As children, most of us had the value of self-control repeated to us daily. “You need to learn a little self-control,” our parents would say. As with most things stressed by our parents, they were quite right. There are considerable benefits to being able to exercise self-control and self-discipline. There are so many benefits that the positives can bleed into nearly every corner of your life.
If self-control and self-discipline have remained elusive for you, it doesn’t mean that it’s too late to learn. With a little help, a little dedication, and some time spent working on yourself – you can learn how to exercise more control over your actions, your feelings, and your impulses. In time, you can also learn how to apply self-control techniques to other aspects of your life.
In the following article, we’ll discuss the many benefits of self-control. We’ll also discuss the science behind self-discipline, and some techniques you can use to master your mind and body.
What is Self-Control?
Quite simply: self-control is one’s ability to control what we do and how and when we do it. Those who have it consider themselves more in control of their desires, appetites, and emotions. Those who lack this ability, however, often feel those things control them. That said, the term is basically an overarching concept that encompasses hundreds of different operations that we – as humans – can have trouble performing.
Self-control goes by many different names, including willpower, restraint, countenance, and composure. Those who have self-control are in a better position to decide what they want to do and what they want to feel. They can also figure out exactly how they want to present themselves to the world. According to some, self-control is a habit that people can learn. To others, self-control is more of a philosophy and an approach to one’s self.
Three habits are commonly associated with self-control. For those who pursue self-control as their sole purpose in life (like Buddhist monks), attaining these three habits is the end goal of the entire process.
Self-Assertion – People with self-control are aware of their value. They are often able to speak their mind and are comfortable taking criticism (providing it given positively). Being assertive, however, is not the same as being domineering or bossy. These people have the discipline to be firm but gentle with others.
Self-Preservation – People with self-control are more focused on their needs than their wants. In some cases, they can eliminate most of their wants from their life. In short, they are conscious enough to enrich their lives but avoid indulgence in all its forms.
Self-Fulfillment – People with strong self-control are incredibly resilient. They push through difficult times and tasks because they know the value of having beat them. In many cases, these people learn to derive delayed pleasure from their ability to do this, much in the same way a person without self-control would obtain instantaneous pleasure from following their impulses.
The Science Behind Self Control
Science tells us that self-control is the ability to regulate our emotions, behavior, and thoughts in the face of temptation or against our worst impulses. This concept is seen quite often in many areas of psychology, including those that deal with emotional self-regulation and, not surprisingly, the study of crime.
According to science, individuals that suffer from poor self-control are more likely to take risks, be short-sighted in their decision making, be impulsive, and to be insensitive toward the wants and needs of others. For researchers, the critical driving aspect behind impulses is desire. Be it unconscious or conscious, the things we desire often cause our body to forgo self-control in favor of instant gratification.
Luckily, science agrees that self-control is a learned habit. Those who do not currently have reasonable impulse control (providing they lack some sort of mental injury or illness that makes ignoring impulses difficult) can learn it. In our modern world, we see examples of science assisting in this endeavor quite often, from new techniques for quitting smoking to new approaches to child-rearing.
Before we discuss the various benefits of self-control, we’ll first take a look at some of the basic techniques that you can use to become a better master of your own body and mind. While some of these are simple and – at times – obvious, there’s no denying that these tips and tricks, used in concert with each other, can have a profound effect on your self-discipline.
Many researchers have come to the unfortunate conclusion that we, as humans, are not particularly adept at resisting temptation. Even with all our progress, there is still a primal part of us that views satisfying wants and needs as integral to survival. Because of this, a vast amount of successfully learned self-control involves completely removing the temptation to avoid succumbing to it.
To build a foundation of self-discipline, we have to acknowledge that we are free and entirely responsible for our actions. All too often, those who lack self-control will blame their impulses on outside factors. To succeed in our pursuit, we need to do the opposite, but positively. Remind yourself that you’re in control.
Measure Your Progress
Humans are goal-focused. Look at any game we play, and you’ll usually see a clear map of progress for us to follow. You can use this technique when learning self-control as well. Instead of blindly hoping we succeed, we can measure our progress and turn every success or failure into a step forward or step backward on our path to the end.
Get Better at Stress Management
Ask any smoker, and they’ll tell you that the path to quitting is all about eliminating stress. Even if you’re months into being smoke-free, it only takes one terrible day or one fight with the significant other to send you back to a pack a day. Because of this, you need to learn how to manage stress and avoid succumbing to old habits to develop good self-control.
Learn to Recognize Behavior Patterns
If we think about it, we can pattern out nearly all of our behavior, almost like a giant quilt of good, bad, healthy, and unhealthy choices. Some of the choices we make take us closer to attaining self-control, while others take us further away. Along with reminding ourselves that we’re the boss of our own body, we also need to recognize what actions connect to form patterns, and what type of patterns they form.
Learn to Forgive Yourself
Negative stimuli, like punishment, is never a great way to reinforce one’s behavior. Learning to forgive yourself for failing and retaining your enthusiasm to succeed, however, is a fantastic way to keep yourself motivated and avoid introducing negativity into your pursuit of a better self. If you’re the type of person who punishes yourself after a mistake, your first step is mastering this skill.
