Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Self Control - or Lack Thereof

"Self-control. It helps you resist the urge to yell at your boss. It keeps you from eating a whole pint of ice cream. And you summon it up when you want a pair of shoes, TV or car that you can't afford.

Discipline is critical to living within your means. Sometimes, though, we all fall short… Self-control, like a muscle, fails when it is tired. You have only a limited amount of self-control. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, stress, anger and frustration tap out those reserves. So after a long day at the office making decisions, you are more likely to do impulsive things like overeat, drink too much, lose your temper or spend money.

A common misconception is that strong self-control is something people either have or don't have. The good news is it's not the fixed ability that most people think, said Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and author of "Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals." "It's better to think about it as a muscle that some people have developed and some people have not.”**


Ever since I read this article in my local Sunday paper, I’ve found myself thinking about it over and over again. I think what really fascinated me is the idea that self control is a muscle that we need to exercise. The more we use it, the stronger it gets.

While this article was written and published in the business section and aimed at controlling finances and not overspending, the ideas presented in it keep resonating with me as it relates to dieting, eating, and weight loss. I jokingly asked why I am able to maintain a 30 lb. weight gain but not a lower weight in this week’s Tuesday Ten, but ever since I read this article, I think I have to admit I know it’s because I’ve chosen not to exercise self control.

I also realize that the choice of not exercising self control has come about due to the reasons listed above: fatige from the never ending battle with slow weight loss due to my thyroid, fatigue because I’ve had several injuries that have slowed down my progress on the exercise front, stress with all the family stuff that we've been dealing with, and increasing anxiety from constantly thinking about every single item I put in my mouth. on the other hand, I keep feeling that sometimes one just has to fake it 'till they make it.

I am entirely fascinated by the idea of making my self control muscle stronger, simply by using it. Which is why I am mentally working on a plan of action – or call it a mini-challenge to myself if you want – to be put in place after my vacation of course! Because I will continue to work on it and perhaps flesh it out while I am less fatigued, anxious and stressed while sitting on the beach. 

I have used self control to deal with exercise for years, so I know I am capable of doing it.  It has now become a matter of applying it to food.


“Practice small acts of self-control: exercise daily, give up alcohol for a week, or get up at the same time each day for a month if you are prone to hitting the snooze button.

These minor acts can strengthen the part of your brain that handles self-control and give you the resolve to do more, Halvorson said.”**


I would say not only the resolve to do MORE, but also the resolve to do BETTER.  Time for better self control and less self indulgence. Perhaps not to think of it as dieting or deprivation at all but rather exercising my adult self control muscle. As Janet Jackson sang, This is a story about control, my control. Control of what I say, control of what I do."

** Selected from an article by AP Writer, Sarah Skidmore that appeared in my local newspaper. You can see the entire article here:


  1. This is a great post! I believe that everybody has self-control too but like the article says not everybody is using it.

    I like your attack of making a plan for self-control. This might be a good idea and I am going to think about how I can do that with my own self control (or lack of it most of the times in the past months).

    You mention you used it with your exercise. After reading back my posts in my diary :) and mention it in my last post, I had lots of self control 2 years ago training for my 10K. I seemed to have lost it.

    So now I'm going to copy this post, paste it in an email here at work and send it to my home mailaddress and read it again and think about it.

    Thank you Helen! I hope you will share your plan of attack before or after your holiday.

  2. You know I have a hate/hate relationship with the words "self control" but as someone else recently said, "It's not diets that don't work. It is our thoughts about them that don't work." I've been examining my whole thought process recently (and yes, a blog post is forthcoming).

    Anyway, for me, it's always been about taking control out of the equation: not needing control over food, nor being controlled by it. I've experienced it for long enough periods of time to know that it's possible...but it does indeed require practice.

  3. Excellent - and so true. I love the idea of practicing tiny little aspects of self discipline, rather than thinking I have to do it all beginning now. Thanks for this, Helen/

  4. I love the analogy of self control as a muscle! Yep, I could use some self control in the wine department!

    I am pissed because I had my whole Clean Eating week plan, but without power, we've eaten out the last two nights and my delicious lunches I planned had to be thrown in the trash.

    But! I am getting out to run at lunch today - Helen, I am actually enjoying running the most lately! And its perfect temps - our high is only 70 today. :D

    Happy Wednesday!

  5. Thanks I needed to hear that after a loss of self control at dinner last night.

  6. I like the idea of thinking of self control as a muscle. And I DO agree that the more you use it, the stronger it becomes, or as I like to think, the more automatic you are apt to NOT have an unplanned cookie or whatever.

    I want big strong muscles - in both my body and my mind! :)

  7. Hi Helen, what a fantastic post. I've never thought of self control as a muscle, but that does put it in perspective. Thanks for sharing this! Have a good day!

  8. Very good post. The discipline muscle must be strengthened. I just have to fight that inner 5-year-old that wants to eat.

  9. Well doesn't that put a new spin on self control? A muscle that we can use more1 Love it!

    Thanks for sharing that tidbit-it's very useful.

  10. Great post. Will be rereading when I get home.

    P.S. Love your new Favicon! :)

  11. My self control muscle is more like a weak and flabby ;) I need MUCH strength in that area!

  12. I totally agree with this post. It is excellent. I love to think of self-control as a muscle. I've always thought it is NOT something that just happens. You have to DO it. It's an activity not a trait. Great one!

  13. hmmm Im a misfit but for me it isnt about control as THEN I was seemingly trying to force that freakin sq.peg into a round hole :)
    for me it was finally finding what works for me and WHY and then it shifted slooooowly to being willing.
    no more willPOWER.

  14. Good Post; I just posted an article by Dr. Linda Mintle on my fitness blog.

  15. This is a really thought-provoking post, Helen. I too like the idea of self-control as a muscle that needs strengthening. I started thinking to myself that I had all kinds of self-control, in terms of spending money, working hard at my job, not losing my temper around ding-dongs, etc but when I really at how I manage those impulses I have put up boundaries stopping myself from doing these things in excess. I spend money where I want and I don't really say 'no' very often, but I have given myself a budget to work with so I stick within it. There is an external force that stops me (budget) not a voice inside saying, "Enough."
    I need to work on teaching that voice to speak instead. Hmmm.