5 Ways to Improve Self-Control and Achieve Your Goals

Have you ever set the goal to register for a gym membership in January with the best of intentions but end up not going more than a handful of times? Or told yourself that you’ll start working on your paper first thing tomorrow, only to find yourself putting it off again and again?

Let’s be real for a minute. We all struggle with procrastination and putting off our goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine and let our aspirations fall by the wayside. But why is that? Maybe we simply lack the tools.

1. Find a role model

Turning points on the treadmill

I used to hate exercising. I mean, really hate it. The thought of going to the gym made me want to crawl back under the covers and never come out. But one day, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of feeling sluggish and out of shape, and I knew that exercise was the key to feeling better.

So, I started going to the gym regularly, but I still struggled. I would constantly check my phone, stare at my reflection in the mirror, or daydream about the pizza waiting for me at home. Every time I tried to focus on my workout, my mind would wander off.

One day, I was jogging on the treadmill and feeling particularly unmotivated. As I was about to slow down and give up, I noticed a guy on the machine next to me running at an impossibly fast pace. He was sweating profusely and panting heavily, but he didn’t slow down. He just kept going and going.

Feeling inspired, I tried to match his pace. I increased the speed on my treadmill and began running faster, but he wasn’t slowing down. I increased it again, and we ended up in a friendly competition. It was like we were two Olympic athletes competing for gold. 

As we continued running at a breakneck pace, our breathing became louder and faster. I couldn’t believe that I was actually keeping up with this guy. Suddenly, I heard a loud noise and turned my head to look. My headphones had fallen off, and my phone had landed on the treadmill, hitting the machine’s emergency stop button.

As the treadmill screeched to a halt, I stumbled and almost fell. My competition partner, who was still running at full speed, looked at me with a mix of concern and amusement. He slowed down and walked over to me, asking if I was okay.

Embarrassed, I told him I was fine, and we laughed about the mishap. But at that moment, I realized that I had been so focused on the competition that I had forgotten everything else. I wasn’t checking my phone, staring at my reflection, or daydreaming about pizza. I was just running. From that day on, we started working out together. I was amazed at his dedication and work ethic and started looking up to him as a role model. That was the end of the era of constantly checking my phone or daydreaming during my workouts. It’s also the story of how I met my husband. 

This unexpected encounter transformed my workout routine and taught me an invaluable lesson. I realized how powerful role models can shape our behavior and attitudes. And guess what! The influence of role models on self-control development became the topic of my Ph.D. thesis. So, how do we go about finding these impactful role models?

Finding your self-control role model

Seeking a role model for self-control doesn’t necessarily mean searching for famous personalities or accomplished athletes, though they can indeed be sources of inspiration. A role model can be anyone whose habits, behavior, and mindset you admire and wish to emulate. Here’s how to find the right self-control role model for you:

  1. Dive into inspiring biographies: Reading or watching the life stories of people with incredible discipline and determination can be enlightening. From famous personalities like Nelson Mandela and Marie Curie to athletes like Andre Agassi, their journeys are filled with moments of strong will and self-control (on our blog, you’ll find posts about inspiring movies and autobiographies).
  2. Surround yourself with disciplined people: Spend time with friends, family, or colleagues who exhibit the kind of self-control you aspire to have. Their habits and routines can provide real-world, relatable examples. Observing their decision-making processes and how they handle temptations can offer valuable insights.
  3. Seek mentorship: Consider seeking a mentor who can guide you, not just in professional matters but also in personal discipline and self-control. A mentor can provide personalized advice, share their own experiences, and hold you accountable for your goals.
  4. Join groups or clubs aligned with your goals: Whether it’s a writer’s club or a running group, being around people who are dedicated to a certain craft or skill can be motivating. Their commitment can serve as a daily reminder of the power of discipline.
  5. Online communities and forums: Joining forums or online communities related to your interests can introduce you to people from different walks of life, all sharing a common goal. Reading their stories, challenges, and victories can provide your daily dose of motivation.
  6. Reflect on your past: Sometimes, the best role models are the versions of ourselves that we once were. Reflecting on times when you demonstrated great self-control can serve as a personal role model, reminding you of your potential.

2. Turn the task into a game

Gamification is a fancy word for using game elements to make boring tasks more fun and engaging. It’s like adding a bit of competition and excitement to otherwise dull things.

The science behind gamification

Engaging in rewarding activities releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and reward. Games, such as earning points or achieving milestones, can trigger these dopamine releases, making the activity more satisfying.

Implementing gamification in everyday tasks

Photo by Mina Movahedi

A great example of gamification is the Forest app, which helps you stay focused and avoid distractions while working or studying. With Forest, you plant a virtual tree whenever you want to focus on a task. The tree grows as long as you stay focused and don’t use your phone. But if you get distracted and use your phone, the tree dies. This simple game-like element helps you stay focused and motivated to complete your work.

If you’re having trouble staying focused or motivated, try adding a little bit of gamification to your tasks. You might be surprised at how much it helps!

3. Create an if-then plan

Do you find it hard to balance binge-watching Netflix, doing your chores, or going to the gym? Well, there’s a trick called if-then planning that can help you stick to your goals and resist temptation.

Photo by KamranAydinov​ for Freepik

How do if-then plans work?

An If-Then strategy is a technique where you plan your response to possible challenges in advance.

For example, if you always feel like snacking at night, your plan could be to eat a piece of fruit instead of reaching for junk food. Your if-then plan would be: “If I feel the urge to snack at night, then I will eat a piece of fruit instead”. By having a clear plan in place, you’re more likely to resist temptation and make healthier choices.

