Best New Year’s Resolution: Self-Control

Blog Post

Last year, about this time, I blogged about brain hacks that could help us follow through with our new year’s resolutions. However, I failed to tackle the very root cause of why our new year’s resolutions don’t stick! It is the lack of self-control (oh that is why weight not shedding off!). Even if we promised not to be hot-headed at work, deal with stress better or cut down on carbs but the ‘trigger-act-reward’ loop always gets us. If we saw a team member not doing his part of the game plan, we are triggered to quickly judge, and not long, act on it-walk up to the person and confront without even knowing the reason behind the behavior. If we smell food, we find where it is and as soon as we found it, we devour like a hungry predator on its prey.

In a wheelchair – December 2017

I would like to share Joel’s story, my husband (obviously not mine, I am still a work in progress), on how he was able to walk again from being confined to his wheelchair or office chair at home. For the past 5 years we never opted to go for surgery, although we’ve seen 2 neurosurgeons within that span of time but it didn’t feel right and safe. I studied biology, natural way always made sense. However the best we could find was reflexology by Tita Luz Salahog, his sister’s mother-in-law. She was amazing as she helped Joel stand and walk again but we thought it wasn’t enough. He still felt weak and eventually went back to his chair. I have always believed that God already made the cure for any diseases. I also thought that diseases are caused by abuses or addiction we succumb ourselves to (like sugar addiction) so we just need to stop them. We relentlessly sought and asked around until we learned of Dr. Farrah Agustin-Bunch Cancer Center in Victoria, Tarlac from my sister-in-law. We went with her and my brother. Joel was happy about us taking them there but not too happy about seeking help there. Being a logical person that he is, he was skeptical.

Joel is the brother of an old friend, Niña, so I have known him since I was 5. I came looking for his sister on Facebook but I got him instead. This was the time when he came home from Abu Dhabi, resigned from his job as Safety Engineer as he was diagnosed with Cervical Tumor in the spine. I don’t want to bore you with our love story (will spare it for Maalala Mo Kaya episode. I am kidding!) so in 2013 we decided to get married. He was still unwell then and couldn’t hold a long walk so we spared the wedding march. I reckon that we were highly optimistic about the road ahead and relied so much on God’s faithfulness.

The moment one of the doctor’s in the center said that Joel will totally eradicate carbohydrates, it clicked with me! I knew that this was the way to starve the cancer or tumor cells! We also bought medicines there that were extracted from plants with potent substance to boost his immune system – the tumor becomes a foreign body and it is almost always automatic for our immune system to fight against it but it needs boosting.  However, Joel at this time was still not totally convinced. Why?

People live in the present-reward now!

present - reward
Sumptuous assorted cookies

We want to lose weight or deal with stress at work better because we want to look good… in the future. In the future, yes, but we can’t have it now! We will never be able to control ourselves from screaming at our people or eating those cookies on the table because it is not fun or rewarding for us. The reward circuit in our brain will not be too happy with us and for Joel, it would be a stressful journey.


We knew that in order to control ourselves from eating rice, chocolates, bread, cookies, processed food, we had to let go of them and ended with an empty fridge and barren pantry (now we see why I put on weight and Joel’s condition got worse)! We went to Healthy Options for organic meat, sea salt and pepper and to the seafood and vegetable section of the nearest Walmart. This helped us to strictly eat healthy as it was the only option accessible. That was a great brain hack!

Cognitive Control Reward Substitution (by Dan Ariely)

The first 4 days were hard for him and I (not that I followed the diet too, I do only when I am home, hehe but it was in watching him struggle). On his 5th day to this diet however, I came home surprised to see him on his chair cutting vegetables and on the stove was the boiling chicken. How did this happen?


Joel loves to cook. With his limited capacity he’d always come up with a tasty dish and an Instagrammable plating! On that day his prefrontal cortex kicked back in the forefront finally (he is quite a logical person so this part of his brain must be well developed). This is the cognitive control process shoving away his hippocampus that made him feel stressful and emotional and allowing his prefrontal cortex to take control.

He also likes challenges as it propels him and motivates him. He even once told me that he was poor in Math so he took engineering in the university instead (I frowned at him and my jaw dropped, he had to tuck it back up). He used his love for cooking and taking on the challenge-to-cook-tasty-food-with-limited-but-healthy-options as his motivation to follow through on this diet and control his urge. I would support him by approving of the taste (best job ever!) and sharing on Instagram. This got him through the 3-month strict all organic and no sugar diet.

Self-Talk: Challenge the noise and do not give in!

You know when you are about to go fuming mad at your team, so you walk away and think through it. This is the best way. Think about the consequences, feel as if it’s happening right now. Breathe so oxygen can flow through your brain to sustain this stressful circuit. Get the prefrontal cortex to take the lead by asking questions and challenging the noise. If your mind tells you that you are coward by not confronting, answer back by saying, “I am wiser and not impulsive. There is a better way.”


Partially Walking – December 2018

My husband can now slowly tend the garden, cook, vacuum the carpet by himself. He can now slowly walk with me in the mall (a lot sweeter now, we hold hands) and can travel. It was because of the help of the natural medicine by Dr. Farrah, healthy diet, exercise and self-control or more like, brain control! As for me, I lost 5 kilos but I still have a long way to go. We set time on weekends for cheating- eat glutinous rice or wheat bread. Portion is controlled but it’s a good reward! What helps me too is to remember what my favorite Physiology Professor and mentor, Dr. Olga Nuneza once told me:

To skip or minimize the carbs, eat the protein first.

On behalf of Live Well website admin (my husband, Joel ), I am praying for a better New Year 2019 ahead of you! Thank you for always taking the time to drop by our blog site and I hope that the articles have helped you understand how your brain, mind and behavior are interconnected and that we will always have ways to live well. Know too, always, that God is faithful.


Dan Ariely – Ask Ariely: On Mint Deficit, Beverage Behavior, and Focused Feelings

Published by fran

Fran Saguindang Riego de Dios, MS has been in training and leadership development for 15 years now. She was awarded one of the Most Talented Training & Development Leaders in the Philippines 2019 during the 14th Employer Branding Awards by Employer Branding Institute. She also enjoys art and music. You may also visit her personal Leadership Blog Site at Leadership Project.

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