Picture the scene: you’re at work, and your boss has just thrown you and your colleague a huge curveball. Your boss needs an urgent report completed right now.
While you might feel a sense of panic, you know if you put your head down and work hard, you can get the report done.
Your colleague, however, takes a slightly different approach. With a scrunched facial expression, quickened breath, and escalating voice, their language gets sharper.
Your colleague loudly makes it known how unfair your boss is to make this last-minute demand while slamming things around on the desk. A lot of energy is expended in this process. In short, all control of their emotional reaction has been lost.
Have you ever wondered why some of us find it more challenging to maintain a calm temper than others in response to the same scenario?
Perhaps you have young children who go into full-scale meltdown mode because you gave them their juice in the wrong cup or a spouse who gets irrationally short tempered because you bought the wrong apples?
What these scenarios have in common is the amount of self-control or self-regulation that is being exhibited. It’s a fascinating area of personality that psychologists study in order to support clients.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
This Article Contains:
- A Look at Using Self-Regulation Therapy
- 10 Questions We Should Be Asking
- 4 Benefits of Having Self-Control
- 4 Techniques and Skills Commonly Used
- 3 Exercises and Activities to Utilize Today
- 3 Useful Worksheets
- A Look at Self-Regulation and Self-Control With Kids
- 3 Exercises and Activities for Children
- 3 More Self-Control Ideas for Young Children
- 5 Recommended Books on the Topic
- 12 Quotes to Inspire
- A Take-Home Message
A Look at Using Self-Regulation Therapy
Self-regulation is essentially the amount of control we exert over our behavioral and emotional responses (Baumeister, 1991). Different stimuli can elicit powerful reactions, and how we moderate and manage those reactions is governed by our capacity to self-regulate.
Where we have a low capacity to self-regulate, we often find our emotions getting the better of us or react with behaviors that are less than favorable. You’ll often find friends and family using phrases like ‘over-emotional’ or ‘overreacting’ quite a lot when this is the case.
Self-control is the ability to override a desire or impulsive behavior to achieve a bigger goal (Mischel, 2014). It is also a significant component of self-regulation. If you’ve ever tried to stick to a diet or give up a habit like smoking, you’ll understand how powerful your sense of self-control can be.
Self-Regulation Therapy (SRT) is a body-centered therapy that focuses on helping individuals relearn how to manage their responses in proactive and positive ways. It is grounded in neurobiology and the idea that like animals, when we are faced with a threatening scenario, we have three choices: fight, flee, or freeze.
In the wild, animals respond to threats in their environment in one of these three ways, but each creates a build-up of excess energy. Animals discharge this energy through running, twitching, and shaking.
As humans, we experience the same central nervous response to perceived threats but are often unable to discharge the excess energy. SRT is a process through which we can better ‘discharge’ energy instead of acting out in negative ways.
Similar to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, SRT helps individuals become better connected with their bodies and physical responses, and find ways to create new neural pathways that allow for more positive reactions and regulation.
The Canadian Centre for Trauma Research and Education has further details on the therapy.
10 Questions We Should Be Asking
Exploring self-control theory and self-regulation can be worthwhile if you sometimes feel like your emotions get the better of you or if you react and behave in ways that you later question.
The following questions are designed to encourage reflection in different areas of life where self-regulation can have an impact. You can use these to explore your sense of self-control and self-regulation, with a client in a coaching exercise, or as a group, if you are seeking to have an open discussion around the topic.
- When you feel frustrated, who do you take it out on – yourself, others? Or do you find it easy to let things go?
- How easy or difficult do you find it to stick to a desired goal, whether it be related to healthy eating, exercising, or other habits?
- How often do you think things over before you speak out loud?
- How easy or difficult do you find it to snap yourself out of a bad mood?
- How often do you say things you later regret?
- Do you sometimes respond in ways that you later reflect on and feel guilty for your reaction?
- How often do you feel you have to apologize for how you respond or things you say?
- When someone is behaving aggressively around you, how do you respond?
- How easy or difficult do you find it to recognize emotional reactions in other people?
- Have you ever been asked to be on your ‘best behavior’ when attending a social event?
Answers to these questions can be insightful. Question 10, in particular, can be a guiding point. If you have others in your life who frequently advise this to you, whether in jest or not, it could be an indication that you sometimes allow your emotions to take too much control.
