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Ask people to name their greatest personal strengths, and they’ll often credit themselves with honesty, kindness, humor, creativity, bravery or other virtues – even modesty.  But not self-control.  It came in dead last by researchers who surveyed more than one-million people around the world.  Acquiring self-control isn’t as magically simple as the techniques in modern self-help books, but it does not have to be grim either.  Ultimately, self-control helps you relax, removing stress, and enabling you to conserve willpower for other important challenges.

The first step in self-control is to simply set a goal.  My immediate goal is to successfully present all of the tips I have learned on mastering self-control to you through my next couple of blogs.  Maybe your goal will be to go through these wonderful advances and learn how you too can boss your self-control.

You might think you have one tank of self-control set aside for work, another for dieting, another for exercise, and another for being nice to your family.  But psychologists have discovered that you use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.  You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.  There are connections among the wildly different things you do all day.  You use the same pool of willpower to deal with frustrating traffic, tempting food, annoying colleagues, difficult assignments, religious convictions.  Resisting fatty foods at lunch leaves you with less willpower to give your presentation with full potential.  Chronic physical pain leaves people with a perpetual shortage of willpower because their minds are so depleted by the struggle to ignore the pain.

Focus on one self-improvement goal at a time.  If you set multiple goals, you may succeed for a short while by drawing on reserves to power through, but that just leaves you more depleted and more prone to serious mistakes later on.  Those who try to quit smoking while also restricting their eating or cutting back on alcohol tend to fail at all three.  They simply have to many demands on their willpower.

“Above all, don’t make a list of New Year’s Resolutions,” explains self-control expert, Roy Baumeister.  Each January 1, millions of people drag themselves out of bed, full of hope (or hangover) resolved to eat less, exercise more, spend less money, work harder at the office, keep the home cleaner, all while still miraculously having time for more romantic dinners and long walks on the beach.

By Feb. 1, they are embarrassed to even look at the list.  But instead of concluding they are just not strong enough, they should put the blame where it belongs: on the list. No one has enough willpower for that list.  If you are going to quit smoking, do not overhaul your finances at the same time… you’ll just want to smoke more.  If your going to need your energy for a new job – like, say, the presidency of the United States – then this probably is not the ideal time to go cold turkey on cigarettes.

Because you only have one supply of willpower, a better plan is to make one resolution and stick to it.  At times, that too may seem like one resolution to many.  Find a source of motivation that is relevant to your person. Maybe artist and mastermind, Amanda Palmer, can be of some encouragement.

Palmer, began her career posing as a living statue when she was 22 while living in her hometown of Boston.  She called herself the “Eight Foot Bride,”(see below) completely decked out in white face paint, wearing a formal wedding dress and veil, and holding a bouquet in her white gloved hands. She would stand on top of a box completely still until a dollar was put in her tip basket.  She would then elegantly hand her tipper a flower from her bouquet and then return to complete motionlessness. She would do this for hours at a time, sometimes enduring insults and projectile objects hurled at her by drunks.  The crowds marveled at her stamina and her ability to hold a pose in a rigid position for so long.  She had developed her own way of taming her self-control.  Although she humbly does not consider herself a disciplined person, she admits, “you know humans are capable of incredible things.  If you simply decide that you’re not going to move, you just don’t move.”

Key Points:

1) You only have a single stock of willpower that used for every aspect of your life.  Be careful not to deplete your energy in one area leaving you exhausted upon approaching your next task.

2) Do not make “New Years Resolutions.”  Trying to accomplish to many goals at once will quickly exhaust your willpower, most likely causing you to abandon all goals.   Set one goal and give it your all.

3) Find your inspiration.  Maybe your spouse, your kids, or the desire to prove those doubting critics wrong might be your fuel.  If Amanda Palmer can muscle the willpower to stand completely still for hours on end while enduring hurled objects and heckling drunks, maybe you too can stand your ground and conquer your goal.  Remember her encouraging words: “Humans are capable of incredible things.  If you simply decide that you’re not going to move, you just don’t move.”

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