Screw Self Control: The 2-Step Process To Becoming Better At Everything
Self control and willpower are overrated. To get things done, you must focus your energy on removing temptation and setting action triggers. This post shows you how.
I have a confession: I suck at self-control.
I’m reminded of this every time I visit my girlfriend’s parent’s house. You see, they always have a plate of cookies or candy or something delicious sitting on the kitchen counter. The last time we went to visit, it was a beautiful plate full of gooey homemade cinnamon rolls.
I told myself I was just gonna have one.
An hour later I had eaten FOUR.
It may sound ridiculous, but the guilt I felt at not being able to control myself outweighed my gut’s unhappy reaction to so much sugar, salt, and fat.
And it made me think about why I don’t have cinnamon rolls sitting on my counter: They’re just way too tempting.
When they’re right in front of me, I have to use all my willpower and self control to not eat them. (And most of the time, the cinnamon rolls win.)
We all have moments of self-control blips like this, of course. Moments of “weakness” where we tell ourselves we’re gonna do X…and we end up doing Y anyway.
A lot of this has to do with temptation and self-sabotage:
- We say we’re not gonna eat “junk food”…but then we tempt ourselves by keeping chips, frozen pizzas, and Oreos in the house.
- We say we’re gonna make it to the gym 3 days per week…but we forget our workout clothes or pick a gym that’s a pain in the ass to get to.
- We say we’re gonna check email or Facebook only twice per day…but we tempt ourselves by keeping an alert that pops up on our phone every time we get a new message.
That’s why here at S2B, we always encourage guys who want to get better — at eating healthy food, working out, being productive, and more — to do two things:
1. Remove temptation.
2. Create “action triggers” that set you up for success.
Here’s how to do it for yourself.
Step 1: Remove Temptation
Think of self-control and willpower — the ability to restrain your own impulses — as muscles. What happens when you work your muscles hard? They get tired and less effective.
So just like your biceps will eventually give out after too many dumbbell curls, your “willpower muscle” will give out after making too many decisions.
In other words, it’s a lot easier to avoid eating junk food in the morning when your willpower is fresh and functioning. But it gets a little harder to resist temptation at 8PM when you get home from work and see a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips in your cupboard.
But by strategically removing temptation, you’ll keep your willpower muscles fresh.
How do you remove temptation? A couple of ideas:
- If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t buy junk food or keep it in the house. (You can’t eat it if it’s not there.)
- If your constant “connectedness” is bothering you, consider canceling your Facebook or email alerts that let you know when you have a new message. Or just delete email or Facebook off your phone altogether. (You can’t check it if it’s not there.)
When you don’t have to choose whether or not to do something, you keep your willpower muscle fresh and can more easily avoid the “bad” behavior.
But it doesn’t stop with simply removing temptation. To make huge progress with your health, productivity, or whatever else you want to get better at, you need to do one more thing.
Step 2: Create “Action Triggers”
In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath talk about creating “action triggers” to help people follow through with their new habits.
For example, you might say, “Tomorrow I’m gonna go straight from work to the gym and work out before I go home.”
You’ve just tied a specific behavior (working out) to a specific situational trigger (leaving work).
According to the Heath brothers and NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, action triggers are effective because “they eliminate the need for conscious deliberation.”
In other words, when we set action triggers — like laying our workout clothes on the bed in the morning or setting a stopwatch to count down the amount of time we’re spending on social media sites — we’re “pre-deciding” what we’re going to do: get our ass to the gym and not stalk random high-school friends for more than 5 minutes.
Seriously, Give Yourself a Break
We guys are notoriously hard on ourselves. When we do something we think is bad or stupid, we become self-loathing. We question our own manhood and ability to follow-through.
“Ugh, I shouldn’t have…”
“I really fkd that one up.”
I don’t want to get all preachy, but that kind of negative self talk is hurting more than it’s helping. It’s a real confidence wrecker that’s also unnecessary.
Here’s the truth: no one has 100% willpower and self-control all the time. There is no perfect superman-type who has everything figured out. You, me, him…we’re all making it up as we go.
The important thing to remember is that we’re not in competition with other guys on this stuff. We’re only in competition with ourselves.
And It’s up to us to hold ourselves to a high standard…but also cut ourselves some slack when we inevitably “screw up.”
It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better.
So if you’re trying to start a new habit or make a significant change in your life, know that me and the guys at S2B are in the same boat as you.
Sometimes we skip the gym when we know we should go.
We eat junk food without thinking.
We check our phones when we should be enjoying our conversation with friends.
We waste entire days watching random YouTube videos when we should be working.
But we’re also working on getting better. Not by blindly trying to build more self-control, but by removing the need altogether.
The bottom line: If you learn to give your self-control and willpower a break — if you learn to remove temptation and set action triggers — you’ll find that you’ll stick to your guns more often, get better at everything you try, and be healthier and happier because of it.
What Temptation Will You Remove? What Action Trigger Will You Set?
To get the conversation started, here’s one of my recent ones:
Removing temptation: To avoid doing the “iPhone pray” and checking texts at the dinner table when I’m out with friends, I’m gonna leave my phone in my car when I go out to eat.
Action trigger: When I pull up to the restaurant, I’ll send a text to everyone I’m meeting to let them know I’ve arrived and that I’ll be leaving my phone in the car.
What About YOu?
If you’re game, give it some thought and share one temptation you plan on removing or an action trigger you’re gonna set in the comments.
Note: Contrats to Zack and Todd for each winning a copy of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Check your email, guys.