Embrace the To-Do List
When you prioritize your self-improvement, it only becomes easier. At the same time, you’ll create “soft deadlines” for when you should be moving on from one task to the next. To keep with the smoking metaphor, you might want to be down from a pack a day to a pack a week in March. In April, the goal might be to be down to a pack a month.
The Benefits of Self Control
Now that we have a much better idea of what self-control is (and how to attain it), let’s take a look at the many benefits associated with pursuing (and achieving) self-control. While not everyone will see every single one of these benefits, most of you will see enough to keep you enthusiastic and positive about your quest for self-betterment.
You’ll Find a New Capacity for Decision Making
When you become a person with self-control, you dramatically increase your capacity for making decisions. Rather than languishing over whether or not you should do “X” or “Y,” your new sense of self-confidence will make you much more comfortable with the decision-making process overall. And why not? You’ve already proven your ability to handle tough situations in stride.
When we exercise self-control before making decisions, we nip any chance of relying on our impulses or bad habits in the bud. Doing this helps our mind slip into more simple processes, helping it evaluate decisions on a much more logical scale. This ability to think about problems this way and to eliminate noise from decision making is easily one of the biggest benefits to self-control.
You’ll Have a Better Chance at Success
Some researchers have noted that self-control is a better asset than talent when it comes to determining long-term success. That is to say, those who rely purely on ability as they go about their lives can be prone to impulsive decision-making and more reckless choices. On the other hand, those who practice self-control and self-reliance displayed the determination necessary to achieve long-term goals.
It should also go without saying that any person that learns how to manage their own impulses and cravings properly will have a better chance of success in many aspects of life. This fact is not just because most things upon which we act impulsively have negative repercussions, but because self-control often imbues us with the confidence to approach challenges in life, we might otherwise avoid.
You Can Conquer Virtually Any Addiction
Many people tend to invoke self-control as a cure for addiction. From nicotine and heroin to sweets and carbs, our minds long to conquer those things that we can’t seem to give up. That is where self-control comes in. What makes addicts addicts is their inability to resist impulses and their inability to recognize the future consequences of behaviors.
With increased self-control, we can postpone the immediate gratification of acting on impulse in exchange for the delayed (often more intense) gratification of displaying mastery over our bodies. In simple terms: we learn to swap out the feeling of smoking that cigarette for the feeling of being two months smoke-free on our own terms, and by our own power.
You Will Find Yourself Much More Resilient
We all face adversity, but there’s no denying that some people face many more challenges than others. The ability to face challenges, however, and bounce back with a renewed sense of passion is a hallmark trait of people with high self-control. Often called resilience, men and women who have a strong sense of self-control tend to face a range of challenges and not falter in their determination.
Some researchers theorize that people who display high levels of resilience are much better control over their impulses, and are thus able to see the long-term benefits of what they’re going through. This point goes along with other instances of delayed gratification that we see on this list. No matter what these people go through, their ability to force themselves to see the positive keeps them from succumbing to failure.
You Eliminate Noise and Increase Focus
We touched on this earlier, but the ability to filter out “noise” and truly focus on what you need and want to do is a huge benefit that comes along with increased self-discipline. When you have poor self-control, you often allow negative thoughts and emotions to impact your decision-making processes. Over time, this can teach you to fear making decisions at all, resulting in all manner of negative situations.
When you can focus your energy on the task at hand and effectively tune out distractions, you are better able to perform to the best of your abilities. When combined with the confidence that goes along with self-mastery, this ability is a significant contributor to long-term success. This benefit is one of the main reasons people pursue better self-control in the first place.
You Might End Up Making More Money
Believe it or not, a study performed in New Zealand revealed that children who displayed a higher propensity for self-control were at a marked advantage for attaining better-paying jobs in the future. While this may make it appear that you are far too old to harness such benefits, the study also says that it’s never too late to learn self-control and experience these benefits.
When you have self-control, you often also have tools that are necessary to perform at the top of your game. This performance could include activities like sports or other competitions, but you can easily translate it into the world of business. In short, people take notice when a person has the ability to control themselves and their impulses, and both factors remain indicative of a high-earning professional.
You’ll Have an Easier Time Withstanding Impulses
Though it might also seem quite obvious, it’s worth noting how learning self-control can make it infinitely easier to withstand impulses, cravings, and other tests of your willpower. That is to say: once you learn enough self-control to overcome one impulse, it will be much easier to apply the same enthusiasm and determination to overcome others.
If you manage to quit smoking, for instance, you’ll find it easier to quit drinking, or lying, or any other myriad of bad impulses that hinder you daily. This type of positive slippery slope, where the person gets stronger, and the challenges get more manageable, is the goal of most people who wish to change their ability to discipline themselves.
You Can Better Plan for Long-Term Goals
When you lack self-discipline and self-control, it can be nearly impossible to view long-term goals as anything but a pipe dream. Indeed, most people are far too caught up in the challenges of their everyday life to do anything more than aim haphazardly towards their future goals. Of course, this is not a recipe for confidence or proper planning.
