I keep falling in love. It is always this dangerous kind of love, addictive love. It is as if I turn off my brain, and fall prey to the tornado of feelings. Evolution endowed us with many gifts, one is our large prefrontal cortex, which gives us better ability to control ourselves compared to our ancient ancestors and the rest of the animal kingdom. We can think, we can choose not to react, we can plan, we can evaluate alternative actions. Just like we train our body to be physically strong, we must train our mind to be strong as well.
Here are few things we can do to take advantage of the fact that we got a brain and improve our self-control:
- Have a balanced life. Reduce stress by planning activities giving ourselves plenty of time for rest and play. Set up time to have relaxing healthy meals, set up time for exercise, set up time for work and friendships.
- Stay focused on your goals. “Plan your work, then work your plan.” Margaret Thatcher. We must have a plan, and we must stick with it. By planning we reduce the chaos and unpredictability around us. We become secure in our environment.
- Never overestimate our willpower, never assume. We may think we conquered our weakness, but the smartest thing to do is to stay clear of temptation. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking you must avoid the company of smokers, avoid stores that sell cigarettes…. And be prepared to do this forever!
- Change our thinking and behavioral patterns. We must develop healthy habits. It takes time and repetition to overwrite the bad habit with a good habit. Keep reinforcing (repeating) the good habit. Postpone the reaction, postpone the decision. Fight the impulsiveness by taking a deep breath and walking away without reacting.
- Get rid of automatic “bad” thoughts. A lot of times we become negative without even realizing it, a negative thought arises and we go with it. Do not suppress bad thoughts about indulging in unwanted behavior, instead replace those thoughts with the good thoughts of your goals and success. Think always positive.
- No redemption for bad behavior. If you indulge and overeat today, the trip to the gym next day will not redeem you.
- Notice things/situations that prompt you to indulge your weakness. Resolve the situation before you relapse. For example, after a stressful day you crave a cigarette, which helps you to relax. Take control, as soon as you start feeling stressed take a break, go to the gym, watch a movie, just stop. Find a substitution healthy activity to fight stress.
- Do not allow for loser mentality. Train yourself not to give up. The more you quit the easier it gets to quit again and again.
- Believe in your ability to achieve the goal.