For most of us, building will-power and restraint is a lifelong task. Navigating the restraint bias plays a critical role in our general pursuit of strong habits and resoluteness. To minimize the strength of the restraint bias is to have a more accurate perception of our impulse-control and make better decisions accordingly. Basically, how well we know ourselves can improve our choices and behaviors.
Collect personal data on our relationship with temptation and impulse
According to Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, “the best way to improve your self-control is to see how and why you lose control”.5 McGonigal encourages using a data-based approach to improving will-power and increasing our self-knowledge. First, we can take inventory of the areas in our lives that feel most influenced by impulsiveness or lack of restraint. Maybe we procrastinate or maybe we spend too much money on take-out. Whatever it is, we can start to document the circumstances where we feel more inclined to give in to temptation. For example, we might notice that we spend more money on food when we are upset or busy.
We can also keep track of how we think about restraint. Are we acting without thinking or are we rationalizing certain actions to ourselves? How do we judge our own acts of restraint? For example, we might say “Oh, getting take-out for one is cheaper than cooking”, but use this rationalization so often that it isn’t true anymore.
Plan according to your data
The more data we have on our impulsive behaviors, the better equipped we are to find solutions. If we find that our take-out spending goes up around busy weeks, we might look for ways we can meal prep pre-emptively. Or if we see that our spending on food is higher when we study at the library because of its proximity to higher-priced amenities, we might choose to study at home instead. McGonigal also suggests making barriers and commitments for ourselves in order to be more accountable for our impulses. This can include removing junk food and cigarettes from our houses or changing the limits on our credit cards. Changing habits is tough and won’t happen overnight. But with a dedication to growth, we can learn more about our own habits and make incremental strides towards better choices.