bunch of watermelons with one sliced in hald

Learn to break your bad habits with 13 self control techniques

You can break bad habits by learning self control techniques. Disciplining the self is very difficult, and learning to control the self takes patience and perseverance. Scientists have recently completed some ground-breaking new research on self control and the good news is – it can be practised and learned.

Sometimes people are great at exercising self control, and sometimes we are not, and that’s the puzzling thing about bad habits. Sometimes we can say no, and sometimes we find it so difficult – why is this and how can we change?

The “delayed gratification” marshmallow experiment in the 70s

A study was done on a bunch of kids in the 70s. They were all told that they could eat one marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes without eating it, they could have two marshmallows. Each kid was left in the room with the marshmallow, and some were able to delay their gratification and exercise self control to gain the reward of the extra marshmallow 15 minutes later. Some kids were not able to exercise self control and they ate the marshmallow right away, or within the 15 minutes.

It was found that the kids that could delay their gratification were “big picture” thinkers and could focus on the future better than the kids who couldn’t delay their gratification. The kids who delayed their gratification also did better on other intelligence tests.

Distract yourself from what controls you

The interesting thing was the techniques the kids used to deal with being left in the room with the marshmallow. The one who were able to delay their gratification distracted themselves by singing songs or playing hide and seek. They simply distracted their brains for the 15 minutes. Some of the kids chose to stare right at the marshmallow, thinking that if they focused on it, they would ‘beat’ it. This turned out to be a bad technique and usually resulted in the kid eating the marshmallow.

whole watermelon with green skin

Here are 13 ways you can break bad habits and gain self control

With some practise and perseverance, you can break your bad habits and get back control. Good habits can be difficult to build up. They take effort, dedication and skill. Bad habits, on the other hand, can sneak in so easily and quickly that before you know it, you have slipped into a habit that is no good for you.

  1. Start with a really easy habit to try to change

Some people would say this is not a good suggestion, but I think I will try it. Simply commit to a really easy habit – the example given here is to exercise for 1 minute a day. Hilarious! “Make your new habit so easy that you can’t say no!” says the article. To break bad habits is to gain personal strength.

  1. See yourself succeeding

Sometimes the hardest part of achieving is deciding to commit to what your goals are. By visualising yourself achieving what it is you set yourself to do you may be strengthening your resolve to get there. Meditation might be a technique that you can use to visualise your goals.

  1. Make a plan

If you have to do something to achieve your goal, make a clear plan of the steps you need to achieve it. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you also need to make time for cooking and shopping for healthy foods. It’s important to break bad habits when you see them come up.

  1. Be philosophical about things

Don’t focus on the details of an issue, focus on the bigger picture. Think more about the future, rather than the details of the problem. Rather than obsessively counting calories, think more about a picture of long term health. Don’t get bogged down in minute details of the problem, try to focus more on the long term. Use your higher self, or ultimate goals as a guide.

  1. Reward yourself

Like the kids in the study, we need incentives for good behaviour. These incentives work even if they are self-imposed. When we restrict ourselves we need something to look forward to.

  1. Commit to yourself before hand

I find this technique works sometimes and not others. Having a clear strategy of how you are going to avoid temptation is important. You need to think about the times when your self control might be low and have a plan of attack for those times.

  1. Explore the concept of ‘psychological distance’

“Although a few people have very high (or very low) levels of self-control, two-thirds of us lie somewhere near the middle: sometimes finding it easy to resist temptation, other times not. Naturally the exact situation has a huge effect on how much self-control we can exert. One property of different situations central to self-control that psychologists have examined is ‘psychological distance’.”

Psyblog has an outstanding article on this topic – which is well worth a read. The concept quoted above is an interesting one. To have psychological distance, you need to focus on the future, at events coming up, rather than today and tomorrow. The more ‘distance’ we can put between ourselves and something we want – the more control we have. When you break bad habits you set yourself free.

woman holding slice of watermelon in hands

  1. Identify your triggers

What are the things that take you away from your goal? Think of times when you find it hard to stick to your plan and work out a way to combat these problems. Consider you emotions too and plan to nurture yourself when times are tough.

  1. Keep yourself accountable

By having firm plans you make it easier for yourself to stay on track. If your goal is too waffly you may not achieve it because it has unclear parameters. Be very clear about what you are trying to achieve and plan it out carefully and exactly.

  1. Build good habits into your routine

Start with a few good habits a week. Try delaying an unhealthy food choice or snack, rather than giving it up. This can help you build up your willpower. Try to find the natural moments in your day when you can add to your goals. Push yourself, but only gently.

  1. Eliminate excessive options

I love this idea from 99u. The article here mentions that Barack Obama only wears blue and grey suits because he has so many decisions to make in a day that he doesn’t want clothing to be one of them. There are studies that show that eating the same thing every day can aide weight loss. Sometimes getting rid of too many choices can be a productive thing.

  1. Plan and don’t fantasise

So many people fail to actually put a workable plan into action. Ask yourself if you really want the thing you are setting out to achieve. Why haven’t you achieved this yet? Is what you are currently doing “good enough”? Challenge yourself more if you are not getting the results you want.

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed and stick to your goals

We often expect instant gratification. Real achievements take time to achieve. Don’t get stuck into an instant-gratification trap. Be kind to yourself and try to improve your situation step by step. Listen to your inner power and realise that you can achieve your goals. Don’t give up. You can learn to break bad habits, it’s all up to you. 

Learn to break your bad habits with 13 self control techniques
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Learn to break your bad habits with 13 self control techniques
Learning to break your bad habits can feel like a challenge but with these 13 self control techniques you’ll be well on your way to self-mastery.
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Alyce Vayle | Content Strategist
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