What is self-control? Do we equate it to willpower? For some people, will power and self-control are one and the same. In a survey regarding healthy lifestyle choices and overcoming addictions, people regularly cited the lack of willpower as the main reason why they don’t follow through with healthy changes. In another US survey, the participants said that the lack of willpower was the number one barrier to changing their bad habits.

But what exactly is self-control? Scientists believe that self-control and willpower are the ability to say no to short-term temptations for long-term gain. It’s what made humans evolve throughout the years and stay on top of the food chain. Without the ability to control our impulses, the human race would not have existed as it exists today. Our self-control and ability to resist immediate temptations is a result of thousands of years of adaptation. It didn’t happen overnight for the human race. But since it already exists in our genetic makeup, we can definitely strengthen it.

Short-term vs. Long-term
According to Science, willpower or self-control is an acquired habit. Willpower can be developed by resisting short-term temptations to achieve long-term goals. It’s also about knowing what immediately needs to be done and going through with it. It’s easier said than done, as always.

It Starts In Childhood
Research suggests that childhood and parenting methods have a strong effect on children’s willpower or self-control. Children who ranked higher in self-control tests (refusing to immediately receive $1 in order to get $2 next week) also scored higher in tests regardless of gender or IQ.

It’s All In The Head (The Prefrontal Cortex)
Scientists believe that our willpower is what makes us human. It’s what makes us rational creatures that can say no to certain temptations and make better decisions that will benefit the human race in the long run. When the prefrontal cortex is bombarded, our self-control eventually wanes.

How to Strengthen Self-Control
Now, as a reminder, this is scientific advise that is aimed at the general population instead of just those in rehab or sober living homes.

Science says that if you want to develop or strengthen self-control, you have to have a strong reason to be motivated in the first place. And you have to have a clear goal or goals. Second, you have to monitor your daily behavior. This is where journaling or writing on a blog comes in. And the last step is where willpower or self-control eventually comes in. It’s a long process that doesn’t stop.

At the end of the day, even scientists define willpower or self-control as a limited resource that can be depleted. Although everyone has the capability to harness their self-control (or willpower) to do good, certain circumstances can still affect how we respond to external stimuli. So for the loved ones of those in recovery, be patient. Little steps ensure that your loved one will stay in recovery for the rest of their lives.

And remember: even science knows that positive social interactions can help restore depleted sources of willpower. Other scientifically approved tips include: eating a small amount of sugar or honey to give the brain a mental boost, focusing on one task at a time, napping, and accepting the fact that we have more free will and inner strength than we think we have.