“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu
When it comes to achieving our big goals, whether it’s at work, in bettering health, in managing finances, or even pursuing an unlikely dream, we sometimes find them elusive for one reason or another. These challenging goals test our resolve and stretch our comfort zone. When you prepare for a presentation rather binge on a weekend, save money rather than spend it, or eat broccoli rather than candy, what you are really doing is ensuring that future you will be better off. But to make this happen or achieving your other big goals is easier said than done. It requires right motivation, self-control, and a great deal of effort or will power to achieve them. Like, to accomplish a goal of losing weight, following a low-fat diet and regular exercise is the best way, but how do we ‘just do’ what we know is best? to eat healthy and to stick with an exercise program, you need to have strong self-control. And especially, when it comes to avoiding temptations, you require focused effort to get consistent results.
We all have this perfect vision of ourselves at some point off into the future once we attain our goals. But getting from where we are today to our desired destination requires consistent self-control, focused effort and strong will. We search for shortcuts, techniques, methods, and easy ways to motivate ourselves to get there. But on the way, we become impatient, impulsive, and give into the desire for immediate gratification, be it impulsive spending, or distracting our attention to games or social media rather than learning or hoaning skills we need, or giving into momentary eating at a cost to our well-being. This results in impatience and we get biased towards pleasure in the moment. The result is that most of us fail to stick with our daily goals by giving into desires for short-term pleasure.
Most of the times, we don’t feel the effects of our decisions immediately. What you choose to eat and how you choose to invest or spend your free time. These decisions often have different gains or losses in long-run. Eating that extra piece of cake might feel great in the moment but will result in weight gain later. Even though our minds come equipped with necessary tools to succeed, we foresake them and face problems when it comes ṭo delaying gratification, developing strong self-control, and cultivating perseverance. So how would you choose between working on your goals or giving into your immediate gratifications? The ability ṭo control your impulses matter in life. Whether it is studying, practicing, saving, exercising, or persevering in your goals, a willingness to sacrifice in the moment to gain greater rewards in the future can make all the difference.
Why you cannot rely only on your will power?
Most of the times, the value derived from achieving your desirable goal is mostly far off into the future that working on this goal just doesn’t bring you as much pleasure as spending time on other things that give you instant gratification. All the things that bring you instant pleasure makes you struggle to resist leaving you feeling conflicted between the big goal you want to achieve and these small pleasures you so desperately want to indulge in. The choice lies with you to choose either to move down the path of instant gratification or to choose to resist and focus on your goal. Resisting seems to be a rational choice, so you choose to muster up the will power needed to overcome your pleasurable urges in preference of your long-term rewards.
But relying only on your willpower doesn’t take you far as you only have one reserve of it, if you don’t agree, pick up an object and hold it up in the air. Now keep holding it there-forever, ofcourse you can’t do it. And yet, most of us try to do the same with willpower – keep exerting forever. Focusing on your work drains your will power, as does resisting the urge to eat junk food, as does making yourself get out of bed in the morning when you want to sleep. Each time you tap into your will power reserves for difficult tasks, or to maintain healthy habits, you end up depleting your will power reserves. And the more difficult the goal, the faster the rate it gets depleted.
Also using will power will help you only in the short-term as it fails to deal with the source of the problem. Most of the times, we also use techniques such as reason, distraction to keep ourselves from reaching back to what is tempting us to overcome cravings for immediate pleasure. Such habits can help you delay gratification without stress but in limited ways. And when your desires and values are in conflict, you will eventually get caught up on these temptations. So, instead of using willpower as the only source of fuel, it would be better off learning the art of self-control and applying it to goal achievement in a focused way. In an age of instant gratification, self-control seems to be an unusual and undervalued quality, but it is an important one to strive for to achieve your long-term goals.
So, what exactly is self-control?
Self-control is the ability to subdue or resist your impulsive urges, emotions, and behaviours for immediate gratification in order to achieve your long-term goals. Self-control is different from grit where grit is the ability to pursue long-term goals over years, self-control is the ability to resist temptation in the moment. It is the ability to say ‘no’ to yourself in tempting and challenging circumstances and also is the ability to know the difference between a need and a want. Self-control comes from a rational understanding of the consequences of your behavior so that you can sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain.
