Daniel Akst

Maybe it would be better to acknowledge, like the Greeks, that a lot of behavior we call addiction is really a love of pleasure that carries the force of habit. We become addicted mostly because of the central issue in all self-control problems, which is the disproportionate value we place on short-term rewards.

While we don't have much say over the desires that we have, we certainly can decide which we prefer-and then search for ways to act on that basis.

In matters of self-control as we shall see again and again, speed kills. But a little friction really can save lives.

Besides, what matters, when it comes to self-control, isn't so much willpower as vision-the ability to see the future, so that the long-run consequences of our short-run choices are vividly clear. In that sense, our shortcomings in this arena are really failures of imagination.

At least one study of blocked writers has found that they were more productive and more creative when they were essentially forced to write instead of scribbling only when the mood struck them.

Be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved or untrained to stand the test.

Exercising self-restraint can be depleting, yet it can also be ennobling.

When we exercise self-control on a given occasion, we win for ourselves a little credibility we can rely on the next time around. Pretty soon we develop a reputation to ourselves that we want badly to uphold. With each test that we meet, our resolve gains momentum, fueled by the fear that we may succumb and establish a damaging precedent for our own weakness.

Self-regulation will always be a challenge, but if somebody's going to be in charge, it might as well be me.

Our choices add up; each one influences others, and cumulatively a series of delightful short-term choices can leave us much worse off in the long run.

What mattered was not what happens to you, but how you handle it. Self-command is required to overcome the dangerous misinformation of our emotions, and because for the most part the self is the only thing that we can command. We have no control, ultimately, over what people do or think. What we can influence is our understanding of these circumstances and how we respond to them.

What self-control doesn't mean is mindless self-sacrifice or knee-jerk self-denial. On the contrary, it represents an affirmation of self, for it requires not the negation of instinct but its integration into a more complete form of character-one that takes account of more than just immediate pleasures and pains. The self-control I'm talking about means acting in keeping with your highest level of reflection.

In the modern world, self-control buys a good life indeed. Having self-control to spare is rare enough nowadays that the marketplace lavishes huge rewards on society's scary new self-control elite, those lords of discipline who not only withstood all that boring stuff in graduate school, but keep themselves thin by carefully regulating what they eat after flogging themselves off to the gym at the crack of dawn. It's as if they got the news ahead of the rest of us-no doubt by waking up earlier-that self-control may well be the most important trait of the twenty-first century.