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Listening to the Devil (or the Angel) on your Shoulder

One thing we should all be able to agree on is that we have experienced times where we did not know which voice to listen to: the Angel or the Devil. While I may not be the most spiritual person, the metaphor could not be truer.

When it comes to decision-making, when we have no clue what to do, our minds offer up solutions for both arguments.

But which one do you listen to? There are times when we know we should listen to the Angel because it’s the most logical sense, but then there are those other times when we listen to the Devil because it sounds more exciting.

How do you know which one to listen to? Well that depends on what you want to achieve. The Devil can help you challenge yourself and push you beyond your limits, but it can also get you in trouble and cause you to lose sight of your goals.

Self-Control is a Skill

Before moving to Texas last August, I had spent the previous six months on a structured workout plan that included specific lifting days, but also specific nutritional guidelines to follow. Shout out to my boy Chris because, man, did it pay off.

I dropped 30 pounds and 15 percent body fat in that time, I was at my lowest weight since my early 20s, and I was feeling darn good about myself. When it came to eating sweets or drinking with my friends, the Angel always prevailed and helped me stick to my plan.

Fast forward to present day and guess what… those 30 pounds are back and I feel a lot more disappointment in myself losing all that progress. What changed? I started listening to the Devil. I could not keep from the sweets, overeating started to become more and more prevalent, even the yearly character strength test I take told me that my “self-control” trait went from #5 all the way down to #17 (out of 24). I had let myself down, I had reverted back to old eating habits, and worst of all, I knew I had it in me but that did not make a difference.

The way our brains work is that what we say and think about is going to influence our emotions, our physiology, and our behaviors in that moment. For me, telling myself to “just eat the cookie” shifted my focus away from my goals and onto the craving of what I was about to eat, caused me to let down my inhibition, and caused me to eat nonstop until I was passed the point of being full.

What I was doing in the months before Texas was telling myself, “You do not need it,” or “Is it in your plan?” which led me to experiencing a sense of accomplishment and redirected my attention to what I could eat in that moment.

Sometimes it is not as easy as just listening to the Angel, but if you create a process to fight these counterproductive thoughts and remember why you do what you do, that is what will help you maintain control when you need it.

Improving Your Self-Control

Building self-control takes practice, but can be enhanced through a three-step process: breathing, self-talk and awareness of your core values. First, taking a deep breath can go a long way in grabbing control. Taking controlled, rhythmic breathes using your diaphragm not only help manage the fight-or-flight response of the nervous that often kicks into gear when the Angel and Devil are fighting for our thoughts, but your breath can also be used as a mental reset to help get your thinking brain back online.

Second, you can use your self-talk to redirect your attention to where you want it to go. Just like I did with asking myself, “Do you need it?” or “Is it in your plan?” your self-talk can be used as a reminder or the fuel you need to keep you from relinquishing control to your thoughts.

Finally, and what might be the most powerful, is identifying what your core values are. Your core values are what guide you each play, and they also play a huge role in the decisions you make. For example, one of my core values is that actions speak louder than words. I can use this value to help stick to my nutrition plan because I know I can do it, I have done it before, but it is about doing that action now.

Final thoughts

Writing this column was just as much for me, as it was for you. My self-control has been lacking lately, so this column was a way for me to get myself back on track, while also giving you insight into how you can enhance your self-control. I am a firm believer that you will always be your biggest competition, no matter what the performance is. If you can learn to win, or at the very least, manage the battle within, then nothing can stop you.


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