Some people are born with immense amounts of self control and can easily say no to cake or rich and creamy treats. I am not one of those people.
When I am at the counter of a local coffee shop and I see scones and croissants and CINNAMON BUNS (my absolute weakness) I cave more often than not. For years I struggled with telling myself “no” and resisting the urge to give into sweets. Understandably, it is okay to give in occasionally to weaknesses, but constantly letting your urges control your mind can lead to a very stressful, unmanageable life. Recently, I have found the answer to my prayers in the book The Marshmellow Test by Walter Mischel.
In this book, Mischel explains how one of the first steps to managing self control is to acknowledge what is going on in your body. When you crave something, whether it is sweets, cigarettes, or even sex, it is your limbic system that is causing these urges. The limbic structures control basic drives and emotions your body needs in order to survive. Back in the day, humans needed the limbic system in order to run from predators and hunt prey. Now, we primarily rely on the limbic system for swerving out of the way when a deer jumps in front of your car. Many of you might be saying “Okay, so if this system has been programmed into human DNA for centuries, how am I supposed to change it?” The answer is actually surprisingly simple. The following are a few ways to tell your limbic system “No!” instead of “Go!”:
- Change the way you look at it– Many people can’t resist a warm, steaming, sweet cinnamon bun sitting right in front of them, but many can say no to a picture of a cinnamon bun. Simply put by Mischel “You can’t eat a picture” so your body doesn’t have that overwhelming urge to devour the sweet treat. Try putting a mental frame around the treat and pretending like its only an image. It may sound a bit neurotic, but your resulting self control may surprise you.
- Use ‘cool’ words– Which sounds more appealing to you? Lots of gooey cheese with a rich red tomato sauce topped with sizzling Italian sausage or a white pizza shaped like a triangle. Most people would chose the former. When faced with a test of self control try mental describing the treat with ‘cool’ words like white and triangle rather than ‘warm’ words like rich and gooey.
- Distraction– Distraction your mind is KEY in self control. Focusing all your time and energy on how much you want to give in is only going to lead to you giving in. Try reading a book, creating casual conversation, or pretend you are somewhere else in order to focus your mind on something else.
These are a few tips and tricks I now use in order to manage my self control. Some may sound ridiculous, but all where proven in blind studies to have a profound impact on your ability to give into weakness. So next time you are out with friends, on a date, or simply going to the coffee shop to work on an essay, try putting these tips into practice. Next thing you know, your friends will be asking you what your secret is.
//The Lokahi Sisters//