The most important element of a strong mind is self-control. It’s your ability to set aside your immediate interests in favor of something more meaningful. So whether you’re avoiding fast food to lose weight or saving money to buy a car self-control makes those long-term goals possible but how does it work? Scientists explain self-control as a hot and cool system you see one part of your brain will call that the hot system is impulsive and passionate. It acts on urges and seeks out short term rewards well the other part of your brain will call that the cool system is logical in cognitive. It thinks through problems and tries to figure out the best course of action.
Your self-control depends on the dynamic between these two systems. So if your hot system is stronger well self-control is probably difficult for you. But if your cool system has the upper hand then you’re much better at resisting temptation so how can you tell which system is stronger? Well those hot and cool traits are often reflected in your personality. If you have strong willpower then you’re probably more careful and analytical you reasoned problems out over time instead of making impulsive decisions. So if this sounds like you, you may have more willpower than you realize.
Zero Hot Triggers
Some people have dominant cool systems 95% of the time and then they lose control around certain temptations. These are called hot stimuli or triggers no matter how logical you are a hot trigger can still provoke that passionate impulsive side of your brain. Now obviously this can be a huge inconvenience knowing you have certain triggers will motivate you to avoid those stimuli. Yet you might have to change or cancel plans simply because you know you can’t resist. If you’re able to identify and eliminate your hot triggers that’s an obvious sign of great self-control.
An influential study on human willpower tested how well children could control themselves around sweets. Now in this study researchers started by giving each kid a marshmallow they asked the kids not to eat their marshmallow while the researcher left the room. If they succeeded the kid would get two marshmallows once the researcher came back if not they would only get one. Nearly four decades later another study tested that same group of kids to see if their willpower held up over time to their surprise.
Their performances were almost identical the kids that showed self-control with the marshmallow ended up scoring higher on willpower tests as an adult. But what does this mean for us their findings show that developing discipline and willpower. When you’re younger carries over into your adult years. So if you have great self-control as a child well you will power is likely above average today.
Let’s say you resist the urge to buy yourself a new watch, why didn’t you go through with it? Was it because you didn’t have enough money or did you think that purchase was fundamentally a bad idea? If you choose the latter it means you’re using internal willpower instead of external willpower. They look the same on the surface but internal willpower is significantly more effective in the long term. So let’s imagine that after you resist the urge to buy yourself that watch you come across another tempting item that you can afford.
You won’t have any way to stop yourself because you drained all your external willpower the first time around this is called the willpower depletion. So anytime you spend a considerable amount of energy avoiding something it becomes even more difficult to resist additional triggers. But there is one way to dramatically reduce depletion researchers found that it takes much less internal willpower to resist a stimulus. So if you’re motivated by your values beliefs and morals you’ll have an easier time avoiding temptations of all shapes and sizes.
How much pressure are you under on a daily basis are you generally high-strung or are you more relaxed your willpower can fluctuate based on your daily stress levels. One study showed that significant stress reduces self-control it clouds judgment and it leads to impulsivity. Your brain will also crave short term rewards. It wants to relieve all those negative emotions creative by stress which means you have a harder time avoiding your usual temptations.
Without realizing it people with strong willpower use a trick recommended by psychologists around the world it’s called an implementation intention. But you probably know it as an if-then statement okay. Let’s say for example that you’re going to a mall with your friends you know ice creams a major trigger for you. So you plan ahead you say if I pass by an ice cream parlor then I will eat a banana. Instead, these statements increase self-control by giving you something active to do in place of your temptation. Eating a banana while watching your favorite movie on Movie Hustle is a great substitute for ice-cream because it provides a healthy alternative to the same activity. You’re eating something sweet while completely shutting down your trigger.
You can’t spend your entire life avoiding temptation though many people have tried the problem is that living temptation free isn’t the same thing as building willpower. All you’re really doing is avoiding your triggers if one does pop up somehow well you’ll be completely defenseless. The key to strong willpower is consistent testing, in other words, you have to let yourself make contact with your triggers. It’ll be hard to resist at first but the more times that you do it the more resilient you’ll get. An obvious sign that someone has strong willpower is that they can freely interact with things that use to trigger them.
Over time they used small bursts of exposure to test their self-control until suddenly those triggers started to disappear. Now just keep in mind that willpower depletion can happen if you’re testing yourself too often. It helps to think about willpower like any other muscle in your body regular exercise is healthy but don’t overdo it.