How to improve your self-control, willpower

Greed really wrecks lives, because the more materialistic you become, the more you compete rather than co-operate, ignore the needs of others, and ruin relationships. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Greed is prevalent in cultures that overly admire wealth.
  • Laziness is avoiding a task even if it’s potentially rewarding.
  • Idleness is preferring to do nothing at all.

We all know about the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re clearly a part of human nature, and just as relevant now as they were when they were first listed in the sixth century. Take greed and sloth, for example.

Greed really wrecks lives, because the more materialistic you become, the more you compete rather than co-operate, ignore the needs of others, and ruin relationships.

Greed is prevalent in cultures that overly admire wealth. So, westernised societies, for example, tend to assume that being rich makes you a better person. It doesn’t of course. In fact, even just thinking about money makes people more selfish.

And what about sloth? Nowadays we call it laziness or idleness, and it’s just as much a part of human nature as greed. After all, you prefer to loaf around when you can, don’t you?

Laziness

Laziness is avoiding a task even if it’s potentially rewarding. Task avoidance can be triggered by many things, for example, the fear of failure. But if it becomes a habit, it can seriously limit your prospects in life.

Idleness is preferring to do nothing at all. It’s something we seem to have an instinct for, perhaps because our ancestors needed to conserve energy when it wasn’t essential to be active.

Which means that even though we’re happier when we’re busy, we somehow end up wasting time unless there’s something important enough to do. So while laziness is not wanting to do something important, idleness is having nothing important enough to do.

Only self-control can overcome urges like greed and sloth. Because self control is the ‘master virtue’ controlling all the others - and the key to a better life.

Self control

The best way to improve self control is by learning good habits — automatic behaviours that are triggered by a prompt; like how arriving at work makes you fancy coffee. They develop any time you start doing something regularly.

So if you start running every morning, after a tough month or two it’ll become a habit.

High blood sugar also increases self-control, so drink something sweet anytime you feel your resolve weakening. So does muscular tension, so clenching your fists can help.

Try repeating encouraging words to yourself, and make plans to deal with temptation. Like pouring a cup of tea if you can’t stop thinking about cookies. And if all else fails, distract yourself.

Once you’ve created one good habit, it’s easier to tackle another. So stick at it, and your life will improve. Because people who have good self-control do better academically, are more socially competent, more self-reliant, and better able to cope with difficulties and frustration.

Self-control also enables you to rise above your instincts, and is what makes human beings so different from animals.

Because as we manage our own selfish desires, we create a society where life is better for everyone, rather than one where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

nyumbayangu@me.com

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