Why you need to have greater self-control?
The famous marshmallow experiment conducted back in 60’s reveals a clear correlation between self-control and the quality of our life. During experiment, kids were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited alone in the room for up to 20 minutes, during which the researcher left the room and returned. Some kids couldn’t resist the temptation and had the single marshmallow, other kids, however, waited for the researcher to come back into the room and received the second marshmallow as a reward to their patience. In the follow up studies, they found that the kids who were able to wait longer for the bigger rewards fared better in their lives. Those who couldn’t resist had shown more behavioral problems and tended to struggle with stressful situations.
Therefore, by practicing self-control, you can overcome unwanted impulses, thoughts, fears, obsessive, addictive or unsuitable behaviors. You will be better equipped to handle your emotions and can cope with stressful situations far more effectively. It improves your focus and brings a sense of balance into your life. By strengthening your self-control, you can improve your self-esteem and confidence. Lack of willingness to change and improve, or lack of self-discipline and lack of faith in yourself or in your abilities can weaken your ability to develop self-control. Sticking to your goals and to follow through your plans, you need to have strong control on your emotions to resist short-term desire and temptation.
So, How do you develop greater self-control?
Delayed gratification or self-control is a skill better learned as children, but for those of us who did not receive this form of guidance, it can be still learnt and can be improved with practice and persistence. Here are some ways to enhance your self-control.
1. Gain clarity and set specific goals that you want to control. Set concrete and specific goals like in which areas of your life you would like to enforce more self-control. For example, what goal do you have and what is your intent for accomplishing it? is it regarding health or time management ? would you like to spend less time on your distractions so you can use that time to work or study? or Do you want to follow a healthy diet? You can make an inner commitment by understanding the benefits once you implement those changes and plan ahead on how to go about achieving those changes. Think of how you are going to adapt in case things don’t workout as expected. Gaining clarity keeps you disciplined and focused.
2. Increase the value of your purposeful tasks. Being purposeful in your tasks makes your life more meaningful and significant and you will be driven intrinsically to give it your best. Since such purposeful action has an intrinsic reward tied to it, you see immediate benefit in taking that action. You will be also motivated by the long-term rewards that will result in future if your tasks remain purposeful. All temptations and distractions come with immediate gratification and draw you away from tasks that have no immediate reward attached with it. So, our minds have a tendency of discounting the value of future rewards. So by keeping your tasks more purposeful and meaningful, you can over-ride momentary impulses and can reduce the habit of discounting the value of future.
3. Find the balance. Having self-control is not about total abstinence. It is more to do with finding the right balance. Denying yourself or suppressing what you need is as bad as over-indulging. You can do so by asking yourself these questions. Do you often over-indulge in things you like? As soon as you get something, are you looking for the next? If you want something in large quantities, isn’t it going to affect your health or well-being? How far would you go to get what you want? Do you enjoy it enough to make it worthwhile or simply move on to wanting some more of it or something else? By knowing the difference between your need and want, you can strive for balance.
4. Use your emotions to achieve a challenging goal. Cognitive strategies such as will power, distraction, reasoning and the like do work at times, but they are not optimal. Using these mechanisms to suppress your desires for immediate satisfaction can work, but it gets stressful and requires much effort that can affect your well-being. Instead, using your emotions can be powerful for developing self-control. Emotions such as desire, sadness, or anger push you towards short-term concerns. But if you rely on emotions such as gratitude, compassion, persistence, cooperation or perseverence when temptations arise, you will be able to have a long-term view and these right emotions can nudge your mind to favorable future gains over immediate ones.
5. Gratitude boosts self-control . Feelings of gratitude encourage you to resist and overcome selfish temptations when dealing with others. Gratitude stems from recognising that others have offered us something of value. We feel grateful when we feel others have invested in us, which makes us willing ṭo return the favor in future. Whether you’re paying people back for their investment in you with money, time or effort, gratitude nudges you to sacrifice your own gains in the moment to build better relationships for the long term. Gratitude not only builds self-control but also in helping others you also help yourselves down the line.
