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The Art of Maintaining Self-Control

Self-Control Has Been Practiced For Thousands Of Years

Socrates – “Know Thyself”

Cicero – “Control Thyself”

One of the great triumphs of medicine is the way in which the scourges of polio, small pox, and other diseases have been conquered.  Now, it appears that the challenges to our health are not caused by a pathogen out there that infects us.  Instead, they are “in here,” with us, and are related to our own habits and behaviors.  Some smoke, some drink excessively, some overeat.  A host of problems we face are related to a very unpopular phrase, “self-control.”


Self-control is like a muscle. You can build it to resist temptations like this one!

In a new book by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, self-control is explored, and some of the findings are quite surprising, especially for those who struggle with diabetes. Willpower, it turns out, is not some mysterious strength that some people seem to possess and others do not.  It actually is a brain circuitry that is powered by, guess what, glucose!  And now scientists are figuring out how to get around its natural shortcomings.

How many of us have had the experience of trying to diet and doing well all day, but around ten o’clock at night our will power abandons us, and we find ourselves having that big bowl of ice cream along with an even bigger portion of guilt and shame.  What we don’t understand is that when we diet, we tend to drive down our blood-sugar.  And if we are diabetic, our pancreas gets in on the act, shooting down the sugar we do have.  The result is a reduction of self-control, just when we need it most!

So, while we are waiting for the scientists and researchers to whip this little problem, Baumeister and Tierney have some tips for us to build our willpower the smart way:

  1. Build up your willpower with small but consistent exercises like tidiness and good posture.
  2. Don’t tackle all of your bad habits at once.
  3. Learn to watch for “ego fatigue,” that moment when you feel depleted and are especially at risk of blowing it.
  4. Give up the idea of “dieting,” if by that term you mean aggressively denying yourself calories, because it starves the very system of self-control you are counting on. Instead give yourself “better fuel,” complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats that together will help modulate your glucose.
  5. If you are diabetic, maintain careful compliance with your medical regimen to maintain the best levels of glucose you can.  This will enhance your ability to stay with the plan long-term.

OK. That’s all for now. I have to go take a run, floss my teeth, and call my mother. Good luck in your own quest for self-control!

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