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The War of Two Minds — Photo credit: JoJoesArt

Why We Struggle With Self-Control — The Problem of Two Minds

  • What is the root of so many conflicts? Where are these two wolves coming from?
  • How can I feed the white wolf and help it triumph (hence, be healthy, wealthy, happy, and wise.)
  • How can I tie the hands of that sinister and self-sabotaging wolf?

The Problem of Two Minds

The Black Wolf

Evolution has two main purposes: ensuring your survival and reproduction. Thus, towards these ends, it has instilled within you, instincts, impulses, and urges that compel you to fulfill its purposes.

The White Wolf is Born

Imagine this: It is 100,000 years ago, and you are the top-of-the-line homo sapiens. Just a few generations before, the black wolf would guarantee your survival:

  1. Find food (cravings)
  2. Reproduce (the urge for sex),
  3. Avoid the danger or fight them (fear or anger)

The War Begins

Dualism — Photo credit: Republic of Mind

Getting Rid of Your Black Wolf?

It is tempting to think of our self-control system to be the superior “self,” and regard our primitive instincts as the vestige of our evolutionary past.

Getting Help From The Black Wolf

Fear, disgust, pain, laziness, etc., are all different cloaks of the black wolf that you can use to effectively exercise your self-control and crush your temptations.

Self-Control Workouts — Nourishing The White Wolf

Neuroscientists now posit that if you ask your brain to do math every day, it gets better at math. If you ask it to worry, it gets better at worrying. If you ask it to concentrate, it gets better at concentrating.

Regularly, engage with activities that is burdonsome or requires overriding a simple habit.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start using your non-dominant hand for routine tasks. I’m right-handed and from three years ago I started brushing my teeth, holding my spoon, opening doors, etc., with my left hand.
  • Another training strategy is to change your speech habits, which also require mental effort to modify. For instance, try breaking the habit of peppering your discourse with like and you know.

Taking The White Wolf to The Gym

We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training. — Archilochus

If you want a simple and powerful way to increase your self-control, then you need to meditate.

People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at self-control skills. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex [the seat of self-control] as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.

The good news is that you don’t need to practice for a lifetime or become a monk to see the benefits. Studies show that just three hours of meditation practice leads to improved attention and self-control. And after eleven hours, those changes are readily visible in your brain (through the fMRI imaging technique.)

  1. Stay still and put: Seat up straight on a chair with feet on the ground. It’s important not to fidget and not even scratch an itch meanwhile. That’s the physical foundation of self-control. Resisting the impulses.
  2. Turn your attention to the breath: Close your eyes and focus on your breathing (whether on the sensation of breath passing your nostrils or on your belly moving …)
  3. Get back your attention to the breath: When you notice your mind wandering (and it definitely will), just bring it back to the breath. This is the critical step of meditation, catching your mind wandering and taking it back to your breath.

What if you think of your to-do list, past arguments, or porn for 19.5 minutes out of 20 minutes of meditation? Do you get an F in meditation? No. If you spend even a second noticing this wandering and bringing your attention back to your mantra (or whatever), that is a “successful” session.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to the modern architecture of our brain, we have two rulers in our brain each of which competing to get the reign of our behavior.

Rule your mind, or it will rule you.



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Amir Afianian

Productivity is My Passion | Programmer | I Read Obsessively, Experiment Like a Maniac, And Write What Actually Works in Here.