How to Improve Your Self-Control

Become Disciplined: 5 Steps To Better Self-Control & Willpower (2021)

How to Improve Your Self-Control

TLDR; The #1 driver to better self-control is not your mindset, it is your environment. Yes, self-control can be trained. But initially there is an easier way: it can be avoided.

The secret to self-control is to structure our environment so you don’t have to use it.

In this article I will explain 5 tips to skyrocket your self-control in a short period of time so you can reach either your fitness or your business goals faster.

How to improve self-control fast

We all have days where we lack the willpower or self-control to stay consistent with exercising or eating healthy. Some weeks you are feeling super motivated to crush your goals, but they are only followed by weeks where you wonder where all the motivation and drive went.

You start skipping your workouts, eat more fast food and stay up late watching funny cat videos instead of dreaming about hitting a new PR. But before you conclude with simply having no self-control or willpower; I have good news.

(No, I am not going to go all David Goggins on you telling you to simply work harder).

All these tips have helped me tremendously by going from being the worst student in high school.

I mean literally the lowest grades in class, to graduating university with top grades, starting my own business, staying in decent shape year around and publishing a book — despite not being a naturally disciplined person. These tips can do the same for you, regardless of how little willpower or self-control you have today.

Contrary to what most people think, the first and most important driver of self-control, is not your mindset, it is your environment.

My first real encounter with discipline was when I joined the military at age 19. Before that I was probably the least disciplined person you would ever have met in most areas of life.

 I always used to snooze as long as possible, snack every hour, only read or do cardio when I felt it (which never was).

Image: Me serving in the Norwegian missile artillery in Northern Norway at age 19.

My first real experience with discipline.

Now I had to wake up super early, only eat at certain times, keep my room super clean and run regardless of how I felt. Naturally, I became more disciplined — or so I thought. Because, when I left the military, I noticed that I feel right back into my old lazy habits of sleeping in and snacking every waking hour, making me 10-15 kg bigger than I am today.

The real driver of change — for both good and bad — was my environment. Am I telling you to join the military? No. You can make much more sustainable improvements in self-control by making simple changes to your home, kitchen or office space.

Day 1. Design your environment to save willpower

Key point: We humans to think we make our choices our own personal judgment. However, there is a catch. Our choices are often just the options we are faced. — James Clear

Example: Let’s say you walk into your kitchen and suddenly spot a bowl of cookies on the counter and you start snacking. Since you probably were not deliberately searching for cookies before they occurred in front of you, your choice of eating cookies was simply a reaction to an option you were faced with.

As James Clear puts it in Atomic Habits; the secret to self-control is simply to structure our environment so we don’t have to use it. And that is true regardless of what you are trying to achieve, whether that is learning a new skill, doing your homework, working out or eating healthy.

In the case of mindless snacking on candy throughout the week, try to simply avoid buying the foods on your “avoid list” to eliminate the occurrence of these options, and thus save your willpower.

The Cookie Experiment: Studies show that willpower is a diminishing resource that gets drained during the day the more you use it. In a famous 1998 study by Roy Baumeister, known as the «Cookie experiment», researches brought people into a room filled with the aroma of fresh-baked cookies. The table before them held a plate of the cookies and a bowl of vegetables. 

Some subjects were asked to eat the cookies, while others were supposed to stick with only the vegetables. After either indulging or avoiding the temptation of cookies, they were given 30 minutes to complete a difficult geometric puzzle. 

The researchers found that people who ate radishes (and resisted the tempting cookies) gave up on the puzzle after about 8 minutes, while the lucky cookie-eaters persevered for nearly 19 minutes, on average.

The conclusion was that drawing on willpower to resist the cookies had drained the subjects’ self-control for subsequent situations.

So what is actually willpower?

Willpower is the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. You can also see your willpower is a battery fueling your self-control. That means it is a diminishing resource that gets drained the more it is used to resist temptations during the day.

When drawing on willpower to resist snacks, using social media during work, or any other unnecessary temptations, you drain your self-control for subsequent situations. That includes eating healthy, working out or staying focused on the most important item on your todo-list.

