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:
- We may often find ourselves in a state of distress as a result of prioritizing certain thoughts over others. We need to remember if thinking about something isn’t helping us in any way, we need to stop thinking about it.
We need to stop thinking about our past situations involving others (especially the difficult ones), so as not to be enslaved by them as they can’t free us because they are unaware that they are our captor.
Learn to master your emotions. Don’t let them get the better of you, as it will mostly result in regret later.
When it comes to ensuring a good night’s sleep, one of the things I recommend is reading some fiction before going to bed. When you do, limit yourself to reading one chapter (no more than 10-25 minutes). Stop reading when you’ve finished that chapter no matter how thrilling and tempting it may be to read the next one. This is how you create more self-control.
Instead of using software to stay off websites during your most productive hours to control your impulsive behavior, learn to improve your relationship with technology.
Don’t be a slave to your passions or vices such as eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, or what have you. I wrote earlier about how we do these things for emotional reasons to make us feel good about ourselves.
Don’t respond to arbitrary phone calls reactively, but return them quickly (if warranted) at your convenience. Enslave the tool; don’t become a slave to it.
When it comes to eating food, instead of thinking about how you should “control” your diet (by way of restricing or starving yourself over long periods of time), think about ways you want to change (and improve) your relationship with food. For instance, rather than eating foods as and when you please, have meals only at specific times (of course, eating according to the level of activity that preceded it), and schedule eating times in your calendar and treat them like regular appointments.
Have the same breakfast every day (for example, coffee and eggs) to remove the temptation to have something else or to have more food by default. Because you have already made that decision in advance, you won’t have to think about it; this goes back to making final choices about things.
Use your environment to help you develop more self-control by making choices by default. For instance, if you want to watch less TV, don’t keep a cable TV subscription. Surround yourself with books or things you would rather do. If you want to check your phone less, remove social media apps from it. If you want to eat more healthy foods, don’t keep junk food at home. You get the idea.
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.
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.