As I indicated in my last blog article “Self-control: the key to successful time management,” self-control is a prerequisite for the successful management of time. Other strategies are of little avail if you don’t have the self-discipline to put them into practice. With self-control, you frequently have to do what you would rather not do – whether it’s saying no to someone or putting off a pleasant but unimportant task in favour of an unpleasant, but important task.

When I write about self-control, I include self-discipline, self-regulation, willpower and even temperance as synonyms. There could be minor differences, but the strategies to strengthen them are the same.

Don’t rely on workplace changes such as those offered in my last article to compensate entirely for your lack of self-control. They simply make it easier to change, just as hiding the marshmallow or closing their eyes helped the kids resist wolfing down the marshmallow right away.

In this article I will explain why most of us have problems with self-control and introduce seven strategies for strengthening this particular executive skill.

First of all, let me assure you that reacting to interruptions or being tempted to delay the unpleasant tasks or taking the path of least resistance is perfectly normal. But just because something is normal doesn’t mean it’s wise. And once we sent our mind to it, we can develop self-control and be more successful in all areas of our lives.

I say these reactions are normal because the lack of focus and impulsive behaviour that most of us experience are automatic reflexes activated by our core brain – the ancient part of our brain that forces us to sleep and breathe and jump at harmless shadows. Its main purpose is to keep us alive, and it sees no sense in waiting to eat a marshmallow or not delaying difficult tasks or not jumping at any opportunity to make a quick dollar.

This core, basic, reptilian or mid brain (or whatever or whatever you wish to call it) is essential for our survival but has little to do with logical thinking. Fortunately we have a forebrain as well, and in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain is the thinking part of the brain, which houses our executive skills – those brain-based skills required to execute tasks such as getting organized, planning, initiating work, staying on task and controlling impulses. These are the skills referred to in the last blog article, and the ones that must be strengthened in order to maintain self-control. The executive centre of the brain can override the core brain – but it must have the strength to do so.

In the last article I mentioned some strategies to create a work environment that supports self-control; but now you have to actually strengthen these executive skills so they are able to successfully override the automatic reflexes of the core brain.

The main strategies required to strengthen the executive centre of the brain include the following.

Pace yourself.

Reduce stress.

Conserve energy.

Exercise your body and your brain.

Eat healthy foods.

Practice willpower.

Build good habits.

It took up to 20 years for your executive skills to be developed to their present level. It might take a lifetime for you to perfect them. But you do have a lifetime, regardless of its length. And you can accomplish much in just a few years. The sooner you start, the greater the improvement.

In the next few blog articles I will provide some suggestions on how to put the above seven strategies into action. When you manage your brain, you manage yourself.