Most of us get shy and shameful when we hear the word “self-control”. This is because we all suck at it. Self-control is discipline’s ugly big brother that’s almost impossible to get right, and nearly as difficult to talk about. But if you watch out for the right things, i think we can all get better.
This word has made me fidget in my chair since i was 8 years old learning the Fruits of the Spirit in Sunday School. It’s uncomfortable for me because I’m really bad at eating healthy. Listen, Snickers taste really good. I really like shoes, and sometimes i can’t help but buy another cool pair. There are things my mind and emotions want to abstain from but my human greed wants so bad it hurts. This is where it gets tricky.
But what could a new perspective about self-control change in our lives?
I believe if we can manage to stand up TO ourselves in the same way we stand up FOR ourselves, it could change the very trajectory of our thought process. Beating the main enemies of self-control, choosing who we want to be, and taking pride in that decision can give us the freedom to live our lives the way we want to live without feeling guilty all the time.
Here are a few enemies of self-control to be aware of in those [all but] rare moments of weakness.
The idea of risk reversal was created long ago to help ease a buyer’s mind in the selling process. This is where all the “love it…or your money back guaranteed” stuff comes from. Thanks to this, we also have generous return policies to shield us from rash purchases at our favorite retail outlet.
Unfortunately, however, not everything in life can be undone and exchanged for store credit. Mistakes that don’t wear price tags often have much greater cost in the long-run.
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says “The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.” In other words, being a proactive and driven person requires the ability to recognize your own impulsiveness and redirect the thought back through your “value lane”.
Before you make an impulsive snap-decision, think “how does this fit into the value lane i’ve created for myself”
Ahhh mannn! That’s boring. Right?
The truth is this doesn’t have to be restricting. It can actually provide incredible freedom and clarity. Choosing a few areas in your life as NON-negotiables can help you define what you want your life to look like in 10-20-30 years. If you hold onto those values with everything you have, you can be free to live incredibly spontaneous and whimsical in all the other areas of your life.
2. “Just This Once”
Another large threat against self-control is the whisper in your ear that says “it’ll be ok just this time.” Clay Christensen, a Harvard business professor and world-renowned innovation expert, addresses this brilliantly in his book How Will You Measure Your Life (one of top 5 favorite books…click the link to buy). He says,
Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.
If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal-cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up. That’s the lesson I learned: it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. The boundary—your personal moral line—is powerful because you don’t cross it; if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again.
Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”
When you are tired, frustrated, or faced with opposition, it is often easy to slip into habits, vices, temperaments, etc. A lack of self-control causes you to live in fear of the unknown, wondering if you’ll have what it takes to make the right choice tomorrow or next week.
But self-control says “i will always conduct myself against the same code, whether the moment is difficult and complicated or calm and clear.” Making a habit of standing up to yourself eliminates this fear, and instead, allows you to focus on opportunity.
3. Choosing Pleasure over Happiness
There was a very popular study done by Stanford University that tested preschool-aged children’s ability to delay gratification using marshmallows.
They started the experiment by sitting a child down in a private room with a single marshmallow in front of them on a table.
The mediator told the child that he was leaving the room, and the child could eat the marshmallow while he was gone. But if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was gone, they would be rewarded with 2 marshmallows when he returned. But if the child chose to eat the marshmallow, they would not receive another.
Here’s the deal: 1 now or 2 later.
No surprise, the camera footage of the children alone in the room was quite hilarious. Some ate the marshmallow as soon as the door shut, others squirmed for a few minutes or even licked the marshmallow before choosing to devour it piece-by-piece. But a few chose not to eat the treat.
Though this experiment became quite popular when it was published in 1972, the really interesting reports didn’t come until years later. After performing follow-up studies as time passed, the researchers found that the children who chose to delay the gratification of one marshmallow – and received 2 marshmallows – were found to have higher SAT scores, lower susceptibility to substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better social skills, and a response better to stress.
Pretty crazy huh. Turns out that children and marshmallows can be quite profound. (More about the study here).
One of the ugliest ways to undermine self-control is through pleasure, settling for the immediate good feeling over the longer-term, sustainable benefits. The ability to delay gratification has been proven to be a core quality of successful, happy people. Just take it from the kids.
Pleasure is not happiness…and we’d do well to consciously choose the latter.
We all know self-control is hard. But hey, give yourself a break.
We are all going to mess up. But remind yourself that you are good at self-control, and that you trust yourself to make strong, conscious decisions based on your specific personal values.
Then, live in freedom without having to feel guilty all the time.