially. Many smokers have said that when they first tried to quit, it was always the initial three days that were the most difficult. Once they were over the three-day hump, it was much easier for them to resist a smoke, than it was before. So, all you need to do is play the waiting game. Knowing that your craving will eventually die down, makes it easier to exercise self-control, than thinking that you’re powerless to them.
6. Start Meditating
The single most effective way you can improve your self-control in the long run is by starting to meditate. Self-control is a tricky skill to learn because you need to keep working on it. Meditation is an entire practice dedicated to creating awareness of yourself and giving you the skills you need to exercise control over your mind. Meditation doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complex. You could start off by practicing mindfulness for ten minutes a day. Sit in the quietest corner of your house and pay attention to nothing but your breathing. You’ll be surprised by how effective such a simple exercise can be.
7. Do A Little Exercise
The next time you have trouble keeping a cap on your temper, going for a short walk around the block could help. Exercise stimulates the release a neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (or GABA if you’re short on time), which calms down your brain. A less frazzled brain is less likely to make bad decisions. Don’t feel nervous, thinking you’ll have to pump weights at the gym. Any short, moderately intense physical activity will soothe your mind.
8. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Despite our best efforts, there are going to be times when we fail. When you do, it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up about it. Feeling disappointed with your lack of self-control will compel you to further loosen control of your impulses. Instead of punishing yourself, focus on how you’re going to move past it. You might have slipped up on your diet with a calorie-heavy lunch, but maybe you could make up by eating a healthier dinner instead. When your self-control falters, don’t wallow in negativity about it because that will only make things worse.