So, seemingly disciplined people are actually not any better at avoiding temptations when they are put in front of them. They are simply better at structuring their day, so they don’t have to use discipline.

Remember; everything in your house will be eaten at some point when your cravings kick in. But if you don’t have certain types of foods in your house, you remove those mental debates on whether or not you should eat them. 

  • Key point: The most important exercise to improve self-control is simply to design your environment so you don’t have to use self-control. If you master this, you will start lose weight even without thinking. sight, mind. 

References: Baumeister, R. (1998): “Ego depletion: is the active self a limited resource?”

Day 2. Divide preparation and execution time

Secondly, we make good habits easier to perform, by first and foremost preparing in advance. If you pack your training bag the day before, the effort of actually going to the gym seems much less. 

Preparing healthy meals in advance also makes it much easier to make better choices when your hunger kicks in — and you don’t have time to make that healthy chicken salad instead of a quick toast.

 When your fridge contains a few Tupperware boxes with ready to go nutritious meals, your success rate of actually eating healthy increases drastically. It all comes down to planning and preparing in advance.

Ideally, you should separate the time for planning & preparing and execution time. I often rephrase an old quote from Brian Tracy;

«Each minute spent planning saves 10 minutes in execution»

NB: I am not sure what research that backs this up, but you get the point. If you plan your day and your workouts in advance, ideally the day before, the gym becomes a place where all your energy and willpower is spent on simply executing, not dwelling on what your next move should be.

Day 3. Make 1 big decision to eliminate a 1000 small

Now that we have eliminated physical distractions draining your willpower, let's talk about how making decisions over and over again will drain your willpower.

 This is true even if it’s the same, tiny decision — constantly resisting the urge to check your email or continually trying to follow a new, strict diet.

 Constraints can make it easier to stick to good habits by eliminating the number of decisions you need to make to move forward.

People often say that they want options. But when it comes to getting things done, options aren’t always a good thing. When everything is a possibility, it actually becomes harder to make the right choice (or any choice at all). This is called the paradox of choice.

Meanwhile, when we place a constraint on ourselves, it can become much easier to get something done. This is especially true if it is a constraint that forces us to start small.

  • Exercise: If you want to start exercising, set a rule for yourself where you are not allowed to exercise for more than 5 minutes. You have to stop exercising after 5 minutes, before adding 1 more minute per day. I talked with a reader who used this strategy to make his first weeks of exercise very easy and then gradually built up to doing more. Now he has run several marathons.
  • Nutrition: Further, if you want to eat healthy, you could limit yourself to eating the same meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner this week. By limiting the number of choices you have to make, it’s more ly that you’ll actually eat something healthy rather than get overwhelmed trying to figure out all of the details of the perfect diet.

The leanest people I know eat mainly the same foods every day. Personally, my first 2 meals of the day are always, while I rotate dinner among my 5 best recipes. That is also why intermittent fasting works great.

You eliminate the decision of whether or not to snack before bed or what to eat for breakfast. Since you already have made 1 big decision, you rule out a 1000 small subsequent discussions.

Less decisions equals more willpower saved for what really needs your attention.

  • Key point: We often think that we want an open road and the ability to choose any direction for ourselves. But sometimes, what we need is a tunnel that reduces our choices and sends us in a focused direction towards one goal.

Day 4. Audit your peers 

Now we move into the more challenging areas. If you want to build lasting habits, it is key to join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. If you want to be a positive, active and healthy person, you cannot be surrounded by negative, lazy and unhealthy people.

Over time, you become the sum total of the people you identify most with, regardless of how “strong minded”, resilient or independent you believe you are. The values of our peer group form our attitude. So, choose with care. That even goes for what people or info you follow online. Unfollow, mute and avoid unhealthy negative input ruthlessly. 

Day 5. Change your lens

Lastly, if you can ́t change your physical environment or peers, change the way you mentally frame hard things. See each workout or healthy meal for what it will give you, not what it will take from you. See how each workout is an essential stepping stone on your journey towards your goal.

