You have promised yourself not to take that
extra chocolate chip cookie, then, 10 minutes later you are staring with awe at its empty
case… You have promised yourself to go jogging in
the evening and suddenly the laziness monster creeps in and dissuades you from taking action. It turns out that if we could get rid of these
tempting impulses, we would be far ahead in life. The following technique was discovered by
neuroscientists and if you cultivate it through practice, you will be virtually free of the
commands of your temptations and impulses. You will no longer be subject to your impulses. Rather, you will become the master. To inhibit distractions you need to be aware
of your thoughts and internal mental processes. This will give you some room to catch the
wrong impulses before they take hold. This is what happens in your brain before
you take an action: Imagine a simple act, as the desire to move
your finger, or stretching your hands to grab your phone. What science has recently revealed is that
half a second before a voluntary movement, the brain sends a signal called an action
potential, which relates to the movement about to occur. This action potential happens long before
you are consciously aware of the desire to move. Your brain decides “I will grab the phone”
about 0.3 seconds before you are aware of it. Once you are aware of this desire to move
— be it grabbing your phone or moving your finger — your brain has made the decision
for you 0.3 seconds ago. After this point, there is 0.2 seconds during
which you are aware of being about to move, but haven’t yet. This 0.2-second window is a decent amount
of time, long enough for the mind to notice the urge and intervene. Put differently, you don’t have much power
over what you will desire to do, but you have this veto power to intervene and reject it. It would be far easier for you to exercise
this veto power during this 0.2-second window, otherwise, that impulse gets momentum and
much more difficult to suppress. In the words of Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz:
It seems that you may not have much free will, but you do have “free won’t”. Many things on paper sound very lucrative. This technique is quite powerful in itself. But there are a couple of caveats along the
way which might prevent you from gaining the most of it. Firstly, the use of veto power requires awareness
and mindfulness. You can use this veto power to suppress any
destructive impulse — from the desire to devour that delicious chocolate to the desire
of venting off anger. But, in the heat of the moment, what happens
is that you probably won’t even remember that you have this mighty veto power in your
arsenal. Thus, ideally, when the impulse arrives we
want the thought of having this veto power to come along with it, and we want it as soon
as possible; otherwise, we will miss that golden 0.2-second window to use it. The most simple way to gain this awareness
and establish this association (between impulses and veto power) is to constantly expose yourself
to this idea. What I would recommend you to try, is to write
it somewhere that keeps reminding you about it. I usually put such dramatic insights into
the background of my phone. Or I write it on a sticky note and post it
where I am constantly exposed to it. I use my monitor a lot, so it looks like this
for me. Secondly, you have to make the use of this
technique almost automatic. The simple way would be to exercise it regularly. Of course, you know that already. But here’s the catch, it doesn’t have
to feel boring or feel like a burden. You can make this process far easier by remembering
the following simple fact (which is also rooted in neuroscience):
Remember that each time you exercise this veto power, the next time it will be slightly
easier for you to do it. If you follow these simple steps, i.e. reminding
yourself and keep using this veto power, you will reach a point where it gets almost automatic. It becomes a part of your personality. Consequently, you would be a more disciplined
person. So, remember to suppress the impulses as soon
as they arise, before they suppress your progress.