6. Practice compassion. Like gratitude, compassion motivates you to care for about others. It starts a virtuous cycle by encouraging people to take that first step to sacrifice time, money or some other resource to benefit another even if other is their own future self. Care and compassion towards others and towards your future self drives your willingness to sacrifice in the moment and produces an effortless self-control. It decreases the value we attach to objects and events that offer immediate gratification and this makes it easier to persevere in ways that pay off in future.
7. Meditate regularly. Reflect on thoughts and beliefs that push you to behave in an uncontrolled manner. Practice forgiving and empathizing with yourself for failures as opposed to criticizing yourself. Set some affirmations to act with self-restraint and self-control. Even taking a little as ten minutes a day to focus on your breathing can improve your ability to resist disruptive impulses. By recognising your self-talk and reflecting on past-failures and writing your internal dialogue makes you less vulnerable to impulsive actions.
“Meditation and mindfulness training are essentially exercises in self-control. From controlling the focal point of one’s attention… to a controlled awareness of whatever is going on internally or externally at that particular moment”
Mastering self-control in various situations in your day to day activities takes consistent practice in small ways. It is important to gradually increase your ability to resist larger temptations over time.
The following questions can help you assess your self-control. What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to having self-control and what can you do to overcome it? Can you recall a time you demonstrated strong self-control? Can you recall a time you gave into your temptations or instant gratifications? How much self-control do you have when it comes to your diet or exercise? Does your spending and buying reflect self-restraint? What habits would you like ṭo change to strengthen your self-control?
Recognise the areas where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving into those impulses, use the above strategies to work your way up to resist them and strengthen your resolve. Also it is important to remember that to resist immediate gratification, do not ignore or suppress certain emotions. Find ways to embrace gratitude, perseverence, compassion, forgiving and empathizing with your future self. The more self-control you exercise, the more freedom you experience from the irrational impulses that could take you away from your goals.
We all have certain personal behaviours we wish we could change. Whether this change can be related to healthy eating choices, lifestyle choices, decisions related to work or relationship choices. Some of us set goals to achieve our dreams or improve our behaviour and wellness. And in order to achieve these goals, certain negative habitual patterns need to be replaced by positive ones that actually stick. But despite our intentions, more often we fail to be consistent in our efforts. When we are starting out in a new goal, we are full of energy and enthusiasm. We eagerly make changes in the first few weeks. But as the days pass on, the newness wears off and we fall off the wagon back into old behavioural and habitual patterns. Many lack potential to be consistent with the change.
Why is it difficult to change and be consistent with change once we decide upon it!
The main reason being our own perception of change. We begin to form these perceptions from a young age. Because of this, thinking of change makes us feel uneasy and we start resisting changes we wish we could have made. Because of the perceived risk or fear attached to it, we end up procrastinating, stressing ourselves up or ending up dropping the changes and resorting to old behavioural or negative habitual patterns.
We always have a choice when it comes to choosing between self-managed lifestyle and our present orientation. Most of our positive habits develop out of necessity, without specific intention. This can make us inconsistent in following our resolutions inspite of putting in the time and effort. We are often unaware and unprepared for change because of our habitual nature of our behaviour, which drives much of our daily activities as often as usual. Change in our habitual behaviour cannot happen in linear fashion or in a single moment but only occurs gradually.
Factors that obstruct change
When we want to implement a change, we temporarily face resistance by becoming angry and withdrawn. Thinking “it’s all hopeless and impossible to make changes, so, why try?” or “just stay the way you are” is what usually keeps you from it. when we have some habitual and behavioural patterns buried deeply within us, often our reaction is to think the approach is silly, or it doesn’t make sense, or unacceptable. We don’t want to do it. Because of this it becomes difficult to switch between habitual behaviour and deliberate decision. The effective method is to reduce the habitual control over behaviour and modify the factors that control the behaviour.
Here are some factors which impede your ability to be consistent with the change.
• Even when you know your old habits are inefficient, you remain convinced that they are necessary for success.
