Here is a quote – Self-control is one mark of a mature person, it applies to control of language, physical treatment of others, and the appetites of the body.
—Joseph B Wirthlin
Life is undeniably a constant struggle for someone whose emotions, expectations, and senses are just too loud and inflated to be subdued. Since control is missing, such a person keeps wasting their abilities, efforts, and time on finding themselves, always craving more. The moment we find our successes pale in comparison to our failures, they start haunting us to the point that they trigger negative emotions, extreme anger, temptations, desire for an undue favor, hatred, and so on. Under such circumstances, self-control is a virtue that separates a mature individual from others who cannot check their language, gestures, behavior, and so on.
If seen from a neutral viewpoint, temptations, hunger, and emotional outbursts do fall under the category of necessary emotions and processes, but not always. Anger and hatred, on the other hand, need to be checked to ensure that our relationships don’t have to face the brunt of our actions. A sense of discipline is vital to restoring the order of things if, at all, we intend to be on par with our sublime self.
In a study titled Resisting the power of temptations: the right prefrontal cortex and self-control’18, Knoch D and E Fehr suggest overcoming ‘the self’s natural, impulsive nature’ for higher gains. They recommend learning to behave in socially adequate ways by exercising impulse control, emotional control, and movement control. To put it simply, self-control is a willingly caused delay in short-term gratifications in favor of long-term outcomes. Such an exercise requires regular practise and a sense of discipline.
Self-control requires singularity of purpose
Yet another study19 conducted by Vohs and Heatherton concludes that when we exert self-control in one domain, our sense of restraint in another domain suffers. Depletion of self-regulatory resources is the cause of such fluctuation in effecting control over two domains simultaneously. For example, say a person is trying to quit smoking and shedding some extra pounds as well – chances are that their focus will initially oscillate between both, making it difficult to realize any of the two goals. When they decide on any one of these goals, the second task will lose its intensity. Thus, we do need to be very clear about our priorities and, accordingly, focus on the one that requires our immediate attention. After the successful achievement of the first task, we can target the other one.
Aim for self-control, not over-control
Tangney and colleagues20 suggest conceptualizing self-control as self-regulation with respect to priorities, goals, and routine demands. Self-control, hence, has nothing to do with over-controlling one’s senses, tendencies, and genuine requirements. Over-controlled individuals might actually need some help in correcting their self-control. Self-controlled individuals, on the other hand, understand how to exert and suspend self-control. It’s imperative for everyone to master the art of self-control, which requires measured and well-calculated actions. Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, and writer, makes it even clearer as he says, ‘He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.’ The art is half-learned if we control our existence to the point that it begins to suffocate us.
Determination, not motivation, will lead you to better self-control
Always remember that motivation gets you moving, but determination keeps you going. Thus, when you require inspiration for the task ahead, that is, better self-control, look towards those who have already done it to the best effect. You need to draw upon your willpower to accomplish the self-assigned task of mastering self-control. Here, motivation doesn’t work; only determination will take you closer to your goal.
So believe in yourself and move forth with conviction to have better control over your senses and yourself. After all, it’s the mantra to lead a quality life with controllable temptations and higher gains. Consider meditation, exercise, and forgiveness to bring your impulses, emotions, and movements under your control.