When you reduce the impact that impulses and “momentary feelings” have on your daily routine, you can better identify the patterns that will lead you to your long-term goals. For instance, you might see how going out with friends on weekends keeps you from writing the book you want to write. You might also see how your need to be noticed at work outshines your capacity to listen and learn.
There are thousands of such examples, all of which you can recognize with the proper dose of self-control and self-awareness.
You Can Greatly Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety is like a plague in the modern world. What once only affected a rare few with an actual disorder now afflicts millions of otherwise healthy people thanks to a drastic increase in daily stimuli. This situation is where something called “attentional control” comes in. A subcategory of self-control, attentional control can allow us to disable distractions no matter how strong or how negative.
As with many other examples on this list, the ability to shut out negative energy and harness positive energy is crucial to being a healthy, productive individual. When we can focus on what is relevant, important, and necessary to achieve both long and short-term goals, we can virtually eliminate the anxieties that plague us.
You Will Experience Better Physical Health
In general, having better self-control will contribute to better overall health. This fact isn’t true just because self-control enables people to resist harmful substances and habits, but also because it helps people live a more positive lifestyle. Without many stressors that cause us anxiety and worry, we are free to live happier, healthier lives.
Some studies reveal that men that have a high level of self-control have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Whether this is because they are less likely to drink to excess, smoke, or partake in fatty foods, however, is not entirely clear. What is clear is that these men often exhibit healthier habits than those with less self-control, such as maintaining a good diet and a daily workout routine.
You Might See an Improvement in Your Relationships
Researchers have repeatedly tied self-control to successful interpersonal relationships – particularly close ones. While researchers aren’t entirely sure where the connection lies, studies seem to suggest that those men and women who exhibit high levels of self-control can override automatic defense reactions during conflict while simultaneously displaying a higher capacity for empathy.
In essence, a person who has a high level of self-control is much more likely to approach conflict in a healthy way. Rather than attacking a person or getting overly defensive about criticism, these men and women can see the other person’s side more readily. As conflict is one of the biggest problems in interpersonal relationships, the benefits of this ability are clear.
You’ll Be a Much Happier Person
When we have more control over our actions, can resist impulses, and can put forth the best version of ourselves possible, we tend to be much happier. We all set little goals for ourselves every day (I’m going to do this, I’m not going to do that, etc.). Many times, however, we’ll fail at accomplishing these goals, resulting in negative feelings about our ability to control our own lives.
When a person has better self-control, however, they are often able to stick to these little goals, resulting in the opposite feeling: pride. As with many positive feelings, our pride in our ability to accomplish even the smallest of tasks can contribute to a greater sense of self. This, in turn, can result in much higher levels of confidence. With this confidence, we are free to take on new, more significant challenges as well.
You’ll Become a More Competent Leader
The self-help section of your local bookstore is brimming with titles by regular people who’ve managed to find ways to take control of their life and live it to the fullest. These men and women often have no further goals in mind than to share the techniques that worked for them with others. Thanks to their ability to control their lives, they are now leaders.
Learning self-control doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll become a bestselling self-help guru, of course, but it will almost always allow you to become a better leader. You can easily translate these leadership abilities into different aspects of your life, from your job to your relationships to your parenting. As with all good leaders, the goal is not always to get others to follow, but to teach them how to lead as well.
You Will Discover Who You Really Are
Many of us are slaves to our addictions, habits, and tendencies. If you were to think about it for just a few minutes, you could likely write down a dozen or more things that you do that you wish you wouldn’t. Many of us see our faults as being a part of who we are as a person. While this is true to a certain extent, it doesn’t mean we have to stay that person forever.
Our addictions and habits are not so much a reflection of who we are, but what we’ve allowed ourselves to become (thanks to our lack of self-control). When we begin introducing more self-control into our lives, eliminating those things about ourselves that we don’t like, we can begin to see the true person inside of us taking shape.
Self-awareness and self-discovery are a big reason why people tend to pursue self-control. With time, the ability to manage oneself will lead you down paths of discovery you never thought possible. Which brings us to our next point…
You’ll Gain a Better Sense of Understanding
We all strive to understand things better. We strive to understand the world. We strive to understand ourselves. We strive to understand the people we know and about whom we care. By introducing more self-control into our lives, we can free our minds of a lot of noise, allowing us much more time to reflect and try to understand our day to day world.
Being a person with more self-control also allows you to open up to other people more freely. When you do this, you are putting yourself in a better position to understand where they are coming from when they talk to you. As we already mentioned, there are endless benefits to being a more empathetic individual, from gaining a new respect for the people you know to developing a new appreciation for the world in which you live.
As you can see, there are a huge number of benefits to becoming a person with better self-control. Not only will you become a happier, more productive, more successful version of yourself on the outside, but you’ll be able to gain endless insight about the world around you and the people in it. Self-control also gives you the confidence many of us need to become leaders.
If you want to see the benefits of self-control in your life, consider practicing some of the basic techniques we mentioned above. Just remember to take your time, set clear goals, and don’t expect to change overnight. In time, you’ll be able to discover the person you should be, and to take that person on journeys that you’d never thought were possible.