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The Secret to Self Control

Will power is not the answer. How manipulating your environment can direct you towards positive change.

We all want more self control. We all want more will power. But are we focusing on the wrong things?

We are meant to have a small supply of will power

“I have no will power!” Probably the most common phrase I have heard over the years with my clients. We often blame lack of will power for our inability to make lasting change. However, will power was never designed to be used over a long period of time. Reason being, we only have a small supply to begin with and using will power takes up a lot of mental energy. Those relying on will power to make change often find themselves stuck in the ‘all or nothing’ cycle.

Change your environment to change your habits

Will power allows us to overcome temptation in the short term, but for long term success, research is showing our environment is a key piece of the puzzle. It is thought that an average adult makes up to 35,000 decisions every day. Think about how many things that may influence those decisions. Some factors we will not have control of but others we do. What if we could engineer our surrounding environment so that it always points us towards making healthy choices? Think about having a fruit bowl on the table, does it remind you to eat fruit? What if you have a block of chocolate sitting on the bench?

“I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment” - James Clear

Cues matter

A number of years back, I did a little experiment on my work colleagues as I wanted to test the power of visual cues. I recruited the receptionist who was in charge of filling the biscuit jar. For the first two weeks of our experiment, the biscuits were in a tin that no one could see through. For the next two weeks the biscuits were in a glass jar. The receptionist was tracking how many packets of biscuits we were going through as she refilled the tin. At the end of the four weeks, we tallied up the results. Staff had consumed DOUBLE the amount of biscuits during the fortnight that the biscuits were in the glass jar. And no, I checked, we didn't buy Tim Tams or anything awesome in that second fortnight. Same old biscuits but in a glass jar, thus activating the habit loop:

Cue = see biscuits in glass jar.

  1. Craving = a sweet treat.

  2. Response = eat a biscuit.

  3. Reward = enjoy the sweet taste and crunchy texture, feel an energy boost.

By putting the biscuits in an opaque tin we removed the cue, therefore breaking the cycle. We engineered our environment to make the cues for an unhealthy habit less visible.

How can you reduce the steps between you and a good habit, and increase the steps between you and a bad habit ?

Remember, will power is a limited commodity and is designed to be used in the short term only. By changing the environment around us, we can promote good habits whilst also making the cues to our bad habits less obvious.

Ideas for environment change to promote healthy habits:

1. Clean out your fridge and food cupboard:

Place treat foods in opaque containers and either up high or down low, out of sight.

Place healthy every day foods on the middle shelves or at eye level.

2. Leave healthy snacks in an accessible place:

Have a fruit bowl on the bench or some chopped up veggies in a clear container in the middle of the fridge.

3. Do not buy treat foods to keep at home ('just in case I get visitors' or because 'they were on special'):

This means you only need to resist temptation once, rather than continuously saying no at home. Plus your visitors will be more than happy with just a cuppa and your company!

4. Lay out your exercise clothes the night before:

This creates a visual reminder and is also one less thing to think about the following morning!

5. Set up a charging station for your devices outside your bedroom:

This will reduce the temptation to be dragged down the internet rabbit hole when you should be winding down or sleeping. And before the 'buts' come, buy an alarm clock! :)

6. If you are a smoker, make the inside of your home and/or car a non-smoking area:

This will increase the effort required to smoke and can be a great way to cut down or help you quit.

7. Install a web blocker or timer app which restricts access to certain websites and social media:

These can be very helpful in reducing amount of time wasted and/or increasing productivity.

**If you feel you could benefit from having extra support to make change, sign up for a free 30 minute session. We can discuss your needs and see if we're a good fit!**



The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog/article/handout is done at your own risk. Any third-party materials or content of any third-party site referenced in this blog do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion, standards or policies and the author does not assume any liability for them whatsoever.

1 Comment

Mayra sharma
Mayra sharma
Nov 23, 2021

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