Monday, 20 August 2012

How to control your self-control function

Can you control your ‘self control’ function?

Apparently you should never go food shopping when you are hungry…..and especially not when you are on a diet and hungry!

When is it hardest for you to regulate your emotions, to control your impulses and to resist temptation? For many, self control tends to break down late in the day: after a long demanding day we are more likely to satisfy our hunger with a takeaway, treat ourselves to a glass of wine or a beer, switch on the TV or YouTube to switch off, desist zipping our lip, descend into addictive relapses, and give in to temptation, than we would do in the morning.

Why is self-control important? Because it is proven to be a reliable predictor of superior performance at school and at work {read the story of the original experiment with children in this article

It is a well-accepted theory now that self – control (or good old fashioned ‘willpower’) is not based, as was once believed, on a notion of inner strength but is to do with energy. Those with the best self-control are recognized as having well developed habits that facilitate performance rather than possessing heroic will power. Because self-control relies on energy, it is an exhaustible resource that can be used up. Very interestingly Roy Baumeister, a psychologist, has shown repeatedly that when we apply mental energy to desist from impulsive behavior then we are a lot more likely to perform poorly in the next, unrelated, task that requires self-control.

How then can we control our self-control? One answer is glucose. Baumeister and colleagues discovered that when people drank a glucose rich drink after a demanding task, they performed much better than those who didn’t in the next opportunity to resist temptation. In a remarkable study of judges in Israel researchers demonstrated that a convict whose case comes up just before lunch has a near zero probability of getting parole compared to a convict who appears immediately after lunch in front of the bench – 65% of those were released. 

More recent research shows that experiences that stimulate a positive mood also has the effect of restoring depleted energy – watching or listening to comedy can achieve this. Back to habit and habit formation – how are your habits? In ‘The Power of Full Engagement’, authors Loehr and Schwartz make the significant connections between mental energy, impulse control and positive daily habits. The fundamental need of human beings they say is to spend and recover energy – our capacity to do this well reflects our capacity to do good ‘work’ every day. Like an athlete, we need to train, perform and recover. The only problem is that most corporate ‘athletes’ or leaders are constantly performing i.e. ‘sprinting a marathon’.

Taking time out to assess the habits and rituals you have in place, consciously or unconsciously is an investment in yourself, which is guaranteed to deliver results. If you are interested in identifying ways you can invest time in improving your performance and less time struggling with temptation, depleted relationships and poor productivity, then please get in touch.

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