This post piggy backs my post from yesterday. Whilst reading this, understand that mindfulness and meditation are huge components of truly developing life long discipline. We will see how important the idea of mind control is, and the preparation of such leading up to the moments that we need self discipline most, are.
According to a 2013 study by Wilhelm Hoffman, works linked here, people with high self control are happier than those without. The study discovered this is true because the self disciplined subjects were more capable of dealing with goal conflicts. These people spent less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors detrimental to their health, and were able to make positive decisions more easily. The self disciplined did not allow their choices to be dictated by impulses or feelings. Instead, they made informed, rational decisions on a daily basis without feeling overly stressed or upset.
Good news, discipline is a learned behavior, it has jack shit to do with genetics. You parents are the ones that should have set this in place and spoke about the importance of keeping a healthy mind and body. If they didn't, pff most of the world doesn't, so don't point the finger at them today, the past is gone and irreversible and it's your responsibility now, especially after reading this easy to implement guide.
Why am I posting this? I don't worry if the world knows "the secrets" I know, that's for sure, because they're not secrets and I highly doubt 70% of the people who read this are actually going to have that moment of clarity and snap out of it. I'd bet that even less of the people who do, won't put it into effect. I'd being willing to bet my money on the people who are already self disciplined, and need that extra kick in the ass and some understanding.
Let's get started... Part I.
I have done plenty of research and found a great, thorough explanation of what is occurring chemically and biologically when we run into a scenario that requires self control as well as the best method that I've not only read about (it's the same premise, just worded differently.) on TRP, but have applied to my life entirely.
We have 2 minds
By Al Uvorof, a "Quora" user who posted an explanation of self control.
Our self-control is a result of evolution. Because social cooperation ensures survival, humans evolved to get along with each other. We learned how to suppress our impulses. Impulse control became a primary function of self-control.
As a result of this evolutionary development, we have two minds. One strives for immediate gratification. The other controls our impulses and is capable of long-term planning.
We alternate between the two minds. Whenever there's a conflict, one mind needs to overwrite the other. This is when we use (or don't use.) the willpower. It's almost as if you've lost self control when you binge ate. When you just stuck it in without a condom on, or when you promised yourself 3 drinks, but had 9. One mind just shuts off, and the other takes over. So what if we reverse this process... what if we halt that other mind from taking over?
The pause-and-plan response
What happens in our bodies when we exercise self-control? The brain launches a sequence of events called pause-and-plan response. It starts with a detection of conflict (and possible future regret) in our brain. The prefrontal cortex gets activated to help us to make a right choice. Since the brain needs energy, the body redirects energy to the brain. And exercising willpower depletes us of glucose.
The plan-and-pause response is the direct opposite of fight-or-flight reaction. Instead of speeding up, our body slows down. Breathing gets slower, and the body relaxes. The goal is to put the body in a calm mode, so that we will have equanimity and mental clarity for a thoughtful action.
The heart rate goes down, and the heart variability goes up. Interestingly, the heart rate variability is a very good indicator of self-control. Which is why we are going to examine it further.
The heart rate variability
When we breathe, our heart rate changes depending on inhale/exhale. It speeds up when we inhale and slows down when we exhale. Under stress, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. That's why our heart rate goes up, and its variability goes down. With an elevated heart rate, we feel anxious and angry. This is also why you typically cannot pass a polygraph test when lying unless you are a pathological liar or psychopath. This test relies on emotion. Under stress, our sympathetic nervous system takes over.
When the prefrontal cortex launches the plan-and-pause response, the parasympathetic nervous system steps in to calm us down. The heart rate goes down but the variability goes up.
In fact, heart rate variability is so good at predicting future choices, we can use it to predict human behavior. For example, if a recovering alcoholic's heart variability goes up when he sees an alcoholic drink, he is more likely to stay sober. In general, people with higher heart rate variability are better at concentrating, persisting at difficult tasks, delaying gratification, and dealing with stress.
Because the heart rate variability (HRV) is so paramount to willpower, there is an entire industry of books and gadgets aimed at increasing/changing heart rate variability.
Various factors impact HRV, from food, to stress, to breathing, to sleep. Processed food and stress deplete the willpower, while meditation and sleep restores it. Anything that reduces stress or improves health increases HRV (i.e. exercise, sleep, time with friends and family, etc)
This bring us back to the first question:
How can I improve my self-control?
A quick way to increase self-control is to increase HRV. Breathing rate can be used to increase HRV. Studies have shown HRV starts increasing as the breathing rate drops below 12 breaths per minute. For best results, you have to slow down breathing to 4 to 6 breaths per minute. That's 10 to 15 seconds per breath. (for more details read "Willpower Instinct," pg 42-45)
Meditation techniques should be used to slow down breathing. It does relax you, and I suspect it makes meditation easier to endure. Sitting to meditate is an exercise in self-control after all. This probably sets off an entire loop: meditation -> to increase self-control, more self-control -> easier to meditate.
Part II. Self-control and "The Deprivation Training Method."
by Nicolas Cole, a "Quora" user who posted this method in regards to self control.
Choose anything that matters to you.
Now take it away.
How badly do you want it back? Is the 'want' like an itch? Do you think about it all the time? How far would you go to have it?
By depriving yourself of things you 1) Do often, 2) Very much enjoy 3) Have every day 4) etc., you learn how to say No to yourself.
But more importantly, you begin to tap into your awareness.
The key to self-control is awareness. It is the understanding that in this moment you want something. In this moment you have the option of going and getting it, or doing something else. In this moment, you have the CHOICE.
By tapping in and becoming more aware, you eventually begin to realize that everything you do in life is because of a choice that YOU make. Where you go, what you eat, how you spend your time—none of it is determined for you. You are the one doing the determining. And once you realize that, self-control no longer seems to be this elusive "skillset" out there in the endless void of life. Self-control is nothing more than the awareness that you yourself are all power, that you are your own creator, and that you can either choose to do this or that.
Start small and then work your way up. It takes practice, and you're going to fail. Believe me. You're going to hear that voice in your head say, "I really shouldn't have another milkshake. I really should turn off the TV and work instead. I really should etc. etc. etc." And you'll know deep down what the right decision is. But you won't make it—not at first. Because the ego is very convincing. And when the ego wants something, it knows just what to say to make sure that you give up the goods.
Over time though, if you are persistent and honest with yourself, and take a moment to reflect after you've given in to your ego and vow to try harder next time, eventually, when headed in that direction, you will start to make different decisions for yourself. And over time, you will begin to practice the skillset that is self-control. And once you find a rhythm and see how it works in action, you'll become empowered. And once empowered, you will be able to make different decisions for yourself.
Whatever method you choose, if you do choose, understand that this is a process. That understanding discipline and it's use in your life are the most important components. Do too much at once, you'll most likely fail and want to kick your own ass. Do too little... there is no such thing, a start is a start. If you're able to build upon this each day, week, month you're already moving in the right direction. Develop self worth and respect like your life depended on it.
EDIT: I'd like to add, the biggest take away from this post is, "I have a choice." You are in control of your actions, it's pain that scares you into these wrongful or self harming actions that you do not actually want to involve yourself with. Instead, embrace the pain, and develop self-discipline to cultivate a better quality of life.