Mastering Self-Control

Take the reins! Here's what behavioral science tells us about breaking bad habits, kickstarting new ones, and recharging your willpower.

News: Just Give In

Willpower diminishes as the day wears on, but anything that reduces stress, boosts your mood, or recharges your energy can also reboot your stores of self-control. The following five strategies may look like temptations and distractions, but think of them as strategic indulgences. Help your willpower bounce back—by giving it a break.

Reality Television

Willpower is contagious. Many reality shows feature people working hard to overcome obstacles as they lose weight, face their fears, or organize their clutter. You can “catch” extra self-control just by watching someone else pursue a goal.

A Snack

The brain uses more energy for willpower than for just about anything else. When your blood sugar level drops, your brain is less able to concentrate and manage your impulses. A small nibble that increases blood sugar can nudge the brain back into self-control mode.

YouTube

It’s easy to disappear into an hours-long hole of piano-playing kitties and baby hedgehogs. But try to satisfy yourself with just a few minutes of cuteness. Research shows that watching a funny video restores depleted willpower and can help you get back on track with difficult tasks.

An Afternoon Nap

Willpower is often highest in the morning, after the brain is refreshed by sleep. When you’re tired, it becomes harder to control impulses. Sneaking in a short power nap—which studies show reduces stress, improves mood, and restores focus—can dial back the usual willpower drain.

A Single Espresso

Caffeine gets a bad rap, but in reasonable doses, it can actually reduce stress. In fact, studies show that small amounts of caffeine balance the autonomic nervous system, making you both calmer and more alert—perfect for resisting temptation: “Hold the whipped cream, please.”

Mastering Self-Control