Three Steps to a Lifetime of Self-Control
Episode #7 of the course Ten essential traits for today’s leaders by Frank McKinley
Welcome to Lesson Seven!
Last time we learned how to strengthen your intuition so your gut feelings never lead you astray. Today we’ll learn to handle the hardest person on your team—you. When you manage yourself well, leading others is easier.
Now let’s look at three ways you can build all the self-control you’ll ever need.
Step One: Self-Restraint
To build your strengths, know your weaknesses.
Everyone has some triggers. You get bored so you talk to your friend in cubicle 6. Maybe you read the news. Anything to distract you from the boring reality you face right now. Nobody can be all work and no play.
Schedule break time. Set boundaries. Don’t wait until temptation comes. Do it before you’re tempted.
The key to self-control is handling your emotions instead of letting them handle you. When you’re scared, you freeze for a moment. That’s your built-in pause and plan response. Granted, you do it quickly, but you do it naturally. When something threatens to make you mad, pause. Reflect. Think about the consequences of the decision you’re about to make. How can you get what you want without leaving a trail of collateral damage to clean up later? Pause to plan and you’ll solve 90% of your self-control problems.
Step Two: Self-Discipline
Now let’s turn from restraint to freedom. Discipline is an action that builds habits that serve you automatically. The biggest challenges are growth and safety.
Safety is good when it keeps you from stepping in front of a train. It’s not when it keeps you from going to the gym, learning something, or stretching your comfort zone.
Growth scares us. It threatens to trip every emotional trigger you’ve got. The only way to navigate is to stand with pain until you can’t stand there anymore. You can’t do that without a worthy goal.
You won’t lift weights if there’s no health reward later. You won’t run every morning if you’re not competing in your first marathon three months from now. You won’t save money if you don’t have retirement plans.
Set a goal that excites you and you’ll go through whatever it takes to achieve it.
Step Three: Self-Mastery
When you’re here, you don’t think twice about your struggles. You automatically do the right thing because you know you should. You regularly pause and plan whenever you find yourself roaming in a new frontier. You take risks because you know the reward is worth the effort.
And you don’t let failure sideline you. You learn from every setback. You weigh your actions collectively to see whether you’re investing enough effort to get the return you want. You’re brutally honest with yourself because you know you can’t lie your way to success.
Self-Mastery is the ultimate reward for restraint and discipline.
Now Do This
What is one thing you want to change about yourself? Here’s an example. Suppose you waste too much time on social media and you want to cut it down to 30 minutes a day.
First, measure how much time you spend on social media. Keep a log. Write down every minute you spend checking status updates, reading messages, and posting pictures. Write down everything.
Second, record what time you access social media. This is important because life is guided by rhythms. When you look at your log, ask yourself, “What was I doing then? How was I feeling? What need was I filling?”
Example: lunch. I was bored. I wanted something exciting to spice up my day.
Third, after three days of logging your time, plan alternative activities. The best way to resist temptation is to stay busy. When you have something to do, you won’t be tempted.
Fourth, say no when you need to. The temptation will come. You’ll fail sometimes. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re improving and that’s worth something. You’ll do better tomorrow. Resolve to stay the course no matter how bumpy the ride.
Control yourself and you control your life. Next time we’ll learn about the power of positive belief. See you then!
The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
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