Radical Self-Regulation & Will Power

         Developing will and self-regulating can have a tremendously positive, life-changing impact in your life. And the good news is that self-regulation is like a muscle. You can strengthen it.

         Start by evaluating your willpower and self-regulation. Cut yourself some slack. Remember that you probably weren’t taught how to increase you willpower and self-regulation.

         Will is actually a limited resource. You do your best at self-regulation when you are rested and your willpower tank is full. Early in the day is better than late in the day. If you can find at least a few minutes early in the day, focus on a goal. If it's exercise, walk or workout early in the day – you’ll be much more consistent than trying to fulfill those intentions to do it after work when the self-regulation tank is closer to empty.

         When setting a willpower goal, define your standards and values. What are you working toward? Why is it that you are dragging yourself out of bed every morning to go to the gym? What would it mean to be healthier and more physically fit? And as you move toward the standard you have set for yourself, explore potential values conflicts. Does spending more time at the gym mean skipping breakfast with your partner and/or the kids before school? Is it worth it?

         Monitor your behaviors. If you are trying to stop being late, keep a log of when you arrive on time and when you are late. If you are trying to eat less, keep a food diary, and avoid eating while your attention is diverted elsewhere (e.g., to a screen or conversation).

         Focus on physical self-care. Your ability to self-regulate is impaired when you are fatigued or stressed, so watch out for those evenings when your reservoir is low. Use routines and schedules to minimize temptations and distractions. For example, if you are creating a healthier diet you might order groceries online or strictly adhere to a list to avoid agonizing moments in the snack and junk food aisle.

         So don't tackle everything at once. Start with one area that could use some work and focus on it. Pace yourself. Remember that even dissimilar activities like resisting a cigarette, making a series of difficult decisions, keeping your cool at work, and persevering on a writing task all deplete the reservoir. Don't make the classic New Year's Resolution mistake and attempt to stop a number of unhealthy habits at once.

         Look for small opportunities to strengthen your self-regulation muscle. If you love sweet desserts, reduce the risk but test yourself mildly. Eat a full meal at a restaurant so that you're not hungry, then deliberately walk by the dessert counter and look at the dessert. If you love to read at night but it keeps you up too late, plan to stop reading one night at exactly the top of the hour, even if you're in the middle of a chapter.


Here are a few suggestions you might consider:

Get a good night’s sleep! And eat a decent breakfast! Don't start your day with your self-regulatory tank (or your stomach) only partially full. (Refer to my blog post on how to improve sleep and how to feed yourself.)



Tom Daly