The benefits of self control have been touted for as long as civilizations have existed. Early modern philosophers have echoed those ideas: restraints on our own actions make us more free, not less.
How could that be? It may sound counter intuitive, but it makes sense if you consider it. It is because our actions are often impulsively guided by instincts, and those instincts are often short-sighted and disorderly.
Closer to our day, many people have also come around to this realization that self control has great benefits. From psychologists to economists to ex-Navy SEALS, people have shared findings from scientific studies and on-the-ground experience. Here are five key things you can do to make your day more productive, and indeed, better your life, through self control.
1. Get up early. Get up at the same time every day.
Waking up at 4:30am was one thing retired Navy Seal and podcast host Jocko Willink could not shake after quitting the military. He shared his motivation to get up early—it needn’t be 4:30, but it should be the same every day, so pick a time.
Although it might feel rough at first, it gives anyone a jump on the day. He recommends using the time to work out, but you can also get something done and still have time to send kids off to school.
Willink concedes that some people need more sleep than others; so why not go to bed earlier if you’re just going to be wasting time on Facebook anyway?
2. Have a substantial breakfast soon after waking.
Some people say they do not eat breakfast, but that’s just not a good plan. Mental alertness has a lot to do with our cognition and physiology. After fasting all night, if we don’t eat breakfast, our brains will produce insulin and sap all the blood sugar from our blood and leave us physically and mentally depleted, according the widely popularized psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson.
Peterson says you should eat a big breakfast, and it should be substantial: some protein or fat, meat or cheese for example, and avoid empty calories. Not only will you be alert, but you will also be less anxious if that anxiety is linked to low blood sugar (it’s very likely that it is).
3. Start the day by working out
It’s not just the Navy Seals; researchers from the University of Bristol also say that physical exercises promote a more positive outlook at the start of the day. As little as 10 minutes of physical activity produces the neuro-transmitter GABA, which helps the brain feel more soothed and stay in control of its impulses. Exercising in the morning, meanwhile, ensures that there will be enough time during the day, and it’s just a good way to start the rest of the day.
4. Set goals for the day.
Psychologists and researchers have shown that setting well-defined goals increases the likelihood of success. It also builds confidence. But part of it has to do with application; a vague goal (for instance, obtain a job) might seem difficult to tackle because we’re looking at it in low resolution. Try looking at it in higher resolution until you can find concrete tasks that you can do right away (such as, write a resume).
5. Make tomorrow’s plan before bed.
It’s better if you can get up the next day and just get moving, says Willink. The former Navy SEAL discourages shaking off morning lethargy with a cup of coffee while planning the day. It’s better to come up with tomorrow’s plan today, before going to bed.
“Don’t think in the morning. That’s a big mistake that people make,” Willink says. “They wake up in the morning and they start thinking. Don’t think. Just execute the plan. The plan is the alarm clock goes off, you get up, you go work out. Get some.”
That sounds like some sound advice from someone who’s got the experience to show for it.