It’s fairly common (and normal) for children to have a break down in the middle of Target or to tell strangers exactly what’s on their mind. As we get older, our ability to regulate impulses and develop a filter helps us avoid what could otherwise be some very awkward social situations. But how do we develop that filter? 

A new study published in Current Biology looks into how our brains develop executive functions from adolescence into adulthood. Executive functions help adults perform tasks such as managing time, staying organized, multitasking and remembering details, writes WebMD. They also help people control their impulses. The researchers essentially mapped the brain to show how we grow and develop in important capacities such as self-control.

Researchers found that as our brains get older, they become segregated into different network modules. This allows our brain to work more efficiently. The better our executive functions get, the more defined the modular network structures become. A modular network is essentially a cluster of interconnected parts that work together in one complex network. As an article on the Cornell University website explains, this modularity helps keep things organized as opposed to being mixed together.

The team who worked on this study believes that a modular design is imperative for developing complex brain cognition and behavior. Additionally, this finding could help detect signs of abnormal brain development linked to an increased risk of mood disorders or psychosis.

"The development of modular network architecture did not result in the brain becoming fragmented," says study co-author Graham Baum, Ph.D. candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement. "In fact, the overall network communication capacity actually increased, due to strengthening of specific 'hub' connections between modules. These results show that as kids grow up, their brain becomes more segregated into specialized units, but also more integrated as a whole."

Self-control can also be developed with practice. Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D. and associate professor emeritus of health economics of addiction, offered 10 strategies that can develop these skills in a post on Psychology Today. He advises adopting a positive attitude as people who really think they can accomplish something usually do. Heshmat also believes that self monitoring is an important type of feedback that can help you monitor progress. Of course, having a goal in the first place is also important to provide purpose and direction.

The professor also highlights the importance of motivation, as a high level of commitment will help you achieve the goal. Self-confidence is also key in building self-control. “In the face of difficulties, people with weak self-confidence beliefs easily develop doubts about their ability to accomplish the task at hand, whereas those with strong beliefs are more likely to continue their efforts to master a task when difficulties arise,” Heshmat writes.

While working to achieve goals and avoid impulses can be difficult, with a little bit of work, it is possible.