The more positive you are able to frame the long term benefits of a hard task, the less you need to drain your will-power to get it done.

 But since I had my vision in place, and I know where this would take me — I did not focus on how hard or embarrassing each workout was in the moment.

I mainly focused on how good this workout would feel later on, and how bad I would feel if I skipped a workout.

Over time, with more experience, my body got more used to exercise and the endorphins made the workouts enjoyable also in the moment. But initially you will need to stay focused on your why and focus on the benefits, not the costs. 

And having a positive attitude always gets easier, the more you sleep. When you’re tired, you’re probably more ly to make whatever decision comes easiest and requires the least amount of effort. You’re probably less ly to spend time thinking and acting in accordance with your long-term goals or thinking creatively through a challenging situation.

Next action to 5x your self-control in 5 days:

In summary, here is an experiment for the days ahead summarizing the 5 key points.

  • Day 1: Through away or hide all candy, chips or any other foods not helping you reach your goal.
  • Day 2: Shop and prepare healthy meals for the next 3 days. Pack your training gear and make it easy to access anytime.
  • Day 3: Make a few big decisions to limit a 1000 small daily draining your will power. Constraints save willpower. Examples are intermittent fasting, finding 1 training program, 1 meal plan, making 1 type of content, or checking social media once per day.
  • Day 4: Become aware of who you surround yourself with and how their attitudes of health and fitness affects your attitude. Unfollow, mute and avoid unhealthy input ruthlessly.
  • Day 5: This is the hardest part, yet most important long term. Start reframing your mental association with training and eating healthy by reading, watching and listening to uplifting and motivational content.  

If you want to put this into a step by step program with weekly accountability, you can sign up for my free mini-course on how to build a lean energetic body and a strong mind for life and business, by mastering 4 keystone habits. 


10 Powerful Ways to Master Self-Discipline & Lead a Happier Life

How to Improve Your Self-Control

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It may be hard to believe when you’re facing a hot-fudge sundae or the prospect of sleeping in versus hitting the gym, but studies show that people with self-discipline are happier.

People with a higher degree of self-control spend less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors that are detrimental to their health, and are able to make positive decisions more easily. They don’t let impulses or feelings dictate their choices. Instead, they make level-headed decisions. As a result, they tend to feel more satisfied with their lives.

There are things you can do to learn self-discipline and gain the willpower to live a happier life. If you are looking to take control of your habits and choices, here are the 10 most powerful things you can do to master self-discipline.

1. Know your weaknesses

We all have weaknesses. Whether they’re snacks such as potato chips or chocolate chip cookies, or technology such as or the latest addictive game app, they have similar effects on us.

Acknowledge your shortcomings, whatever they may be. Too often people either try to pretend their vulnerabilities don’t exist or cover up any pitfalls in their lives. Own up to your flaws. You can’t overcome them until you do.

Related: 8 Ways to Create the Discipline Habit

2. Remove temptations

the saying goes, “ sight, mind.” It may seem silly, but this phrase offers powerful advice. By simply removing your biggest temptations from your environment, you will greatly improve your self-discipline.

If you want to eat healthier, don't buy junk food. If you want to improve your productivity at work, turn off notifications and silence your cell phone. The fewer distractions you have, the more focused you will be on accomplishing your goals. Set yourself up for success by ditching bad influences.

3. Set clear goals and have an execution plan

If you hope to achieve self-discipline, you must have a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish. You must also have an understanding of what success means to you. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, it’s easy to lose your way or get sidetracked.

A clear plan outlines each step you must take in order to reach your goals. Figure out who you are and what you are about. Create a mantra to keep yourself focused. Successful people use this technique to stay on track and establish a clear finish line.

4. Build your self-discipline

We aren’t born with self-discipline — it’s a learned behavior. And just any other skill you want to master, it requires daily practice and repetition. Just going to the gym, willpower and self-discipline take a lot of work. The effort and focus that self-discipline requires can be draining.

