TalentSmart\u00a0has tested more than a million people and found that the upper echelons of top performance are filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). The hallmark of emotional intelligence is self-control\u2014a skill that unleashes massive productivity by keeping you focused and on track.\r\n\r\nUnfortunately, self-control is a difficult skill to rely on. Self-control is so fleeting for most people that when Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed two million people and asked them to rank order their strengths in 24 different skills, self-control ended up in the very bottom slot.\r\n\r\nAnd when your self-control leaves something to be desired, so does your productivity.\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to self-control, it is so easy to focus on your failures that your successes tend to pale in comparison. And why shouldn\u2019t they? Self-control is an effort that\u2019s intended to help achieve a goal. Failing to control yourself is just that\u2014a failure. If you\u2019re trying to avoid digging into that bag of chips after dinner because you want to lose a few pounds and you succeed Monday and Tuesday nights only to succumb to temptation on Wednesday by eating four servings\u2019 worth of the empty calories, your failure outweighs your success. You\u2019ve taken two steps forward and four steps back.\r\n\r\nSince self-control is something we could all use a little help with, I went back to the data to uncover the kinds of things that emotionally intelligent people do to keep themselves productive and in control. They consciously apply these behaviors because they know they work. Some are obvious, others counter-intuitive, but all will help you minimise those pesky failures to boost your productivity.\r\nThey focus on solutions\r\nWhere you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you\u2019re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions which hinder self-control. When you focus on the actions you'll take to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Emotionally intelligent people won\u2019t dwell on problems because they know they\u2019re most effective when they focus on solutions.\r\nThey eat\r\nFile this one in the counter-intuitive category, especially if you\u2019re having trouble controlling your eating. Your brain burns heavily into your stores of glucose when attempting to exert self-control. If your blood sugar is low, you are far more likely to succumb to destructive impulses. Sugary foods spike your sugar levels quickly and leave you drained and vulnerable to impulsive behaviour shortly thereafter. Eating something that provides a slow burn for your body\u00a0such as whole grain rice or meat, will give you a longer window of self-control. So, if you\u2019re having trouble keeping yourself out of the company candy bin when you\u2019re hungry, make sure you eat something else if you want to have a fighting chance.\r\nThey forgive themselves\r\nA vicious cycle of failing to control oneself followed by feeling intense self-hatred and disgust is common in attempts at self-control. These emotions typically lead to over-indulging in the offending behavior. When you slip up, it is critical that you forgive yourself and move on. Don\u2019t ignore how the mistake makes you feel; just don\u2019t wallow in it. Instead, shift your attention to what you\u2019re going to do to improve yourself in the future.\r\n\r\nFailure can erode your self-confidence and make it hard to believe you\u2019ll achieve a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve something that isn\u2019t easy. Emotionally intelligent people know that success lies in their ability to rise in the face of failure, and they can\u2019t do this when they\u2019re living in the past. Anything worth achieving is going to require you to take some risks, and you can\u2019t allow failure to stop you from believing in your ability to succeed. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens, and your past becomes your present, preventing you from moving forward.\r\nThey don\u2019t say yes unless they really want to\r\nResearch conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression, all of which erode self-control. Saying no is indeed a major self-control challenge for many people. \u201cNo\u201d is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it\u2019s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like \u201cI don\u2019t think I can\u201d or \u201cI\u2019m not certain.\u201d Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them. Just remind yourself that saying no is an act of self-control now that will increase your future self-control by preventing the negative effects of over commitment.\r\nThey don\u2019t seek perfection\r\nEmotionally intelligent people won\u2019t set perfection as their target because they know it doesn\u2019t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you\u2019re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward excited about what you've achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.\r\nThey stay positive\r\nPositive thoughts help you exercise self-control by focussing your brain\u2019s attention onto the rewards you will receive for your effort. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, self-control is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, self-control is a challenge.\r\n\r\nIn these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, or will happen, no matter how small. If you can't think of something from the current day, reflect on the past and look to the future. The point here is that you must have something positive that you're ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative, so that you don't lose focus.\r\nThey avoid asking \u201cWhat if?\u201d\u00a0\r\n\u201cWhat if?\u201d statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, which are detrimental to self-control. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you\u2019ll spend taking action and staying productive (staying productive also happens to calm you down and keep you focussed). Productive people know that asking \u201cwhat if? will only take them to a place they don\u2019t want\u2014or need\u2014to go. Of course, scenario planning is a necessary and effective strategic planning technique. The key distinction here is to recognise the difference between worry and strategic thinking.\r\nThey sleep\r\nI\u2019ve beaten this one to death over the years and can\u2019t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and maintaining your focus and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day\u2019s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed.\r\n\r\nYour self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don\u2019t get enough\u2014or the right kind\u2014of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present, which are a major productivity killer. Being busy often makes you feel as if you must sacrifice sleep to stay productive, but sleep deprivation diminishes your productivity so much throughout the day that you're better off sleeping.\r\n\r\nWhen you're tired, your brain's ability to absorb glucose is greatly diminished. This makes it difficult to control the impulses that derail your focus. What\u2019s more, without enough sleep you are more likely to crave sugary snacks to compensate for low glucose levels. So, if you\u2019re trying to exert self-control over your eating, getting a good night\u2019s sleep\u2014every night\u2014is one of the best moves you can make.\r\nThey exercise\r\nGetting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. If you\u2019re having trouble resisting the impulse to walk over to the office next door to let somebody have it, just keep on walking. You should have the impulse under control by the time you get back.\r\nThey meditate\r\nMeditation actually trains your brain to become a self-control machine. Even simple techniques like mindfulness, which involves taking as little as five minutes a day to focus on nothing more than your breathing and your senses, improves your self-awareness and your brain\u2019s ability to resist destructive impulses. Buddhist monks appear calm and in control for a reason. Give it a try.\r\nThey ride the wave\r\nDesire and distraction have the tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. When the impulse you need to control is strong, waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control. When you feel as if you must give in, the rule of thumb here is to wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation. You\u2019ll often find that the great wave of desire is now little more than a ripple that you have the power to step right over.\r\nBringing It All Together\r\nThe important thing to remember is you have to give these strategies the opportunity to work. This means recognising the moments where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving in to impulse, taking a look at these strategies and giving them a go before you give in.\r\n\r\nHow do you stay productive and in control? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAbout the Author: Dr. Travis Bradberry\u00a0is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book,\u00a0Emotional Intelligence 2.0,\u00a0and the cofounder of\u00a0TalentSmart, the world\u2019s leading provider of\u00a0emotional intelligence tests\u00a0and\u00a0training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by,\u00a0Newsweek, TIME, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and\u00a0The Harvard Business Review.