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This month's issue of Scientific American has a great article on the power of self-control. In the article, authored by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, who boasts 25 years in the field, Baumeister explains that the key to success is not self-esteem as once believed, but self-discipline. Self-esteem is a result of achievement, while self-discipline is achievement's cause.

Self-discipline is a powerful asset whose influences are felt in many areas of life, including addiction. According to Baumeister, the strongest addicts have the most discipline. Contradictory as this may seem, the author explains that it is through intense self-control that addicts are able to maintain their addictions through the many obstacles life puts in the way. He sites an example of a study on smoking. An employer put in place restrictions on the times and locations smokers were able to light up, and the result: those with the least self-control gave up smoking at work, while those with the most self-control found ways around the restrictions, allowing them to keep on indulging their habits. In other words, the worst addicts have the most self-control, making it easiest for them to give up their habits, provided they put their mind to it.

This has profound implications. Prevailing notions, propagated by politicians, drug counselors and others sustain the myth that addiction is rooted in overwhelming, uncontrollable urges. But the truth is that any urge, even those associated with the most powerful addictions, are completely under one's control. Studies have shown that the urge to continue a bad habit fluctuates over time. Being mindful of the fluctuations in urges and the cues prompting the rise of an urge - say, in the drinker who always has her first cocktail at 5 pm - can help to reduce their sway. Your life is in your hands, and you have the power to just say no, or yes, as the case may be.

For as author Paulo Coelho once put it: "If you conquer yourself, then you will conquer the world."


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