The Secret To Self Control

Have you tried working on starting a healthy lifestyle but always find yourself going back to your old habits?

Maybe you wanted to eat healthier, work out more, or have a more regular sleep schedule.

You try over and over again to make this but the temptations for sweet treats or binge-watching shows over working out always seem to take over.

Then Monday rolls around again and you give it another go only to fall for the same temptations by Wednesday.

This vicious cycle can make you feel hopeless. You just don’t have the self-control that these other healthy people have so you’ll never actually adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Self-Control always seems to be the blame for failure and the reason for success.

In fact, 75% of Americans say that a lack of self-control is why they struggle with eating healthy and exercising regularly – but it’s not really why that happens.

The truth is, self-control isn’t something that some people have and others don’t – that really wouldn’t be fair. It’s a skill that’s built and something you can improve on when you better understand how it works and what you can do to make it easier.

Self Control As A Muscle

I always like to compare self-control to a muscle. 

Just like muscles, your self-control can get “fatigued” if you use it too often. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that your self-control is strongest at the beginning of the day but as the day goes on you find it harder to actually maintain control.

You go through your workday avoiding the donuts in the break room, holding your tongue from saying something rude, and you push yourself through an entire workout at the gym.

You showed a lot of will power throughout the day but that took a lot of energy. Now you can’t seem to find the strength to cook a healthy meal and opt to eat out instead because that’s the easier option.

When you workout your self-control muscles so much throughout the day, they run out of energy to work through another set of tough self-control at the end of the day. This isn’t just an analogy either, self-control literally depletes your energy stores as shown by this study.

The good news is that you can build your self-control muscles to be stronger and last longer to help you out in reaching your fitness and nutrition goals!

Here are a few ways that you can strengthen your self-control muscles.

Set Process Focused Goals

Goals are necessary because they guide our choices throughout the day. You probably already have some general big picture goals that you’re trying to accomplish whether that’s eating healthier, lose X number of pounds, or get stronger.

The problem with those goals is that they might be too big and too ambiguous. They’re broad and hard to measure, not to mention you can’t hit them overnight so it makes it hard to work toward them daily.

Instead of focusing just on the big outcome-based goals, set some process-focused goals along the way as well. These are the little actions you do on a daily basis that will help you reach those big goals over time. Things like:

  • Walk for 30 minutes a day
  • Eat protein and vegetables with every meal
  • Sleep for 7+ hours a day

These give your daily choices more direction to follow and you can actually check off that you did them daily! 


Self-monitoring is a form of feedback that is essential to reaching your goals. After all, if you don’t know what you’re doing on a daily basis you won’t know if you’re going to actually make it to your goals or not! 

This is the cornerstone of being successful with any goal that you set for yourself. You can self-monitor a number of ways depending on what your goals are.

  • Tracking your calorie intake with an app like MyFitnessPal
  • Tracking your training (weights, sets, reps, etc.)
  • Tracking your consistency with certain habits using a habit tracker like the one pictured below

Self-monitoring helps you become the expert of your own behavior so that you can always know you’re working towards your goals or if you need to adjust anything to work toward your goals.

Adjust Your Environment To Avoid Temptation

Believe it or not, the number one factor that dictates your decision making is your environment. That includes your surrounding area, the media you consume, and the people you spend your time with.

Think about it. If there’s a bowl of candy out you’re going to grab some. If you’re reminded about that $5 pizza deal you’re going to order some. If everyone you follow on social media or spend time follows a lifestyle the opposite of your goals you’re going to want to do the same.

All of these are different kinds of resistance on your way to executing the goals you’d like to accomplish. You have to fight through all of these obstacles if you want to follow through with your goals and that takes a lot of energy.

To make doing the things that will progress you to your goals easier to accomplish it makes more sense to adjust your environment to make the actions you want to do easier to accomplish and make falling to your temptations harder to accomplish. 

You can do that by:

These are all different kickstarters to your momentum that you need to keep you going at all times.

Manage Stress

Being constantly stressed takes up a lot of energy – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your heart rate raises, your mind starts racing, and you can get overwhelmed with emotions.

Being stressed has been shown to correlate with lower self-control, poor decision making, and depleted energy. If you use up your energy being stressed, you won’t have enough energy to maintain your self-control.

Sleeping well, exercising regularly, box breathing exercises, and finding ways to ground yourself are all ways you can manage stress so that you aren’t drained anymore!

Be Ok With Messing Up

Probably the most important step in improving your self-control is understanding that this is going to be a process. You’re not going to flip a switch and start living the life you want to live.

This won’t be perfect. 

You’re going to mess up.

And that’s OK! 

You succeed by being consistent with your process goals despite messing up every now and then. You’ll have to accept that you will fail so learn to forgive yourself and try again

You’re not a failure for messing up, in fact, you should expect to mess up! The only way you can actually fail is if you give up entirely – but I know that won’t be you.

Need help building self-control for your specific situation? Set up a strategy call with one of our coaches here!


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