As time passes, it can become more and more difficult to keep your willpower in check. The bigger the temptation or decision, the more challenging it can feel to tackle other tasks that also require self-control. So work on building your self-discipline through daily diligence.

Related: 7 Ways to Gain Self Discipline and Strive Towards Greatness

5. Create new habits by keeping it simple

Acquiring self-discipline and working to instill a new habit can feel daunting at first, especially if you focus on the entire task at hand. To avoid feeling intimidated, keep it simple. Break your goal into small, doable steps. Instead of trying to change everything at once, focus on doing one thing consistently and master self-discipline with that goal in mind.

If you’re trying to get in shape, start by working out 10 or 15 minutes a day. If you’re trying to achieve better sleep habits, start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. If you want to eat healthier, start by prepping lunch the night before to take with you in the morning. Take baby steps. Eventually, when you’re ready, you can add more goals to your list.

6. Eat often and healthy

The feeling of being hangry — that angry, annoyed, irritated sensation you get when you’re hungry — is real and can have a substantial impact on willpower. Research has proven that low blood sugar often weakens a person’s resolve, making you grumpy and pessimistic.

When you’re hungry, your ability to concentrate suffers and your brain doesn’t function as well. Your self-control is ly weakened in all areas, including diet, exercise, work and relationships. So fuel up with healthy snacks and regular meals to keep yourself in check.

7. Change your perception about willpower

According to a study by Stanford University, the amount of willpower a person has is determined by their beliefs. If you believe you have a limited amount of willpower, you probably won’t surpass those limits. If you don’t place a limit on your self-control, you are less ly to exhaust yourself before meeting your goals.

In short, it may be that our internal conceptions about willpower and self-control determine how much of them we have. If you can remove these subconscious obstacles and truly believe you can do it, then you will give yourself an extra boost of motivation toward making those goals a reality.

8. Give yourself a backup plan

Psychologists use a technique to boost willpower called “implementation intention.” That’s when you give yourself a plan to deal with a potentially difficult situation you know you will ly face. For instance, imagine that you’re working on eating healthier, but you’re on your way to a party where food will be served.

Before you go, tell yourself that instead of diving into a plate of cheese and crackers, you will sip a glass of water and focus on mingling. Going in with a plan will help give you the mindset and the self-control necessary for the situation. You will also save energy by not having to make a sudden decision your emotional state.

9. Reward yourself

Give yourself something to be excited about by planning a reward when you accomplish your goals. Just when you were a little kid and got a treat for good behavior, having something to look forward to gives you the motivation to succeed.

Anticipation is powerful. It gives you something to obsess over and focus on, so you’re not only thinking of what you are trying to change. And when you achieve your goal, find a new goal and a new reward to keep yourself moving forward.

10. Forgive yourself and move forward

Even with all of our best intentions and well-laid plans, we sometimes fall short. It happens. You will have ups and downs, great successes and dismal failures. The key is to keep moving forward.

If you stumble, acknowledge what caused it and move on. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in guilt, anger or frustration, because these emotions will only drag you further down and impede future progress. Learn from your missteps and forgive yourself. Then get your head back in the game and refocus on your goals.


How to Have Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life

How to Improve Your Self-Control

Last Updated on December 1, 2020

Self-control is certainly not a new kid on the block in psychology. It’s been around for a while, but it continues to enchant scientists. Time and again, it proves to be a true star—it brings many benefits to those who can successfully practice it.

Study after study confirms that if we just find the way to strengthen our self-control, our lives will become so much better—we’ll eat healthier, exercise, won’t overspend, overdrink, or overdo anything that’s bad for us. We will be able to achieve our goals much easier, and success will not be a distant chimera anymore.

Simply put, if you know how to control your temptations, emotions, and behaviors, the world will be your oyster, as Shakespeare pointed out many years ago.

In this article, we will take a look at how self-control works and how to have self-control to live the life you want.

