What is Self-Control and Why Does It Matter in Life?
Self-control consists of two components, namely, our ability to resist temptations and exercise control over our emotions and behavior.
To me, self-control is one of the most important things in life. Without it, I wouldn’t even write this article. Let’s face it, when you share anything on the internet that gets enough views, you always get a bunch of hate. Every time that happens, I feel like quitting. But I also realize that there are people who find these articles useful.
Self-control is what keeps me level-headed. It makes me resist my temptation to get pissed off and walk away. There’s also scientific proof that self-control matters in life.
“We rely constantly on self-control in every aspect of our lives. Although it is not an ability unique to humans, our elevated levels of self-control may have played a key role in our evolution. Self-control is likely to have been key to many of the traits such as prosociality, that define modern humans.”-Dr. Penny Spikins.
Self-Control in Daily Life
Most of us want to have a fulfilling career, vibrant social life, good relationships with our loved ones, and be in good physical shape. Here’s the thing: We need self-control to make those good things happen. Let me give you a few examples of what that looks like in daily life.
I stumbled upon this question on internet and books : “Why is it hard to eat healthy?” The top answer bluntly says, “You lack self control.” That made me laugh because it’s the truth. But we all know that it’s not that simple.
Eating healthy is a problem for many reasons. For example, most of us see food as pleasure—not fuel. In developed countries, we don’t have to worry about getting access to food for our survival.
But your body still has the natural urge to take advantage of food when it’s available. On top of that, there are many biological processes going on that we’re not aware of.
In my experience, eating healthy has nothing to do with your ability to resist buying junk food or ordering a pizza—it has everything to do with how much you educate yourself about your body. That’s an important reason why eating healthy is difficult: We lack the self-control to learn about nutrition, longevity, and how our bodies function.
Why is it so difficult to improve yourself? Every day, we have the choice to do something that pays off later instead of now. Going to the beach, binge-watching tv shows, reading gossip, drinking alcohol, smoking, or every other pleasurable activity in life always gives you an instant payoff.
That’s why people often say, “Adapt or die.” If you don’t move forward, everything that’s related to you as a human will deteriorate. That’s a scary outlook. But here’s the problem: The degree of deterioration is so small that we don’t notice anything on a day-to-day basis.
You probably feel the same as yesterday, correct? Entropy in humans works over a longer period. That’s why we feel no urgency to improve ourselves today. We need self-control to invest in ourselves despite seeing a lack of daily improvement.
How to Develop More Self-Control
How can we get some? Based on everything you’ve read until now, let me share three things you can do.
1. Direct Your Energy Towards a Useful Pursuit
Our pursuit must be useful to make it stick. Shallow pursuits that only fulfill your materialistic desires will not motivate you to control your urges. You need something that’s so important you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
When I started my blog, I was dedicated to sharing honest advice without hidden intentions. To me, that was a worthy pursuit. That drove me to write every single day. As of this writing, I’ve published 331 articles on my site.
2. Set Long-Term Goals
On a day to day basis, I rely on a system that keeps me productive. A system is a combination of productivity strategies that help you to stay consistent.
But when it comes to long-term drive, I love to set goals because they will give you a clear sense of direction. In what direction do you want to take your life over the next three, five, ten, and twenty years? This is a very hard thought-experiment if you take it seriously.
Most people say, “I don’t know.” But you shouldn’t let yourself off the hook like that. Practice self-control by forcing yourself to pick a direction in life. You can always adjust. The long-term goals I set for myself five years ago have changed today. But at least they got me moving.
3. Minimize Stress
There’s some evidence that stress sabotages self-control.7 When you’ve had a stressful moment at work, it’s tempting to grab a candy bar (or two) to release the stress, right?
The same analogy is true for every other stress-related behavior. If you examine your life, you’ll find that you do a lot of things to simply manage stress. In fact, I believe that for most of us, that’s all that we do.
When I lived a stressful life years ago, I was only thinking about ways to get rid of that stress. But you’re only treating the symptoms that way. You can take as many vacations or buy as much crap you want from the internet, none of it will relieve your stress. If you truly want to minimize stress, you must design your life in a way that gives you a stress-level you can handle.
For me, that meant doing different work and leaving city life (I was living in London at the time). Some situations simply give us too much stress. A bad relationship is another common cause of stress. Unfortunately, there are no simple “step-by-step” tips for managing stress.
Sure, you can meditate, take long walks, read, or journal—all these things will lower stress—but there’s nothing better than designing a life that causes less excessive stress. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid all stress.
An optimal level of stress is actually great for us and it will slow down entropy. We need to find out what that level is for ourselves. Every person has a different stress tolerance. The key is to improve our self awareness and understand what stresses us out. Then, we want to lower that to a level that we can handle without getting frustrated.
Let me repeat the definition of self-control again: Our ability to resist temptations and exercise control over our emotions and behavior.
These two aspects will increase the quality of our decisions and therefore, our lives. I hope that all of this inspires you to strengthen your self-control. Directing your energy towards a useful pursuit, setting long-term goals, and minimizing stress are all good ways to set yourself up for more self-control.
Strengthening self-control is one of those things that has no end goal. It’s a never-ending process that will only benefit us the more we master it. When’s the last time you heard, “That person has too much self-control?” Exactly. More is better.