Self-control - the ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations and impulse. Do you have it? if you are honest, like most of us, you probably struggle in this area. We live in a world where we hear the message, “if you want it, get it.” So the idea of self control is something that is definitely not encouraged. Gratifying our desires feel real good - at least for the short term. But, is this the best way to live for optimal mental and physical health?
Actually, it is not. Many of the challenges that we face in life today are related to problems with self control. This includes difficulties with managing our emotions, addictions, various forms of violence, interpersonal conflicts, and the list goes on. A classic research project was conducted by Dr. Walter Mischel (psychologist) over 50 years ago, which is referred to as the “Marshmallow test.” In this study, a child was offered a choice between one marshmallow as an immediate reward or two marshmallows if they waited for 15 minutes - during which time the researcher left the room. Upon follow up of these children, it was found that those who exhibited self control (by waiting) did better in life than those who did not wait.
According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist who has done more contemporary work in this area, says self-control is probably the most important predictor for success in life. If this is true, it would seem important that we do what we can to increase our ability to regulate our emotions, thoughts and behavior, especially when we are faced with those desires and impulses that may be challenging to resist.
There are some helpful strategies that we can employ to help us develop more self-control Here are a few of them (many of which are based on the work of Dr. Baumeister and his colleagues):
Develop a Broad, Long-range Focus Instead of a “here-and-now” Attitude
When you are able to make a connection between your daily tasks and long term goals, you will more likely exercise self control. For example, if you have a goal of losing a certain amount of weight, if you remind yourself of that everyday and keep that before you, you will be more effective at exercising self control with your daily activities (such as what you eat, how much exercise, etc).
Have a Self-forgetful Attitude
When you are faced with those things that pull at you to gratify yourself right away, distract yourself from them. This may include immediately finding something else to do or thinking of something else.
Make Resolutions in Front of Another Person
When you make a resolution to resist something that is a tempting for you (like eating too much sugar) in front of another person, you are more likely to be successful with self-control. If this person agrees to help you moving forward, he or she can become an “accountability partner” for you as well.
Become More Consistent with Religious Activities.
Several studies show that people who are consistent with their religious practices (church going, praying, etc.) are more likely to exhibit self control than those who don’t engage in such activities or who are inconsistent with these practices.
These are just some things that you can do to improve self control. Remember, that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Developing self control is not something that happens overnight. It takes time. However, the more you exercise it, the stronger you will become. So, make a commitment today to develop more self-control. You will definitely be glad that you did!
Photo by Eliot Reyna