Self-control can be defined as the following:

“Self-control is the ability to subdue one’s impulses, emotions, and behaviors in order to achieve longer-term goals.”

It is rooted in the prefrontal cortex of the brain—the area, responsible for planning, decision-making, personality expression, and distinguishing between good and bad.

Self-control is also the ability to resist short-term temptation and to delay immediate gratification so that you can accomplish something much more worthy and better in the future. “Short-term pain for a long-term gain,” as the Greats teach us.

The most famous manifestation of self-control and its benefits is the famous marshmallow test.

It was a series of studies, conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University.

The test was simple—children between the ages of four and six were told that they could have one treat (a marshmallow, candy, or a pretzel) now, or wait for 15-20 minutes and get two treats instead.

It’s not hard to guess that more kids chose instant over delayed gratification. However, the researchers then tracked the ones who decided to wait through their high school years and adulthood.

What they found out was that self-control helped these kids tremendously later in life—they had higher academic performance, better emotional coping skills, less drug use, and healthier weights.

So, it’s quite simple then—to ensure future success, teach kids to develop higher levels of self-control. But it’s not always easy, it turns out.

Why Self-Control Matters

Ever since the marshmallow test, self-control has been the protagonist in many other studies, and it generally lives up to its hype. Impulse control does give great advantages to those who are able to practice it well.

Self-control tends to be close friends with goal-achievement, mental and physical health, and lots of other important parts of life—relationships, academics, sports, career, and self-esteem. Simply put, willpower is a must-have when it comes to eyeing any type of accomplishment.

Interestingly enough, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey from 2011, 27% of respondents noted that lack of willpower was the most important impediment to change.

Lack of self-control is the major obstacle to maintaining healthy weight, too. Studies back this up—children who learn to control their impulses are less ly to become overweight in adulthood.

Willpower is also a major contributor to leading a healthier lifestyle—it can help prevent substance abuse—alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs.

There is no doubt about it—self-control matters quite a lot for everything we do or want to do.

Is Our Willpower Unlimited?

Undeniably, self-control is an “It”-trait to have when it comes to the successful completion of our short and long-term goals.

In 1998, a team of researchers, led by the American psychologist Roy Baumeister, introduced an idea, which quickly earned its place as one of the most famous contemporary psychology theories. In the study, participants were brought into a room where there were freshly baked cookies and radishes on the table. Some were asked to try the cookies and the others the radishes.

Afterward, both groups were given a hard puzzle to complete. Surprisingly, the group who ate the cookies had a go at the puzzle for 19 minutes, while the other group, who resisted eating the tasty cookies, lasted an average of 8 minutes.

Enter ego-depletion.

Willpower is a limited resource, researchers concluded. Using up your reservoir of self-control on one thing (resisting the cookies) can drain your mental strength for subsequent situations.

Another popular study supported the Ego Depletion theory, too.

We all have heard about “emotional eating,” right? We sometimes tend to overeat if we feel that our emotions are all over the place—if, for instance, we watch a sad movie or something unpleasant happens to us.

However, what studies have found is that if we try to contain or hide our emotions, then our willpower will be depleted, and we will be less ly to resist overeating.

Simply put,

“Willpower depletion was more important than mood in determining why the subjects indulged.”

Luckily you can try this: How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough

How to Have Self-Control

Another outcome of the Ego Depletion theory was the revelation that self-control is a muscle. It’s not fixed—it can be trained, and you can learn how to improve self-control over time with practice.

1. Have Something Sugary

Studies show that the strength of our self-control is connected to our glucose levels. The brain needs energy to operate, and sweets provide that fuel.

Consuming sugary drinks increases blood-glucose levels and boosts our worn-down willpower. Of course, this isn’t a license to overdo it; it’s just a backup when your willpower is running on fumes.

2. Develop Your Internal Motivation

Other research on self-control tells us that when we are driven internally to achieve our goals versus by external motivators or to please others, our levels of willpower get depleted slower.

Simply put, “want-to” goals make us better at self-control than “have-to” goals.

