Self-control goes by many aliases: willpower, discipline, restraint. It’s even that Frank Ocean song. No matter the name, it has huge influence over our health and our success.

Self-control helps determine whether we study or party, save or spend, keep or lose our temper, or focus on work or get pulled into the black hole of procrastination. Lack of self-control is even a symptom of a host of challenges, including depression, OCD, ADHD, and specific impulse-control disorders like hairpulling or compulsive shoplifting.

OK, now mimic the facepalm you give yourself when you see your credit card bill, the number on the scale, or length of your to-do list after a few weeks of not enough self-control. Not uncoincidentally, the part of the brain responsible for your downfall—the prefrontal cortex—lies directly behind the forehead you just smacked.

The prefrontal cortex allows us to plan, pay attention, regulate our emotions and our bodies, and generally avoid things we’ll regret. In other words, it allows us to resist and redirect our immediate impulses.

Self-control all boils down to one thing: saying ‘no’ to your own impulses. It’s resisting the easy thing to do the hard thing. It’s eating the apple instead of the Hot Pocket. It’s going to bed rather than staying up. It’s doing the anxiety-provoking task that moves you toward your dreams rather than scrolling through Twitter.  

Sometimes it’s subtle. You may do things that need to be done, but just not right now. Scrubbing the toilet may be virtuous, but not if it keeps you off task.

So next time you’re tempted to reach for that Hot Pocket (or for the productively impulsive among us, that toilet brush), try these seven tools.


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