Have you ever eaten the entire packet of biscuits when your daily allowance was just one? Or, have your efforts to stop smoking been interrupted when you met with a friend who smoked? These can all be explained by our making the same mistake each time: thinking that our impulse control is excellent.

There can be many reasons why we cannot implement the decisions we reach, stand behind the promises we make to ourselves. One of the most important of these is forcing our will beyond its limits. When using our will, our brain expends a lot of effort, using up plenty of glucose in the mean time. As a result, our resistance is weakened, and we find ourselves with a handful of biscuits in our hand.

To avoid such a situation we must make manageable decisions, and deal with them one at a time. It is not a good idea to give up smoking and caffeine in the same week.

Our impulses, based on emotions more than logic, may undermine our “enormous” passions. In a research, participants who had eaten their full at lunch stated that they could absolutely resist sweets, but their resistance broke down during the hunger pangs in the afternoon. Psychologists call this “hot-cold empathy vacuum”. This means, the “cold” personality fully in control of itself cannot remember the “hot” emotional personality in full, and inconsistently predicts how soon one may give up. To turn down the heat, you might try a mental cooling. For example, if you are feeling an irresistible wish to smoke, remembering how you smell after smoking, and the taste it leaves in your mouth, may stop you from lighting a cigarette.

Putting a barrier between yourself and your desire will make your job easier. The barrier may also include seeing less or none of the people who may stop you from reaching your goal. If you are on a diet and can’t resist potato chips, you clearly shouldn’t have them in your kitchen.

The most significant control weapon is to have a humble opinion of what you can do. Cigarette addicts who define themselves as “control deficient” stay away more from environments that are attractive during the giving up phase. If we recognize our limits and our weaknesses, it will be much easier to manage them.

                                                                                              Susan Carnell

Abridged from Psychology Today, June, 2010.