Learn how to find your internal motivation here: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

3. Find Your “Why”

Closely linked to the above advice is the one about the purpose behind what we do. Using a so-called “high-level” abstract reasoning can help us practice better self-control, too.

For instance, if you want to avoid eating a piece of cake, it’s easier to alleviate the temptation if you remind yourself that you want to stay healthy, rather than think how you will just eat a fruit instead.

4. Have a Plan in Place When Temptation Comes Knocking

This technique is also known as “implementation intention” and it simply means going though some “what-if” scenarios beforehand, so that you can have a strategy when you feel the enticement to stray away from your goal and “live a little.”

For instance, if you want to quit smoking, you may consider bringing some nicotine gum with you when going out. This way, when you see others smoking, you already have a plan in place to combat the cravings.

5. Use Your “Wrong” Hand

Using your non-dominant hand to do small things such as operating the computer mouse, opening the door, or stirring your coffee are great ways to enhance and exert self-control powers, according to research.

Studies tell us that this can also help curb feelings of anger, frustration, and even aggression—after only two weeks of practice, there are some noticeable benefits.

Besides using your “wrong” hand, here’re more ways to train your self-discipline: How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life

The Theory of Ego Depletion also advises that “that making a list of resolutions on New Year’s Eve is the worst possible approach” to improve self-control.

Since depletion has a spill-over effect and often leaves you exhausted and unly to want to do anything more, going after multiple aspirations can only make you frustrated with yourself. As Prof. Baumeister advises, don’t try to quit smoking, go on a diet, and start on a new exercise plan all at the same time.

Learn to commit to your goal: How to Commit, Achieve Excellence And Change Your Life

7. Find a Way to Earn More Money

When the marshmallow test was done with kids from less affluent families, they were unable to engage in delayed gratification—i.e. they chose not to wait for the second treat. Coming from a low-income background forces people to live in the now and seek immediate indulgence when possible.

In contrast, when someone is better-off financially, they are used to being spoiled and may be less tempted to go after instant rewards.

Additionally, although self-control can be taught by letting children be independent, make their own decisions, and solve problems, all of these depend on the parents spending time with their kids.

And quite often, financially-struggling parents are also “time-poor.”

8. Avoid Temptation Altogether

In the marshmallow test, the children who closed or averted their eyes from the marshmallow were more ly to resist than those who were staring straight at the treat.

Gretchen Rubin, the happiness guru, also writes on her blog that often, it’s harder to control your urges when you indulge in something, chocolate, in small ways, rather than cutting it off completely.

A resent piece posted in BPS Research also supports the idea that “goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower.” When we know something is “off limits” altogether, we just stop thinking about it over time.

Here’s How to Master Delayed Gratification to Control Your Impulses.

9. Practice

Since willpower is a muscle, the more we practice, the better we become. While in the short-term we may feel depleted, in the long run, we will be able to build the strength and the stamina we need to successfully achieve our goals.

This is exactly going to the gym. The first few times you may feel exhausted and sore, but after a while, you will be able to fly through the same exercises that challenged you in the beginning.

10. Adopt Healthy Habits

Once we start practicing self-control and engage in healthier behaviors and choices, they will, over time, become habits. When they do, we will no longer need so much willpower (if any) to do that activity. In fact, research across six studies found that people who are better at self-control also have better habits.

Simply put, when our lives are habits, we are less frequently faced with making a decision, which require us to tap into our self-control reservoir.

Final Thoughts

Self-control is one of the biggest contributors to goal achievement and leading a better life in general. Although the jury is still out on whether the Ego Depletion Theory is valid across all situations and people, the idea that we still need willpower to get us moving forward is not in question.

However, we also need a motivation to start with and a way to monitor our behavior and progress to accomplish success, as Prof. Baumeister advises.

To save yourself from the constant drizzles of disappointment with seeing your dreams crushed and burned over and over, take the time to try practicing some self-control.

The future you will thank you.

More Tips About Improving Self-Control

Featured photo credit: Free To Use Sounds via


Добавить комментарий

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: