For Greater Self-Control Remove Temptations From Your Environment

Since it is the holiday season and for many people there is an abundance of food and other temptations that may lead to unhealthy outcomes let me follow up on the post from last week and reminder us what is the best way to have our desires under control.

Self-control is magical. Those with good self-control have better relationships and careers, are healthier, less likely to smoke, overspend, overeat, procrastinate, and generally avoid addictive behavior. But how does it work, and what can you do to increase your self-control?

Wilhelm Hofmann, Roy Baumeister, Georg Forster, and Kathleen Vohs focused their research on understanding how key personality traits, such as self-control, perfectionism, behavior activation, inhibitions, and entitlement, produce differences in how strongly people experience desires. And consequently, whether they can resist those desires.

Desires split into two groups depending on whether they are aligned with a person’s values and goals or whether they conflict with them. Those desires that conflict with the values and goals are problematic.

“Effective self-control is often a result of establishing habits and routines that helps us to avoid temptations in the first place.”

The traditional model of self-control is based on the idea that low self-control is a result of either little motivation to resist the desire or a low ability to restrain oneself. Possibly both. It would mean those who exhibit high self-control are much more motivated or abler to resist. Recent research suggested a different view. It added an aspect of habits and avoidance. Effective self-control is often a result of establishing habits and routines that helps us to avoid temptations in the first place. Why waste your precious energy resisting the temptation to drink a bottle of wine sitting in front of you if you can walk away and not be exposed to the temptation at all?

Hofmann and the team concluded that the second model is more accurate. Self-control operates more on the principle of avoiding temptations than actually resisting them. This is good news. You can’t blame your genes for not being able to resist temptations. There is a lot you can do. You can design your environment in such a way that you lower the chance of temptations.

For example, if you are prone to gaining weight because of snacking in front of the television, consider getting rid of all unhealthy snacks in your home. When the desire comes, you can resist because there is nothing to snack at. It is not a question of your ability to resist, which might be low, but instead of pure physics. There is nothing to eat in your house.

It is all about the environment

Self-control is closely related to habits. Build the right habits, and you will have more self-control in your life.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes the concept of cue-routine-reward. Habits start with a cue that triggers our desires for something. We then perform a learned routine with the goal of getting the expected reward. You come home and drop in front of a TV. This creates a trigger in your brain, a craving for something salty. So you follow your standard routine and reach for a bag of chips. As you taste them you get rewarded by a shot of dopamine in your brain.

The easiest way to resist is to design your environment in such a way that you remove as many temptations as possible and make it easy for you to enact the behavior you want. Routinize your life with the right default options.

What is your take on the topic? Do you believe that self-control is a good thing? In what situations is too much self-control harmful? Do you know someone with superior self-control skills, and how do they behave? How do you increase self-control?

Photo: Fotorech /

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Quiet Success by Tomas Kucera

Categories: Life

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