A scientifically proven strategy

In a recent study, researchers examined how peer influence affects impulse buying and how if-then plans can help regulate this influence. They performed a study with high-school students imagining themselves shopping for clothes. The results showed that students who had an “if-then plan” were less likely to follow their friends’ shopping habits.

Crafting your if-then plan

So, next time you struggle with self-control, try making an if-then plan.

  1. Spot your challenges: Recognize frequent obstacles in your daily routine or tasks. If you’re aiming to exercise regularly but always fall out of the habit when it rains, a challenge could be “If it rains…”
  2. Define your response: Following our exercise example, a possible response is, “Then I will do a 30-minute indoor workout.”
  3. Stay adaptive: The effectiveness of If-Then plans can vary. It’s essential to evaluate and adjust your strategies periodically.

4. Goal setting 

Setting goals can be a great way to achieve your life goals.

Pixabay photo

How does goal setting work?

A goal acts like a compass, providing direction. With a clear end in sight, it’s easier to stay on course and resist distractions or temptations that deviate from the intended path.

By breaking down your bigger tasks into smaller, more achievable goals, you can stay motivated and on track. For example, if you’re struggling to complete a big writing task, try breaking it down into smaller, achievable goals. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to stay focused and motivated when you can see your progress over time. On A Brilliant Mind, you will find many resources to help you break your big writing goals into small ones, such as our Introduction workbook. This way, you can focus on progressing towards your bigger goal without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.

Successfully attaining goals (or even just making progress) reinforces a positive self-image, which in turn enhances self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to succeed.

How do you set goals efficiently?

Efficient goal setting is not just about deciding on an outcome but identifying a clear pathway toward that outcome.

  1. Define What You Truly Want: Before diving into the mechanics, it’s crucial to understand what you truly desire. This isn’t just about the end result but also why it matters. Reflect on your intrinsic motivations. Is this goal aligned with your values and long-term aspirations?
  2. Adopt the SMART Framework:
    • Specific: Narrow down your goal. Instead of “I want to be fit,” say “I want to lose 10 pounds in 3 months.”
    • Measurable: Ensure there’s a metric to measure progress. “Becoming a better writer” could be reframed as “Writing 500 words daily.”
    • Attainable: While it’s great to dream big, it’s also vital to ensure your goal is realistic given your current resources and constraints.
    • Relevant: Your goal should align with your broader life objectives.
    • Timely: Set a deadline. This creates a sense of urgency and purpose.
  3. Break It Down: Divide the goal into smaller tasks or milestones. This makes the process less overwhelming and allows for regular progress checks.
  4. Prioritize: Not all tasks hold equal weight. Determine the order of tasks based on importance and deadlines.
  5. Visualize Your Goals: Create a vision board, use apps, or maintain a diary. Visual reminders can be powerful motivators.
  6. Review and Adjust: Periodically check your progress. Are you on track? If not, reassess and modify your strategy. To help you review your progress, you can download our planning on Friday template.

Remember, setting a goal is just the beginning. It’s the consistent actions, periodic reviews, and unwavering commitment that transform these goals into realities.

5. Avoiding temptation:” Out of sight, out of mind.

The rationale behind avoiding temptations

During the first year of my master’s degree, I noticed that I gained a few pounds. It was because I had to study a lot and wasn’t very active. Also, whenever I came home from uni, I would buy sweets on the way, even though I didn’t really like them. I solved this problem by changing my route from uni to home, so I didn’t pass by the confectionary anymore. This “out of sight, out of mind” approach helped me avoid temptation and lose the extra pounds.

Photo by Andres Ayrton for Pexels

People with high self-control are more likely to avoid temptations and distractions. Even though they may be good at overcoming temptation, they still actively avoid circumstances that might force them to do so. For example, in a series of two studies, participants completed a questionnaire about their self-control and whether they engage in behaviors to avoid temptation. The results showed that people with high trait self-control reported engaging in more behaviors to avoid temptations and distractions. In another study, people with high self-control were likelier to work without distractions.

Overall, these studies suggest that people with high self-control manage to achieve their goals by actively avoiding tempting situations.

Implementing temptation avoidance in everyday life

Knowing that people with high self-control tend to avoid temptations is enlightening, but how can you apply this knowledge in your daily life?

  1. Audit Your Environment: Recognize areas in your home or workspace that prompt undesirable habits. Is it the cookie jar on your kitchen counter? Or perhaps the notifications on your phone while working?
  2. Rearrange: Just as changing your route helped you avoid the confectionary, consider rearranging your environment. This could mean placing healthy snacks in front of your pantry or setting specific ‘do not disturb’ hours during your workday.
  3. Mindful Shopping: Avoid buying items that you know are your weaknesses. You’re less likely to consume them if they aren’t in your home.
  4. Set Clear Boundaries: If you’re working from home, designate a specific area as your workspace. This physical separation helps in mentally distancing work from free time, reducing the temptation to mix the two.
  5. Use Technology: Employ apps that block distracting websites during work hours or monitor screen time to reduce digital temptations. At A Brilliant Mind, we’re big fans of the app Freedom.

Remember, the goal isn’t to cultivate an ascetic life devoid of all pleasures but to create an environment where good choices are easier.

In sum

Distractions and temptations are everywhere, often diverting us from our true goals. This post has provided you with proven strategies, from seeking role models to smart goal-setting and avoiding temptations to strengthen your self-control.

Implementing even one of these techniques can steer you toward success, better health, and a greater sense of purpose. Start today. Pick one strategy and make it your own.

Good luck!

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