• Your environment is unsupportive of the habits you are trying to cultivate or the changes you’re trying to make.
• Undervaluing the achievement and overvaluing the importance of the interruption.
• Misplaced belief in a less effective habit leads you astray and a positive belief in bad habits turn a habit into a permanent behaviour.
• Lack of motivation and lack of conscious intention towards change.
• Incorrect perception of the advantages of change and deeply ingrained contrary perspectives interfere with your ability to keep up with the change.
• Having an inflated self control belief or overestimating the ability to control can increase chances of exposing yourself to impulsiveness.
• Not having proper commitment to plan, act and make substantial adjustments to keep up with the intended change.
To shift from habit to goal-directed action, you have to make an effort to do small things that will add up to you moving in that direction of change. The mind is a pattern making system. You should be capable of breaking out of inherited collective mind-patterns and cast off your limitations in order to adopt to your new behaviour to be in consistent with it.
Here are certain ways to progress in the direction of change and to be consistent.
Identify consistent cues
Our behaviours are triggered by physical and mental cues. When you put your plans into action, you have to make substantial adjustments to your routine, environment, your relationship and to yourself in order to further the change you desire. For instance, if you are looking to decrease procrastination, you should follow a realistic and purposeful daily schedule. By engaging in habits consistently, you can maintain a stable routine. Identify those things that happen with relative consistency from your daily routine and use them as anchors for your new behaviour or habits.
Be persistent in your efforts
From the moment you decide to make a change until you get the demonstration, there is a transitional period. You tend to go back and forth between what was and what you would like to be or to have. Don’t beat yourself up for the step backward and view it as a relapse into past habits. Trust that you will have plenty of days in the future to get back on track. At the same time remember to praise yourself for each small step forward that you make. Reflect back on advantages of the commitment you have made to be persistent in your efforts.
Develop insight awareness
Most of the times, you may not find yourself commit to making a change because of feeling a overwhelming sense of uncertainty. By analysing the advantages and disadvantages of continuing with the proposed behaviour and thinking through all possible avenues towards change, can help you in setting measurable goals and not to give up on them easily. It is essential to look at how your old habitual behaviour may conflict with your personal goals. This can be helpful to correct your perception of the advantage of change and can motivate you to progress in the direction of change.
Rely on intrinsic motivation
Sometimes, intrinsic motivation enhances your efforts of staying consistent with change by directly reinforcing the changed habits or behaviour. If you are intrinsically motivated, you continue with the changed habit or behaviour because you find it inherently satisfying. On the other hand, if your change is influenced by pressure from others, your willingness to be with the change will be short lived. By knowing why that desired change is important to you, you can reinforce your willingness to keep up and you can get through brief periods of temptation and can provide yourself with positive reinforcement of your changed behaviour or habit.
Once your desired habit or behaviour is established, chances of returning to old habits or behaviour may always be present. It is important to avoid those things that might trigger your old behaviours or habits to reappear. Avoid overthinking or feeling guilty if you find yourself fluctuating back and forth. Reflecting upon these triggers can help you avoid them the next time around. Acknowledge your responsibility in having created that condition and plan on what you would do differently in the future to avoid these triggers.
Develop mental agility to deal with change more effectively. Work on your own change. Do not identify with unhappy, fearful and limited self. Cast off your limitations. Break out of inherited collective mind-patterns and habits to achieve whatever you intend.
The majority of people fail at building life-changing habits because they start strong but give up early. You can’t focus on achieving something overnight. It takes time until you are strong in the new and have gone through complete change. Until then, you must be vigilant in your endeavours to change. Even the tiniest of efforts, when done consistently that brings you good results over time.
Notice if any of your long-standing behaviours are causing anxiety, guilt, fear, or depression, identify as to what factors are controlling your behaviour and work on changing them one by one and stay consistent in your efforts.
“No matter how well informed you may be, no matter how highly developed are your intellectual abilities, without right focus and concentration you cannot achieve perfection.”
Your focus determines the experiences you have and the experiences you have determine the life you live. Each time you focus negatively on things, your brain solidifies its habitual pathways and distracts and takes you away from your abilities. A positive focus increases your potential by not wasting your attention levels and gives you better access to your abilities.
