You know you want it.

Well, that’s the slogan, strap line and hook that advertisers would have you believe. Why do they say this? It appeals to the emotional part of the brain. The emotional part of the brain works on three principal aspects beginning with ‘S’. They are:

  • Sex
  • Status
  • Safety

All three are powerful drives that the emotional brain wants satisfying to a greater or less extent in all of our lives. In this case, the advertisers are appealing to a form of safety within us: how will I survive without [whatever it is we are craving to have]?

Self-control has long fascinated psychologists and coaches alike. They might report that they often hear the words: I just couldn’t resist!, in the clients that they see. I would argue that, to a large extent, the clients are correct in their inability to resist the want. The emotional brain is five times more powerful than the other part of the brain called the thinking brain. Simply put, left unmanaged, if the emotional brain wants it, it will get it.

The key words in the previous sentence though are these: left unmanaged. We all have a responsibility to manage our wants and desires and that is where the thinking part of the brain has such a crucial role to play. How can we learn to manage those wants? We can use the 10 Minute Rule.

The 10 Minute Rule
The next time you want something use the 10 minute rule. Resist the temptation to have or do whatever it is for 10 minutes. That will take effort to do. Good; it should.

In those 10 minutes try these strategies to help resist the urge:

  • Distract yourself by going and doing something else rewarding, especially if that is doing something for others
  • Hide the treat (if that’s what it was that you desired) or hide from view what it is. How might you do that? You could:
    • Walk away (feelings and emotions are highly location-specific so walking away may well break the emotional want)
    • Go somewhere where, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t have whatever the desire was e.g. if it’s smoking that you crave, go a non-smoking area when you would normally smoke

These distracting strategies and many others besides help to strengthen self-control (think of self-control like muscle that gets stronger the more that we exercise it) and help to cut the craving.

If, in the end, you do have the thing you crave, enjoy it, forgive yourself (feeling guilt is generally very unhelpful) and then commit to strengthen your self-control to resist the craving next time. The fact that you resisted the craving for 10 minutes helped strengthen your self-control.


For some of us it’s not the doing that’s the thing to resist but the lack of doing that we need to resist. In other words it’s procrastination that dominates our lives. The 10 Minute Rule is actually highly flexible and can be used here too. This time, do something for 10 minutes. If, after 10 minutes, you want to stop, then stop. Enjoy what you’ve done, forgive yourself for stopping and commit to another 10 minutes of activity as soon as possible. Perhaps, even write down when you will start again and put it in clear sight, rather than out of sight. Seeing the reminder can act as a powerful stimulus to continue with the reminder.

Interestingly, you might also find that you want to carry on with the task that you’ve started. There are powerful forces in our mind that like getting things done. For some of us though it can be that just the thought of starting, or indeed where to start, that is holding us from starting. The point is: start somewhere, anywhere. Sometimes, this is all it takes to break that hold.

To help, try this strategy. Break down the task into small chunks. Commit to starting on just one of those chunks for 10 minutes. Ignore the others. Steady will win the race. So, if that’s a house in chaos (the task), start with one small area such as a desk, table, sink or a very small room (each one of those areas is a chunk). Tidy that chunk for 10 minutes and then reward yourself. Next, choose another small area (chunk) and tidy that for 10 minutes but make sure that the previous area stays tidy too (you will need to find time for that but it won’t take much time at all because it’s already pretty tidy). Reward yourself at the end. Repeat this process with other areas, always keeping the previous areas tidy, as you start on a new area. Notice what happens, as you go along. Not just the house getting more tidy but how you feel and think too about it.

The 10 Minute Rule is a very powerful tool for overcoming procrastination, developing self-control and helping to keep up a degree of order and control. See what happens when you use this rule for yourselves. Let me know too. I’d love to hear what happens.