5 Tips for Better Self-Control

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Written by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP at https://mindremakeproject.blogspot.com/

Have you ever skipped the gym because you’re tired? Opened a package of cookies, having the best of intentions, only to devour them all? Maybe you’ve binged watched Netflix till 3:00 a.m., knowing you have work at 8:00 the next day.

Self-control plays an essential role in wellness. It’s not easy to stick with healthy habits. Motivation comes and goes, making self-control crucial.

Research indicates a lack self-control is associated with obesity and other lifestyle diseases. It’s also related to poor parenting, crime, and socioeconomic status. Better self-control, on the other hand, is linked to positive outcomes, including good health, academic and/or career success, resilience, effective interpersonal skills, and emotional stability. Willpower is a must for overall wellbeing and for achieving your goals.

Read on for five ways you can increase your self-control and improve your wellness!


Modify your environment.


One study found that individuals who modified their home environment lost more weight. They threw away all of the junk food in their kitchens. By altering your living space, you promote self-control.

If you want to improve your gym attendance, keep your sports bag packed and ready to go. Place it by the front door, or keep it in your car. Another idea would be to lay out your gym clothes the night before; I’ve even heard of sleeping in activewear so it’s easier to get up and go!

For any health habit you hope to form, tweak your surroundings. If you’re looking to improve the quality of your sleep, make your bedroom a sleep haven with clean sheets, dark curtains, etc. If you’re in school and want to develop better study habits, create an appealing “study space” in your home. For weight loss, not only toss the junk; replace it with fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks. Your environment becomes a constant reminder of your goal.

Tell as many people as you can about your health goal.

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If you have friends, a partner, or even a social media audience to hold you accountable, you’re less likely to not follow through.

I recently signed up for a self-defense class. I usually get off work around 3:00 p.m. and the class was scheduled for 6:00 in the evening. I knew that by the time I got home from work, I’d have zero motivation to leave the house again. (I’m the kind of person that changes into pajama pants, minutes after walking through the door.)  So, I told the people in my circle about the class, knowing they’d ask about it later. This helped to provide the extra motivation I needed. (The class, by the way, ended up being awesome!)

Surround yourself with others who practice self-control.

Research indicates that being with (or even thinking about!) a person with a ton of willpower will increase your self-control. People tend to mimic those around them. 

If weight loss is your goal, but your partner regularly orders carryout, picking high-calorie, fattening options, your self-control will suffer. If, on the other hand, your partner wants to lose a few pounds, and regularly cooks low-calorie, nutritious meals while limiting his/her portions, your self-control profits. Willpower is contagious.

To generate more self-control, limit your time with those who regularly give in to their less-than-healthy cravings. Find a workout buddy, take an exercise class, or join a weight loss program. You could also download an app (such as MyFitnessPal for weight loss or Smoke-Free for quitting cigarettes). Create a motivational Pinterest board, join a Facebook group, or participate in an online community or forum specific to your goal.  

Instead of using motivational affirmations (i.e. “You can do this!”), recognize that change is difficult.

It’s more realistic to think about how something is hard to accomplish… and that you’re still going to give it your all. Researchers found that having a practical mindset helped study participants lose more weight.

Affirmations are splendid, but they don’t take into account the difficulty of developing a new habit. (Fun fact: A habit takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days of repetition to form!). We wouldn’t need self-control if change was easy

Ironically, having a desire for self-control actually decreases your ability to exert it, according to a large body of research.

To counter this, find a way to “harness” the want for self-control.

If your desire is intrinsic (coming from within as opposed to an external source), you’re more likely to have better self-control. Do you want self-control because it’s something you truly desire? Or does it stem from someone else’s (or society’s) expectations?

Another idea is to have very specific goals as opposed to vague ones (Examples of ill-defined goals are “I want to lose weight” and “I want to have more energy.”) Develop an action plan with SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-limited. You’ll exercise better self-control if you know the steps to take. A SMART goal may look like: I will lose 10 pounds in one month by eating 1600 calories per day and by jogging for 45 minutes, four times per week.

It also helps to recognize that there are limits to self-control. No one has limitless willpower. You’re only human… and humans are known to fail and make mistakes (sometimes on a daily basis!) Self-control is not a superpower; while useful in developing new habits, it’s not a quick fix. Change is complex.                                                                                                                                          

The takeaway? Self-control is critical for achieving your goals! If you find yourself lacking, there are ways to boost your willpower. And if you’re committed to health and personal development, it’s well worth it to develop better self-control. 

If you have any tips for increasing your self-control, please share in a comment!


Gardner, B., Sheals, K., Wardle, J., & McGowan, L. (2014). Putting habit into practice, and practice into habit: A process evaluation and exploration of the acceptability of a habit-based dietary behaviour change intervention. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity11,135, http://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-014-0135-7.

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40, 998-1009, doi:10.1002/ejsp.674

Lowe, M. R., Butryn, M. L., & Fengqing, Z. (2018). Evaluation of meal replacements and a home food environment intervention for long-term weight loss: A randomized controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 107(1), 12–19, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqx005.

University of Georgia. (2010, January 18). Self-control, and lack of self-control, is contagious. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 6, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113172359.htm.

Uziel, L., & Baumeister, R. F. (2017). The self-control irony: Desire for self-control limits exertion of self-control in demanding settings, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(5), 693 – 705, https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217695555.