Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. It’s also a time when our willpower is tested to the limit. But it’s not just about ditching the chocolate during the 40-day period in the build-up to Easter Sunday. Many believe the power of self-control is key to enjoying greater success in life.

According to willpower expert and author Professor Roy Baumeister, we each have a limited ability to exercise self- control, so it’s crucial to understand how to make the most of it.

In his recent study, Baumeister notes that “self-control seems to rely on a limited energy or strength, such that engaging in a single act of self-control impairs subsequent attempts at self-control.” He also emphasises the importance of self-control in daily life. “It [self-control] is one of the most important and beneficial processes in the human personality structure. “A burgeoning body of evidence has linked good self-control to a broad range of desirable outcomes, including healthier interpersonal relationships, greater popularity, better mental health, more effective coping skills, reduced aggression, and superior academic performance”.

Keen to improve your willpower after reading that list? Us too. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Principle shared her expert advice on how you can improve your self-discipline through Lent and beyond...

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  • Anticipate Situations

    <a href="http://www.happiness-project.com/">Rubin</a> says that would-be abstainers should be hyper-alert when approaching situations that might make it hard to stick to your rule. “Have a plan to deal with it,” she suggests, “think ‘if X happens, then I will do Y.’”

  • The Importance Of Monitoring

    “The more aware we are of what we’re <em>actually</em> doing – not what we wish we were doing, or imagine that we’re doing – the more control we can exert over ourselves,” says <a href="http://www.happiness-project.com/">Rubin</a>. “Monitoring dramatically boosts our self-awareness, and self-awareness is a key to self-mastery.”

  • Watch Out For The Desire To Escape

    Watch out for the desire to escape dreary self-critical thoughts, <a href="http://www.happiness-project.com/">Rubin</a> warns: “This kind of thinking makes us want to stop monitoring ourselves — and then impulses usually kept in check may be released.”

  • Don’t Let Yourself Get Too Tired Or Stressed Out

    “Easier said than done, I know”, admits Rubin, but it does make a big difference. She also advocates clearing your physical space before addressing your mental space: “For many people, clutter contributes to a sense of stress, more than might seem logical; outer order contributes to inner calm.”

  • Hold Yourself Accountable

    “Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective”, suggests Rubin. This means that being you need to be specific about what you’re abstaining from for Lent, otherwise it’s impossible to measure whether you’re keeping it your resolution.

  • Beware Of Feeling Submerged In A Group

    If you’re worried about falling off the wag, Rubin warns that being in a group of people makes it harder to evaluate our behaviour against our own personal standards. For example, the larger the group we’re in, the more we tend to eat.

  • Don’t let yourself off the hook

    No matter how badly your day went, and how badly you want that chocolate bar, biscuit or glass of wine, giving in – even just the once – will do more harm in the long-run. “When you’re feeling down, you might be tempted to let yourself off the hook”, say Rubin. “In fact, sticking

  • Don't Drink Too Much

    Obviously this applies if you’ve given up alcohol for Lent, but Rubin believes that drinking alcohol affects our self-control and weakens self-awareness, making it harder to sticker to our own rules.

  • Beware of being distractions

    This can prevent you paying attention, and therefore make it more likely to stop concentrating on what you’re doing. “Studies show that people snack more when they’re watching TV, but perhaps surprisingly, people eat more when they’re paying close attention than when they’re bored”, adds Rubin.

  • Be crystal clear

    Rubin urges anyone preparing to abstain during Lent to ask themselves: “What does this mean, <em>exactly</em>?” In other words, come Ash Wednesday morning, what will you do differently?