I was training one of our small groups yesterday when the song “We Built This City” by Starship came on. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I still like it. It’s a pretty cheesy song, but was a chart-topper my Plebe year at West Point, way back in 1985.

One of the toughest aspects of Plebe year was that we were not allowed to have radios or stereos of any kind. We were intentionally cut off from the real world. Being denied music is a fairly tough sacrifice for 18-20 year-old kids.

A funny outcome of that year of enforced musical abstinence is that many of the songs that were popular then still seem new to me. So, when songs like Starship’s pop up on playlists, I often hear them as if they’re brand new; the luster hasn’t worn off from overplaying.

Plebe year musical abstinence was just an introduction to much of the Army’s culture of asceticism. Whether forced upon us or through our own volition, soldiers are hardened by self-denial and adversity.

Self-denial builds self-control…

Asceticism goes way back to the Ancient Greek Stoics. It is marked by voluntary restriction of worldly pleasures and comforts. They recognized the value that self-denial plays in developing self-control. Mastery of our impulses and passions releases us from the control those compulsions hold over us. The Ancients recognized that self-control equates to freedom and that we develop and strengthen it through self-denial.

Now, in our modern way of life, with unlimited opportunities for indulgence and comfort, developing self-control can seem impossible. With the super-abundance of temptation and the frenetic pace of life that we face daily, how does any ordinary human summon the self-discipline to push back from the table before overeating or walk that quarter mile to the store when our car can get us there in less than a minute???

The Stoics teach us that a strong foundation of self-control is most successfully constructed through small acts and minor decisions that we make consistently. We don’t have to go off and live alone in the desert like second-century Christian hermits to develop self-control.

10 Practical Suggestions…

With that in mind, below you’ll find 10 suggestions that you might utilize to begin strengthening your own foundation of self-control. If you’re game, I would suggest that you choose one of these, the one that you feel most likely to stick with and give it a try for a week. If you decide to go down this road with me, my only condition is that you stick with it for the full week, all seven days. Then let’s see how you’re doing and what difference it made in how you feel about yourself.

OK, here’s my list…

  1. Don’t use the snooze button. Put your phone or clock on the other side of the room so that you must get up and out of bed to turn it off.
  2. If you are perpetually late for things, be 15 minutes early.  For everything. All week. Leave 15 minutes earlier than you normally would. (BTW, take note of how differently the world will view you. You will magically be perceived to be more competent, attentive, organized, even caring. Yep, just by showing up early!)
  3. Sleep more. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than normal. But here’s the catch, no electronics. None. No TV, no phone, no iPad, no laptop, nothing that glows or needs electricity to function. Remember books? Those are OK for this exercise.
  4. If you must sweeten your coffee, use Stevia. For perspective, one teaspoon of sugar contains 16 kcals. The typical coffee in which somebody adds 2 teaspoons of sugar contains 8 grams of carbohydrates and 32 kcals per cup. Now let’s imagine that this person has two cups every morning. That’s 72 kcals per day, over 26,000 kcals annually, or as much as 7.5 lbs of fat. In contrast, a cup of black coffee contains about 2 kcals.
  5. Keep a gratitude journal, or any journal. Commit to at least one daily entry, even if it’s just one thing for which you feel grateful. You’ll be thankful that you did… 😉
  6. Ask for a veggie side dish with your lunch rather than the typical chips or fries. This can reduce calories by as much as 150 per lunch. Add that up over a year, and it could mean as much as 15 lbs in weight loss!
  7. Park at least 100 meters from your work or any place you park. You know that little thrill when you find a parking spot close to the store? Yeah, there are dozens or hundreds of them available just 100 meters down the aisle. Choose those.
  8. Take the stairs. If the climb is three stories or less, always take the stairs. Up and down. This is not about the calories, though you will burn a few. It’s more about the discipline. Plus, you’ll get a little boost in leg strength.
  9. Workout without music. Seriously. It can be done. I think people used to run and train before the Walkman was invented, right??? How did they do it???
  10. OK, this last one may be the toughest one of them all… for a full week, don’t buy anything, excepting only food or gas. Yep, that’s what I’m saying… Nothing. Don’t buy a single item of any kind. See if it’s possible. I assure you that it is. Learn to make do. Want financial freedom? For most of us this is where that journey starts.

I hope that any one of these might serve to inspire you just a little bit to begin strengthening your self-control. The dividends are enormous. Perhaps more than any other, this one essential quality can be the difference maker in what we achieve in life and how we view the inevitable challenges it throws at us.

I’d love to hear which one of these you plan to adopt! Please hit me back and let me know which one you’re going to attempt so I can support and encourage your efforts.

And, please don’t judge me too harshly when “We Built This City” comes back around on the playlist and I turn the volume up a little…



  • Hi Paul.
    I do a few of these already.
    I am going to try #5 keeping a gratitude journal and #10 not making any purchases for a week.

    Good article !
    Thank you,

Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.