4 Benefits of Having Self-Control
As you can imagine, being able to maintain a strong sense of self-control and regulation over our emotions and behaviors can have many benefits. Both for ourselves as individuals and across other areas of our life, especially in personal relationships.
Here are four research-backed benefits:
1. Self-control helps you achieve goals.
Having strong self-control helps you to put off immediate impulses and desires in order to focus on and achieve long-term goals (Mischel, 2014). Having poor self-control usually sees us giving in to low-priority, yet immediately satisfying rewards (Duckworth, 2016).
For example, giving in to temptation and eating that large slice of chocolate cake will give an immediate sense of satisfaction, but this will be short lived if the long-term goal is to lose weight.
2. Self-control helps you build stronger relationships.
In heightened emotional states, people can lash out and behave in ways they don’t intend. When you’re on the receiving end of this, it can be difficult not to retaliate in kind, but research has shown that those who can demonstrate a high level of self-control and tap into empathy are better able to maintain harmony in their close relationships (Baumeister & Stillman, 2007).
3. Self-control enables better resilience to life challenges.
Englert and Bertrams (2015) found that participants with low self-control performed worse when responding to math problems while under pressure. Participants with higher self-control reported being less distracted by negative thoughts. Having high self-control helps us to stay focused and tackle challenges as they arise, without getting distracted and with a good amount of control over our impulses.
4. Self-control is beneficial for our physical health.
Adler (2015) ascertained that higher self-control was beneficial for overall better physical health for a range of reasons, including the ability to stick to health and dietary goals and overcome addictive behaviors such as drinking too much alcohol and smoking cigarettes.
Because strong self-control allows us to acknowledge and exert behaviors that benefit our health, it makes sense that it should also mean those who have strong self-control also lead healthier lives.
4 Techniques and Skills Commonly Used
It might seem difficult to comprehend how you can begin to develop greater self-regulation and self-control, especially if this is something you have struggled with. The key is to pick small goals and work your way up from there.
The following are some proven techniques that can help:
1. Implementation intention
This technique essentially involves planning ahead and making a decision before a temptation or scenario arises that will test your sense of self-control. For example, if you are trying to resist sweet treats and are heading to a party, you could plan ahead and create the intention: ‘If they offer me a dessert, I will ask for an herbal tea instead.’
You can apply this intention planning to a variety of scenarios to help you maintain self-control by having already removed what usually creates a drain on willpower: making a decision.
2. Regular meditation
Meditation is a process of self-control in itself. It requires willpower to be able to sit and allow thoughts to come and go, without acting on them or becoming fixated by ideas.
Creating some time in your day for even five minutes of meditation can help you better build the muscle for self-control and the capacity to allow emotions to arise without having to act on them.
3. Get enough sleep
Research has shown that our capacity to resist temptations, moderate our emotions, and exert willpower is severely depleted when we are experiencing a lack of sleep (Pilcher, Morris, Donelley, & Feigl, 2015).
Getting into the habit of getting to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time each morning is a great way to create a routine that can promote healthy sleep habits, keep your mind sharp to tackle challenges, and develop self-regulation.
4. Invest in your physical health
Just like sleep, a healthy body has a significant impact on our overall mood and capacity to self-regulate. Creating healthy habits, such as regular exercise (Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010), drinking enough water, and eating a well-balanced diet (Hofmann, Fisher, Luhmann, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2014), keeps you healthy, promotes a clear mind, and exercises your self-control.
3 Exercises and Activities to Utilize Today
If you’re interested in exploring and further developing your capacity for self-regulation and self-control, there are some great exercises and activities that can help.
Below are three that are easy to use as an individual or in coaching sessions:
1. Increasing Self-Control Through Repeated Practice
Developing stronger self-control takes commitment and practice; it won’t just happen overnight. Dedicating some time daily to a goal or behavioral change you’d like to enact is one way to help do this.
You will need:
Pen and paper
Step one: Choose your daily self-control goal.
Think about an act of self-control you’d like to develop. This can be anything from your personal or professional life. It might be to give up a second cup of coffee in the morning or avoid sweet treats after dinner. Or you could focus on organizational goals such as making your bed every morning. Make sure it’s something manageable and achievable.
