But, I exercised a little self-control, settled on a second slice and a big serving of salad and felt filled up rather than guilty.
It doesn’t always go like this. Sometimes I do reach for the extra slice and end up feeling too full and sick. Or, I say the thing I shouldn’t say; buy the notebook, (I’m a writer office supplies are the ultimate indulgence), though I have two new ones in the drawer.
But instead of following every whim – every time — I’m working on building my self-control. Turns out you can actually do this and the more self-control you have, the less edgy and reactive you’ll be.
Big Problems With Little Self-Control
We all know people who tend to react impulsively. Those who buy too much, drink too much, eat too much or fly into a fit of rage over the smallest annoyances. We call those who take violent or aggressive action when ticked off, well, uh, criminals. I mean who hasn’t wanted to haul off and smack someone who’s acting like a jerk – but most of us have enough self-control NOT to do that. Those who don’t, end in deep trouble for doing things they can’t take back.
Still, the rest of us struggle with self-control issues all the time. It’s part of the human experience and it’s exhausting. That is why it can be so hard hard to resist family-sized bag of M&M’s at the end of a stressful day.
Whether you gobble every last one up, or not, depends on how depleted your reserves of self-control are, according to science bigwigs like Thomas Denson, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales.
Denson’s studies show that people who were under duress for a period of time have less self-control. In one experiment participants sat in front of a plate of cookies but were told not to eat any. Later, these same people demonstrated more aggressive behavior after receiving negative feedback from a loved one than those whose self-control hadn’t been tested.
When Self-Control Takes a Hit
Think about how this phenomena shows up in daily life then. A nit-picking boss drives you all day to make ridiculous changes to a report you authored. You nod your head, put up with his remarks, and do what you’re told without making trouble. In the end though, you might indulge in the extra cookie at lunch time or snipe at your husband over a stupid comment he makes at dinner, or you sit on Facebook rather than finishing the work you need to get done. You’ve worked to keep your self-control in check all day and you’ve had ENOUGH already.
This can happen with food or shopping or anything. While I’m disciplined and will eat healthy for weeks at a time, I may overindulge when somebody brings in a bag of potato chips. Sound familiar?
With a bit more self-control, though, we can feel calmer and less reactive even when stress levels do rise or temptations appear – which they always do. In Wednesday’s post, I’ll tell you how to do it.