To achieve life of your desired experiences, you need to strengthen your positive focus and should stop focusing on negative pathways. With right focus, you can manage yourself and your time in a more productive manner. Concentrating on the activities you choose enables you to create a life of your choice by devoting more time to your priorities.
Essence of right focus
Focus is not only essential in our professional life, but also is important in our personal lives. We need right focus in order to develop some skills to improve things and solve problems in our day to day life.
The ability to focus develops a strong will which can be applied to change your habits or mindsets in order to improve your productivity. Strong will to focus weakens the distractions thereby inhibiting the wrong impulses and improves self-control which leads to good emotional adjustment, better interpersonal skills, and adaptability.
“Those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional turbulence. The power to disengage our attention from one thing and move it to another is essential for well-being.”
Power of right focus
One essential quality for the success is the ability to concentrate entire thought upon the idea you are working on. All achievements in any line of work is the result of having right focus. Practicing focus management lets you explore by disengaging yourself from distractions and search for new possibilities. This makes you flexible to choose what is important to you and does not let distractions derail your aspirations and intentions.
By improving your focus, you can gain more skills to do better work each day.
Focusing and directing your attention to the right things and the ability to guide the others attention in the rightful direction also develops your leadership skills and makes you a good decision-maker.
Focus is developed by making conscious effort and it takes great mental strength but once learned takes you closer to the realisation of your dreams.
6 Keys to build right focus
1. Set a clear goal
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”
Know what you want by setting clear goals and purpose. When you have a clear goal, you know what will get you closer to it and what won’t and you don’t get caught up in distractions. This way, you don’t end up wasting time on things that hold you back. Knowing your purpose is sometimes all you need to build your focus.
“ Focus is not just selecting the right thing, but also saying no to the wrong ones.” Whatever is relevant to your goal gets priority.
2. Develop a strong will-power
The will- power can guide your inner focus towards achieving your goals. “It acts like a beam of light. It does little if gets scattered, but if you use it to focus, it can work like laser.”
An extrinsic motivation can only keep you focused for short time, but you need to develop a strong will to build right focus to act on your goals for longer time and to keep you on the right path tuning out distractions. Apply the will power to focus on desired habits.
3. Have better self-control
“Focus on your potential instead of your limitations.”– Alan Loy McGinnis
All of us have different tendencies. One wants us to advance towards our dreams and goals and the other wants to pull us back and distracts. Both natures try to gain control. The one that we focus upon gets cultivated and decides what we become.
Focus on your abilities and not on your limitations or fears. Choice lies with us whether we allow the inner self to control us or whether we will be controlled by the brute within us.
4. Practice gratitude
Be thankful to what you have. This creates the right focus on your abilities to achieve your goals. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you weigh yourself down by self created negativity. Practice being unattached to the results or outcomes of your tasks. Focus on what is in front of you and on the process, this creates a clear vision. Appreciate yourself everytime you apply right focus each day to accomplish these goals.
5. Avoid multitasking
Some of us scatter our focus trying ṭo get too many little things done instead of focusing on higher priority tasks. When jugglers keep objects in the air at once, they focus on only one object in any given moment, if they scatter their attention among all objects, they may drop all of them.
Multitasking leads to inefficiency and creates stress. So focus on your priorities and handle them one at a time. Do those things more slowly and completely to maintain and gain more focus.
6. Practice being in the moment
Most days, our minds are in ten different places at any one time. As soon as we try to focus, thousands of undesired impulses rush into the brain and try to disturb us. By developing present moment awareness you will be able to reclaim your focus and will be able to unlock your full potential. Devote time to practice mindfulness and try doing your daily activities as form of meditation by concentrating and doing them slowly and completely.
Finally, commit to yourself by eliminating multitude of distractions in your life by concentrating on only those activities that have power to make a difference in the way you want to live or work. You can direct your attention towards finding your focus and develop the confidence to stay committed and motivated to achieve your goal. A sustained focus refines your efficiencies and improves your overall performance.