When your subconscious is faced with something new, foreign, or difficult, those with good self-control simply have trained their subconscious to look to their conscious mind (themselves) to make the decision. For example, when you’re first driving a car, you’re naturally very focused on improving (using your conscious mind) until your subconscious figures it out and instills driving habits into you.
Those without self-control are on autopilot: their subconscious is constantly running old programs and inventing new ones, either because it has been trained to be on autopilot, or it has deduced that the conscious mind is worthless. People who are perpetually “bad drivers” haven’t learned to consciously intervene and change bad programs. It usually will take something bad, like an accident or a few tickets, to shock them into feeling like they need to change.
In other words, the only way to “exercise self-control” is to bring your conscious mind to the forefront, and to override standard subconscious programs. If, in new moments, your subconscious looks to you, you’re in complete control of your future.
In that spirit, there are seven things that come to mind, and can dramatically help you take back your own life:
1. Keen Observation
Focus on the texture, taste, smell, color, uniqueness of specific things around you. Look at the way your pen is curved, imagine how it was made, see the reflection off of it, hold it and notice the texture, note that it’s a black pen with silver on the sides, etc. This immediately brings your mind to the forefront, and after a minute or two you’re immediately aware.
2. Deliberate Attention to Detail
Try and move your muscles deliberately, and exactly as you want to. Say “I’m going to reach with my right hand towards my coffee. I’m going to grab my coffee on the handle with my index and middle finger. I’m going to turn my head to watch my hand grab the coffee…” You will find that doing something really simple, like drinking coffee, requires a ton of little decisions that need to be made. By consciously making them, you are training your subconscious to look to you before it makes decisions.
3. Breathing Deep and Often
Routinely take full, deep, abnormal breaths. Your natural state is to breath shallowly—breathing deeply will not only make you feel better, it continues to remind your subconscious that you should be the boss.
Count to five before making decisions. If you want to eat a cake after dinner, first consciously say “one, two, three, four, five,” and breathe the whole time. Then, definitively decide if you want the cake or not. This helps defeat the “click, whirr….” response that your subconscious wants to dive into. Once you make these kinds of choices, do not second guess them, just finish them out.
5. Disciplined Boycott
Pick something out of the ordinary that you’re going to boycott for the day. Say to yourself, “I’m not going to check my Facebook once all day,” then actually do it. Make it a priority, so that before you open your laptop or pull out your phone, you remind yourself “I’m not going to check my Facebook.” It takes willpower, even if it’s a relatively small goal.
6. Clear, Minor Habit Changes
Start with habits that will be easy to break, like flossing once a night. Slowly build up to habits that are harder and harder to break. You’ll need to subjectively decide which kinds of habits are harder for you. Personally, I’ve been chewing my fingernails for ten years—that is my Everest.
7. Explicitly Saying What you Want To Yourself
Learn how to say exactly what you want, in all different kinds of situations. This is the most powerful thing I have ever experienced. Sit, by yourself, in silence. Then relax, and say “I want ___.” Be explicit, confident and sure of what you want. For example, “I want to work for NASA.” Say it and mean it. This makes it perfectly clear what your goals are, and everything you do will start to push you towards that goal. Self-control can often be as simple as being clear about what you want to do.
Bonus Tip: Notice Outside Influences
Another one is that you should start to notice how other people influence you. My father, while his advice is 90% good, sometimes gives me terrible advice. But, because I relied on him growing up for so long, I sometimes don’t stop to analyze his suggestions. Once I noticed that, I was able to think and make decisions on my own a little easier. Ask yourself questions, and try to be objective and understanding with your answers.
How You Can Use This to Improve Right Now
These seven things are all only going to work if you take the time to practice them. The only way to get better at soccer is to practice soccer. The only way to get better at math is to practice math (also known as homework). The only way you’re going to get better at deliberately taking your life in a specified, bold direction is to consistently practice.
If you want, I would suggest taking each one of these exercises and assigning them a day of the week. Spend Monday “boycotting your cell phone,” or Tuesday saying “I want to be very happy today.” With consistent practice, and a determined resolve, you will be a true master of your fate, and nothing will stop you from getting what you want.
Above all, don’t give up. Self-control is paramount to getting what you want in life.