What is Self-control?
Self-control is the ability to control your behaviour in order to avoid temptations, delay gratifications and resist unwanted urges. Self-control has also been noted to be one of the key aspects required for achieving long-term goals. It ensures that all the distractions are blocked out as we focus only on our goal.
Although self-control is used synonymously with willpower or self-discipline, it slightly differs from the other concepts. Research has found that self-control is a limited source, but it can be strengthened through practice. Controlling our feelings, emotions, reactions and actions is something that can be learnt.
The ability to control is processed in the prefrontal cortex of the human brain. The prefrontal cortex consists of nerve connections that enable the prediction of consequences, anticipating events, managing emotional reactions, planning and impulse control.
It is also believed that self-control is passed down through genetics. Therefore some have an inbuilt higher level of control, whereas others have to work hard to attain it.
Those who wish to increase their level of self-control are often confused about ‘how to develop self-control?’
How to Develop Self-control?
Consider self-control as a body muscle. Exercising will cause temporary exhaustion to the muscle, but with regular exercise, the muscle will become stronger. Likewise, self-control has to be consistently practised for it to become a habit.
Here are a few tips that will help you exercise your self-control:
The first step would be to recognize the aspects in which you lack. Know your weaknesses, your temptations, your impulsive thoughts, and your habit of immediate verbal or physical reaction. Recognizing these will provide you with a clear picture of what is to be worked on.
Focus On The Larger Picture
Keep your eyes on the bigger reward than the temporary smaller rewards. Focus on studying at home and scoring excellent grades to have a bright future ahead rather than choosing to attend that night’s house party for temporary enjoyment.
Practising meditation helps one be more self-aware of their emotions, thoughts, beliefs and plans. Mindfulness meditation is a great starting point. It allows one slow down their thoughts and recognize the temptations they are facing, which is the first step towards impulse control.
Purposefully resisting short-term rewards in order to avail of a long-term bigger reward is known as delaying gratification. This technique ensures success in life. Adults who have the ability to restrain themselves from small urges such as shopping every weekend have attained more significant rewards like saving up the shopping money and going on a vacation.
The Marshmallow Test conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s and 1970s is a perfect depiction of delaying gratification. During the research, it was also found that children who were able to delay gratification were performing better academically.
Hence this practice assists with better life choices too.
In order to practice consistent self-control, you might need some inner motivation. Keeping a tab on your progress will provide that motivation. For instance, if you are trying to quit smoking, keep a check on the number of days you have gone without touching a cigarette. This will make you proud of your progress and motivate you to maintain your self-control.
As we read earlier, self-control is a limited resource. It may run out, and when that happens, you will need to keep going through willpower. Willpower being the sheer choice to stick by something will replace self-control.
For instance, you are attempting to cut down on your sugar for health-related reasons but are craving something sweet. You lose your self-control and decide to drive to the nearest mart and grab a bucket of ice cream. At times like these, your willpower to maintain good health steps in and dissuades you from implementing your decision.
Go Easy On Yourself
Keep in mind that developing self-control will not always mean your action, thoughts, emotions or feelings will be under complete control. Self-control is like a dam built on a river. Someday the doors of the dam have to be opened to let the saturated water flow. Likewise, instances like losing your loved ones, arguments with others, injustice towards yourself or others, trauma, overwhelming days and others will require you to open up the doors and let your emotions, actions, words, thoughts and feelings flow naturally.
It has been found that physical exercise provides increased oxygen levels to the brain. Increased level of oxygen to the prefrontal cortex provides better functioning.
At the same time, the decision of regular exercise also gives you a sense of self-control during decision making.
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Importance of Self-control
People who lack self-control are known to be impulsive and led by emotions. The impulsive decisions they make are often a cause for further problems.
A self-controlled person, on the other hand, is assertive and firm. They have the ability to shut down temptation, make better decisions and have been observed to have higher chances of success in life.
Research done by Hoffman et al (2014) has shown: well practised self-control prevents regret and emotional distress. Instead, it promotes confidence and self-satisfaction.
Even in children, self-control leads to higher academic achievements, better interpersonal skills and balanced health. They also go on to have a better lifestyle as adolescents and adults.
Self-control and Wellbeing
Physical Wellbeing: Self-control is responsible for your healthy habit of a nutritious breakfast, regular exercise, and consistent sleep schedule. All of which affect your physical wellbeing.
Social Wellbeing: People with self-control have a better hold over their behaviour during social situations. They also tend to be more amiable and hence have good interpersonal relationships.
Emotional Wellbeing: Human emotions are an example of the stimulus-response theory. Therefore control over your emotion, irrespective of the stimulus presented to you, leads to emotional maturity. Controlling the emotions does not only involve holding them back. It also includes regulating your emotions in a healthy manner.
Self-control affects all aspects of an individual’s life. Hence developing self-control and maintaining it leads the individual to a better lifestyle.