Reader Question: How to Develop Self-Control

Today I’ll be tackling the second part of M.A.’s question – how does one develop self control? I answered the question on how a low wage person might become financially independent yesterday.


Q: I read your page on how you became independently financially secure and how you are doing it. I was trying to figure out today how as a low wage worker I or anyone in my shoes could do that. I also noticed you have a lot self control. I am not there yet but I hope to get that kind of self control. How did you use self control to get to where you are today? -M.A.

Okay, M.A.. – self control is tricky business and I’ll be the first person to tell you that while I may be further along this path than you are, I am definitely not perfect and still have my struggles, along with practically everyone else. But I think you can still have success, and make really great changes in your life, even without completely licking this nuisance in the bud. I can also tell you that many of my friends count self control as one of my greatest strengths, so maybe I do have something to share after all.

First things first, what is self control? When I think about it, I basically think about doing something that’s hard. Either doing something that you don’t want to do but you know you should, or not doing something you want to do, but you know is bad for you. So how do we do this?

I think it comes down 3 Things. Internal Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation, and Momentum.

Internal Motivation

So – when it comes to doing hard things, it is critical that you keep in mind why it is you want to pursue that goal. Why does it matter? Why is it important? And really try to come up with reasons that genuinely, deeply speak to you. As an example, I’m doing body re-composition work right now, which requires me to monitor my diet and exercise six days per week. I am not the biggest fan of either of those things, but I do them most of the time. Why? Because I’m terrified of regaining the weight I’ve lost, because I’m determined to accomplish this goal that has eluded me for a lifetime, and because I finally want to love my body unequivocally. These reasons really speak to me, and I want them so much that I’m able to go outside when it is 15 degrees and get to the gym, even though my bed is usually really, really warm in the morning. You have to find your why, and remember it. I’ve gone so far as to write my why’s on flash cards that I read every day.  I’ve written a bunch about this already. It’s very important, and a good first step.

Who Do You Want To Be?
You Do What You Do Because It Does or Doesn’t Meet Your Needs
What to Do After You’ve Set Goals
How to Make Ourselves Do The Things We Should
The Pleasure/Pain Spectrum and How To Use It

Extrinsic Motivation

Basically you can call this one environment, and habits.  You have to set up your life to be conducive to your goal.  So, let’s take a goal of saving up for financial independence as an example.  Those people who keep getting on your case about not going on a super expensive ski vacation with them, and you don’t even care about skiing?  Maybe you don’t talk to them as much anymore.  Trying to avoid going to Starbucks every day before work?  Decide to take a different commuting route where you don’t even drive near it anymore.  Want to start up a gym habit?  Get into a class there and make friends with the other people in the class – and make a pact that if you are going to skip, you have to send a text as to why, and when you will be back in class.  Want to stop spending money on your credit cards?  Put em in a block of ice in your freezer.  Basically – set up your environment to make it easier to do the right thing,  and harder to do the not right thing, to the point where inertia and just the general living of your life causes you to literally fall into your goal.  When I was pursuing financial independence, I designed my life to make it fairly difficult to spend money.  I cut all of my expensive hobbies, and cut all of my bills, and stopped going out for entertainment.  I literally had to go out of my way to spend money.  That was a huge boon to my success.  So when my internal feelings wavered and I felt weak, I had some support systems in place to back me up until I got my head straight again.

Morning Routines
Get Rid of Clothes That Don’t Fit ASAP
You Can Do It Alone, But Maybe You Shouldn’t
Record Custom Alarms Throughout Your Day
Your Daily Activities Should Reinforce Each Other
Deliberately Choose The People In Your Life
Controlling Your Environment Is Super Important!


Basically, the more you do these things, the easier it becomes to do them. Success builds on success. I like to think of self control as a muscle. At first it’s weak and it’s hard to do something that’s really far out of your comfort zone. But doing just a little something isn’t so bad. As an example – okay, living on $1200 per month all in is not the easiest thing for most people. But changing your cell phone plan to use less data, and not watching YouTube videos and streaming music over your phone network is a small change that’s easy to make. And you think that wasn’t so bad and see and feel the results and before you know it you start looking at what else you can do to pursue your goal. So think of this as flexing your little frugality muscle, and when you flex it, it gets stronger, and the more you flex it, the more you want to flex it, and it gets stronger still, and pretty soon, before you know it, you’ve done and accomplished amazing things!

The flip side is true too by the way… if you flex your “give up” muscle more than your “just do it” muscle, you get used to giving in more, and more, and before you know it, you’re completely off the wagon and in the bushes. So focusing on getting your momentum going the right way is important, and that reason in and of itself is good Internal Motivation. 🙂

I hope you found this post helpful, M.A.! Thanks for the question!

Wishing you success,

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