Menanteau Serfontein – 4 February 2021. Updated 6 January 2022.
Have you ever said something in the heat of the moment that has caused damage to a relationship that you value?
Have you ever procrastinated on an important project which had disastrous consequences on quality and the deadline not being met?
Have you ever underperformed in an important sports event, because you didn’t train when you knew you should, but didn’t feel like it?
For most of us the answer to all three the questions will probably be “yes”. I trust that after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of what Self-Control means in practice, what the advantages are and what the consequences are of poor Self-Control.
Self-Control (self-discipline) is the ability to control yourself, in particular your emotions, desires and behaviour, especially in difficult situations. Self-Restraint is similar to self-control and self-discipline; it is restraint imposed by yourself on your own actions. In the interest of simplicity, the term “self-control” (encompassing self-discipline and self-restraint) will be used during the rest of the article.
“Self-control is knowing you can, but deciding you won’t.”
From personal experience and observation as well as research findings that I have read, I have come to the realisation that self-control is an essential ingredient for achieving success and for living a satisfying, meaningful and moral life, for example:
- Achieving goals in virtually all areas of endeavour. The vast majority of people who have achieved great success, would admit that self-control, coupled with perseverance and tenacity, was one of the main factors that played a key role in reaching their goals.
- Doing whatever has to be done to finish a task at the right standard/quality by a defined deadline, even though you prefer to do something else that would be a lot more enjoyable.
- Keep focusing on the key priorities and goals and not allowing yourself to be side-tracked by less important matters.
- Sticking diligently to your tough training programme in preparation for an important competition that you have entered for, even though you don’t feel like it at times and would have preferred to rather spend time on something else that might be a lot more fun.
- Doing what is right even when nobody is watching, irrespective of what others might say or think. This involves resisting the temptation to take the easy way out based on convenience, or to follow the crowd because you don’t want to resist group pressure, or because you do not have the courage to do the right thing.
- Keeping your emotions under control, for example deliberately restraining yourself from becoming frustrated and irritable when something does not go your way. Other typical destructive emotional responses that should be controlled include fits of rage, abusive language, unkind words or behaviour, assaulting someone and impatience. Such responses often result in negative consequences, e.g. it robs you of your peace, souring of relationships, reputational damage and legal implications.
- Restraining yourself from doing something inappropriate that you feel tempted to do.
- Being on your chosen realistic healthy diet and through self-control, you stick to it most of the time so that you can meet the sustainable goals that you have set for yourself.
- Refraining from using substances that are potentially harmful or addictive.
- Resisting the temptation to watch inappropriate images on the laptop or mobile phone.
- Don’t believe conspiracy theories, fake news or false predictions about the future, without verifying its validity and accuracy/truth before making up your mind. Messages that fall into this category are often easily recognisable and it is usually better to refrain from reading or watching videos about this in the first place.
- Avoid spending an inordinate amount of time on social media and watching television, which could potentially lead to wasting valuable time and even becoming an addiction.
- When negative/destructive and inappropriate thoughts occur in your mind, take responsibility to actively replace that way of thinking with constructive, healthy and positive thoughts of who and what you are and should be. It’s not easy, but it is indeed possible.
Research conducted by Mofﬁtt et al. found that: (i) Self-controlled individuals are more adept than their impulsive counterparts at regulating their behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses to achieve long-term goals. (ii) Self-control measured with observer, parent, teacher, and self-report ratings during the first ten years of life, predicts outcomes later in adulthood such as income, savings behavior, financial security, occupational prestige, physical and mental health, substance use, and (lack of) criminal convictions. (iii) Self-controlled children are less likely to make poor decisions that could have long lasting consequences and by avoiding making poor decisions, statistically explains some of the effects of self-control on adult outcomes.
Some of the advantages of effective and consistent self-control include the substantial increase in the chances of meeting the goals that you have set for yourself, a healthier lifestyle, improved mental health, being a trustworthy, reliable and honest person, feeling better about yourself, having a clear conscience, experiencing inner peace and living a life of meaning and purpose.
Without effective and consistent self-control and restraint, you may well not be able to achieve meaningful/worthy goals and may very well lose out on the potential advantages outlined above. Proverbs 25:28 (RSV) “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
Some of the examples and criteria outlined above, may very well seem to be idealistic or even unattainable. The good news is that none of us is able to apply all of the above principles of self-control perfectly and on a consistent basis at all times. However, if we realise the importance of self-control, know what to aim for and then diligently endeavour to apply appropriate self-control in all facets of our lives, we will gradually get better it.
In a modern world where YOLO (You Only Live Once) has become a mantra to some to throw off self-restraint, the person desiring to walk the path less travelled may find that self-control leads to a more desirable destination as shown in this article. Although we will stumble from time to time in the area of self-discipline, I want to remind you that it is like a muscle that can be strengthened incrementally over time as you gradually focus your willpower in new areas of your life. Celebrate the small wins and over time you will marvel at your growth in mastering your self-discipline.
Although some people inherently have more self-control than others, research has found that effective self-control can be cultivated and strengthened to become a habit and a way of life. Give it a try!
If you are a parent, I encourage you to assist your children to actively develop effective and consistent self-control.
You are encouraged to Subscribe free of charge to receive our Weekly Digest which informs you of the new material that has been added for the week.