Self-Control

Have you ever thought about things that are keeping you from living to your full potential? For instance, how often do you find it difficult to manage your emotions in tough situations? Do you find yourself imprisoned by feelings and impulses rather than acting on values? Do you ever feel lazy about doing things? Are a lack of purpose and skills holding you back? Do you keep thinking about your past and/or worrying about your future?

So often, we become slaves to our passions and vices. We look to things like eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, etc. as a way to escape and live in denial. We run away from our problems rather than facing them head on. We falsely believe that by running away from our problems, they will go away — but they never do.

For instance, when it comes to eating right, we feel the need to “control” our diets by relying on willpower, but it’s not about that as much as it’s about changing (and improving) our relationship with food.

We are quick to act on our impulses without thinking twice about them. Any time we need to find out something, our phone is just a few feet away to do a quick web search. We spend money on things we don’t need by way of credit just so we can buy that thing we desire so much. I could go on with more examples, but all this is to say that we can either control ourselves or be controlled. We can either act on things or be acted upon by them.

The dictionary defines self-control as:

the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.

Self-control also goes back to having the discipline to do things.

Here are some examples of practicing self-control:

Here are some ideas for having more self-control:

We can attain self-control in great things only by having self-control in little things. We build self-control slowly over a period of time by way of our habits — by doing things in a small way that we wouldn’t usually do and by doing things that bring us out of our comfort zone.

Self-control is a limited resource as it depletes with use over the course of a given day. After you have made a number of decisions, no matter how small, you’ve used up your willpower, and your self-control is compromised. Getting adequate sleep and exercise every day increases your level of self-control.

When you focus on building habits slowly over the long term, you don’t have to rely on using willpower to make better choices (and decisions). When you have established habits, you don’t have to think about doing things since you do them naturally without having to remember them. Practicing moderation in everyday things can also help us increase our self-control, thus reducing the need to use our willpower.

Learn to slow the heck down. Rather than racing through life and trying to do many things, we need to live it, slowly. Take each day as it comes. Live in the moment, as that is all we have.

Building a mindfulness practice by way of meditation can help us a great deal in choosing to respond to things proactively (not reactively). Pause and think about things before you respond to them.

Figure out the things that are keeping you from living to your full potential, then zero in on one thing for a brief period of time. Ben Franklin’s pursuit of attaining “moral perfection” by focusing on a virtue every week comes to mind. Remember, the obstacle is the way!

As I explained in my last piece, stop thinking about things you can’t change or have no control over (such as your past), stop worrying about the future, and live in the moment. Take it one day at a time.

The point is not to fix your weaknesses, but not to ignore them either. Be aware of them, then try to find ways around them to make them irrelevant.

Our thoughts govern our attitudes, which in turn determine our behaviors. If you want to change your behaviors, you need to change your beliefs and thoughts about things.

Be the kind of person you want to be. Create a shift in your identity to reach your goals quickly by thinking (and believing), “I am the kind of person who does xyz (exercises five times a week, for instance)”. You have to achieve that thing mentally before you can expect to achieve it physically. Simply put, you have to be able to expect things of yourself before you can do them.

We have more control over our thoughts than we think. At any moment, we are either a king or a slave to our thoughts (and both of those things have consequences). We can either make everyday choices about things ourselves (which can be draining), or we can build habits over time to not have to make these choices in the first place and/or use our environment in tandem to create more self-control in our lives.

The greatest of all control is self-control. We can achieve self-control in big things only by first practicing it in small things. We discussed earlier how discipline equals freedom. In the same vein, self-control is not really about self-control, but what it allows you to do, which is to do the things you want to do.

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