When someone finds out I'm vegan and I rarely eat junk food a common question seems to be "how do you do it?" In other words, "how do you stay away from foods that aren't vegan and aren't going to kill you of heart disease in 20 years?"
Tangent: I'd like to live forever. I used to think saying that was just silly wishful thinking; until this past weekend. Check out the genius inventor/thinker/visionary/scientist Ray Kurzweil and his book (co-authored with Terry Grossman) called Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. It is blowing my mind. I guarantee just the first 10 pages will blow your mind as well. :)
I don't have perfect self control. Sure, I believe my will power is strong, but if I'm hungry and you put a bag of greasy, deep-fried french fries in my face I will probably eat them.
My solution is easy: I don't put deep-fried french fries or other junk in my face. Meaning, I don't buy that type of garbage and store it in my refrigerator and as much as I can help it, I don't go to junky fast food restaurants. Out of sight, out of mind. No possibility, no temptation.
I don't have to, nor do I want to, rely on self control. If you were to look at the food in my apartment right now you would find absolutely nothing that tests temptation. Beans, quinoa, rice, bananas, apples, spinach, tomatoes, almonds, oatmeal, and my emergency ration of protein bars (I usually take 1 with me when I leave the house). That's not to say this is all I eat (quinoa/beans/spinach/tomatoes = an awesome dinner, btw!), but when I go grocery shopping (~3 times/week) I don't stop at the cookies and crap aisle, or even in the frozen foods aisle. Again, I don't give temptation a chance.
The Art of Self Control Is That There Is No Such Thing As Self ControlMy point is, we don't have self control. It's not a common trait amongst humans and you'd be hard pressed to find anybody who truly has self control. And so the best way to deal with self control issues is to get rid of the situation that makes them possible.
Sometimes I'll think to myself, "man, I sure wouldn't mind eating a bag of potato chips right now." Since they're not readily available the craving goes away. If it's a craving that lasts a long time I use what I call radical indulgence and force it out of my system.
I've used the following example before, but back when I had cable TV I used to leave my TV on all day. 12 hours/day or more. Sure it would only be on "in the background" but how often would I stop what I was working on and watch? How often would I get distracted, lose focus, and get out of the zone? Far too often. So I cancelled in 2006. My TV didn't receive any free stations. Problem solved. If I wanted to watch TV I'd have to visit a friend or rent/buy DVDs. Much more inconvenient than just hitting that "on" button. These days, with Hulu and Netflix and whatever else, it's much more difficult to simply "cancel TV." It's available on our laptops, on our phones, on our MP3/video players. If watching too much becomes a problem how do you stop? Get rid of the devices/apps or use one of the many programs that will block your access to certain websites and you're golden.
Extreme Problem, Easy SolutionIf the problem is extreme then quitting and canceling everything and completely avoiding certain stores (or sections of stores) seems like an extreme solution. But it's not. When you're honest with yourself it's the easy solution. Just check out what Michael Martine did to quit an addiction. Many people aren't honest enough with themselves to realize they're having a problem. The fact that you're reading this will hopefully awaken you to the possibility that it's OK if you don't have self control, but you've got to be honest with yourself and take a few conscious steps to kicking self control's ass.
The Avoidance Strategy Can Be Used For Countless SituationsMaybe you keep going back to a girl/guy that you know is wrong for you. Cut 'em off. Maybe you've been drinking too much, too often. Don't stock your fridge and avoid nightlife that is focused around drinking. Maybe you're trying to save money for a trip around the world, but you go shopping and waste it all. Choose a different commuting path and block the sites you love spending money on. (Here's a quick list: amazon.com, etsy.com, ebay.com, woot.com)
Tangent: I'm still amazed at how often I overhear conversations at coffee shops / restaurants in which somebody loudly complains about not having money. I know I can't be the only person who recognizes the stupidity of that situation. I know it's tough, but avoidance doesn't have to be forever. Stop going to places that quickly waste away your last $15 until you've figured out a plan to actually pay for life's happy little indulgences.
How about you? What do you do when you're faced with the challenges of self control?