Temptation is all around us. So we can quickly get led astray.
Maybe we follow the lead of someone who’s a bad influence. But let’s face it, we can often be our own worst enemy and don’t need any help losing our self-control.
But the most restrained people can avoid the urge. Here are some of the things you won’t find them giving in to…
1) Bad-mouthing and negative gossip
The truth is that not all gossip is created equal.
In itself, it’s not actually a totally bad thing. In fact, psychologists say it is a social skill.
According to Megan Robbins, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California:
“It’s just social information and we learn a lot about the social world around us when we gossip.”
But being a so-called “bad gossiper” means that you maliciously share info in a reckless way or in order to get one over on someone.
Experts believe the urge we feel to gossip about others is fairly hardwired into us as a social tool throughout evolution.
This explains why it’s so difficult to resist and requires plenty of willpower.
Ah, the enemy of productivity and progress — procrastination.
Procrastination is a slippery little sucker.
We often try to defeat it with willpower alone. Yet it can still seem to get the best of us.
That’s because it’s not just about avoidance.
Procrastination comes loaded with a whole host of associated negative feelings.
We layer on guilt, anxiety, and shame.
That’s what demotivates us even further until we want to run and hide. And so it creates a downward spiral.
Hence, to well and truly kick procrastination we have to practice kinder self-talk as well as taking practical steps to avoid it.
- Removing distractions
- Breaking tasks down into smaller chunks
- Setting rewards to motivate you
Good intentions can very quickly go out of the window.
Maybe you’ve been told that’s because willpower is actually a limited resource. And sooner or later it’s going to run out.
That was the general belief for many years until more recent research started to contradict this theory of so-called ‘ego depletion’.
I guess it’s good news.
But perhaps not if you’ve been using it as your go-to excuse for why you so easily lose self-control.
If (like me) your go-getter attitude can quickly slide back into the sloth mentality, then we need to find better systems to claw our way out of laziness.
- Leaning on routine and creating a structured schedule
- Setting achievable and measurable goals
- Letting go of perfectionism and just doing your best
- Recognizing your efforts and small achievements you make along the way
4) Blowing a fuse
Self-control isn’t just about saying no to that second helping of chocolate cake.
True mastery includes keeping a handle on our emotions as well.
It’s not that those with strong self-control don’t get wound up.
It doesn’t mean they weren’t even tempted to give that guy the middle finger when he cut them off on the highway.
But they aim to regulate their feelings, rather than repress them.
That requires a healthy dose of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Some techniques that can help support this include:
- Accepting your feelings (even the so-called “bad” ones) rather than trying to push them away
- Journalling about your emotions to better understand them
- Using breathing techniques and meditation to calm yourself down and get rid of excess cortisol (stress hormone) in your system
- Flipping the script to actively look for the positives instead of the negatives in every situation
5) Excess indulgence
Last week I met a friend at the park.
There’s this nice cafe bar that overlooks a peaceful water feature. And we love to sit in the afternoon sunshine to have a catch-up over a drink.
I live in Portugal, the birthplace of Sangria (yep, it’s not just Spain). By my second one, I knew that was my limit…
Buttttt…I couldn’t resist.
It turns out that three Sangrias do not help my productivity levels the following day.
So why do we do it ourselves?
We may binge on TV, food, or drink, all the while knowing it’s not healthy.
We usually do it in the pursuit of feeling good in the moment (even if that is short-lived and followed by guilt).
Research has even found there may be an unhelpful circuit in the brain that prompts overindulgence.
So needless to say, quitting this habit takes plenty of self-control.
- Awareness and mindfulness about what we’re doing
- Avoiding our triggers in the first place
- Distracting ourselves when facing temptation
- Reminding yourself of the reasons why you shouldn’t indulge
6) Lying and cheating
Doing the right thing can take more self-control than we perhaps care to admit.
You may have a strong moral compass. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be tested when you are presented with a dilemma:
Do I do what’s in my own best interest, or what is right?
Some lying is commonplace and often harmless. Those little white lies may promote politeness — like saying you like your girlfriend’s new dress even though you don’t.
But other whoppers can be malignant. They destroy trust, respect, and cooperation.
So what makes us lie and cheat?
Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and author of “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty” conducted research to find out.
We’re more likely to be dishonest when:
- We rationalize it
- There’s a conflict of interest
- We’re very creative and imaginative individuals
- We see others lie/cheat
- We’re tired and stressed
We’re less likely to be dishonest when:
- We’re supervised
- We’re given a moral reminder at the moment of temptation
- We pledge honesty (or sign a form to confirm honesty)
Perhaps rather interestingly, what we stand to gain or the probability of getting caught didn’t have an impact on our likelihood to be dishonest.
It’s good to be clued up on what’s happening in the world.
But technology has created a 24-7 connected culture. And it doesn’t always do our mental health any favors.
Doomscrolling is when we fall down the rabbit hole, obsessively checking negative news.
And let’s face it, even when our excessive social media use is more innocuous, it can still be damaging.
If you’re on your second hour of cat memes, it’s not exactly the best way to spend your time.
The tricky part is that these tools have been specifically designed to get us hooked. So we can quickly become addicted.
As Max Fisher explains in his new book, The Chaos Machine:
“Dopamine creates a positive association with whatever behaviors prompted its release, training you to repeat them….When that dopamine reward system gets hijacked, it can compel you to repeat self-destructive behaviors. To place one more bet, binge on alcohol—or spend hours on apps even when they make you unhappy.”
The best ways to avoid this pitfall are:
- Setting yourself time limits for its use
- Avoiding it whenever you’re feeling down
- Considering your triggers and what prompts you to use it
- Creating boundaries around its use
- Taking breaks from it regularly
8) Giving up when things become challenging
Let’s start by clarifying, giving up isn’t the same as changing your mind.
Sometimes it’s smart to let go of things that we’re no longer feeling motivated about.
Similarly, it’s wise to correct your course and come up with a new plan of action instead of stubbornly seeing something through.
But in the words of Billie Ocean: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.
Most success demands tenacity and staying power — and that calls for self-control.
It can be oh-so alluring to simply throw in the towel and admit defeat.
We may give up on our goals and dreams because they seem so far out of reach —and quite frankly a whole lot of effort.
So how do we find the determination to go the distance?
- Figure out what you really want (you’re more likely to give up if it doesn’t inspire a sense of purpose or meaning for you)
- Use goal-setting models that actually work
- Confront the excuses that hold you back (when you can see your stumbling blocks you can better avoid them)
- Tackle your inner critic who demotivates you, and actively practice positive self-talk
Final thoughts: We all succumb to some temptations
Before I go, I have to make a confession about the title of this article.
Because the thing is:
Temptation is by its nature near on impossible to NEVER EVER succumb to.
We’re all just human. So ever those with amazing self-control can still struggle from time to time.
We just have to use our judgment and values to recognize when it’s ok to indulge, and when it’s holding us back.