Step two: Make the goal SMART.
SMART stands for:
Remember, you want to make sure you can achieve this goal and exert some self-control every day. Also, consider if there is anyone else involved with helping you achieve your goal, such as a colleague, partner, or children.
Step three: Keep a daily record.
Make sure you keep a note of how you achieved your small act of self-control to meet your goal. Was it easy or hard? Did you fail on some days? What did you feel when you failed, or what happened during the day?
For each day you achieve this, give yourself a score out of 10 for how easy or hard you found it, with 10 being very easy and 1 being very hard. Check back over time to see how your score changes and what influenced the score so you can make better decisions about developing your self-control in order to achieve your goals.
2. Acceptance of Emotions Meditation
When difficult emotions arise, it can be hard to know what to do with them or how to process them. Low self-control can see us throwing our emotions out into the world, simply because we’re unsure how to handle them appropriately.
Meditation is a great way to learn how to focus on and accept emotions, and move them calmly through our thought processes to ensure we act and respond in ways that make us proud.
Here’s a short explanation. Be sure to check out the full resource for more guidance.
- Begin by getting into a comfortable seated position. You can close your eyes if that feels comfortable, or keep your eyes open but with a soft downward gaze.
- Slowly, notice your breath with every inhale and exhale. Feel each breath as it enters your nose, travels through your body, and inflates your lungs.
- Now, notice where your body is touching the environment around you: your feet on the floor, your back against the chair. Feel every part of your body and where it makes contact.
- Once you are feeling relaxed and clear minded, bring to mind a challenging scenario, one where you wish you could inhabit more self-control. Consider all the details of the scenario: where you are, who you are with, and what is happening. Make it as vivid as possible.
- Reflect on the emotions this scenario invokes in you. What happens to your body? What thoughts are you thinking? What words do you say?
- Return your focus to your body. How is it responding to the scenario? What physical sensations can you notice? Is your heart racing? Are your cheeks flushed?
- Bring your focus back to your breathing, and instead of denying the emotions and sensations, sit with them. Feel them and explore them in this safe space. Bring your breath ‘into’ the part of the body where you are feeling the sensations.
- Repeat this until you feel the sensations fade away. Find acceptance for the emotions the scenario creates and acknowledge that you do not need to act on them in order for them to be released.
You can repeat this meditation as many times as you need. It can also be a good idea to keep notes each time you do and track your responses and sensations over time.
3. Out of sight, out of mind: Removing temptations
This is an incredibly simple yet effective way to increase your capacity for self-control. Self-control is often referred to as a ‘muscle’ that needs to be flexed to build it, but like any other muscle, if it is overused, it can become depleted (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). One way to keep the muscle healthy and not deplete it is to remove temptations.
This exercise is easy to follow:
Identify the area where you want to exercise more self-control. This particular exercise works best for more tangible behaviors, such as attempting to lose weight, quit smoking, or reduce alcohol use.
Remove all sources of temptation from your home and other areas of life. This may require some additional behavioral changes, for example:
- If you walk past a shop daily that sells the treats you have decided to remove, you may need to change your route to avoid temptation.
- If Friday night with friends or a partner involves the bar or a glass of wine at home, source other activities that will be equally enjoyable but not centered around alcohol.
- At work, if you take cigarette breaks with a particular colleague, try to schedule other activities around this time to keep you busy instead.
Track your progress. You can use a diary to keep details on how long you manage to resist the temptation and how easy or difficult you find it over time. Remember, if you do give in, it doesn’t have to spell the end. Simply acknowledge the moment and focus on getting back on track rather than falling into old habits.
3 Useful Worksheets
Making any change in life can seem daunting, so it’s great to know there are plenty of resources and tools already available to help you on the way.
Below are a few helpful worksheets I’ve come across that can assist you or a client if you’re coaching someone through self-control and self-regulation development. These can easily be tailored to work with different age groups too.
1. Behavior Change Plan
The best way to set yourself up for success is to create a plan. A plan can help you break down a goal into smaller, manageable chunks and also help you better understand the ‘what, why, who, and how.’
This worksheet aims to help you do just that with a straightforward journal-entry-like plan to help make a key behavioral change. Here’s a short breakdown of what it looks like.
First, think of the area of self-control you want to improve and the behavior you want to change. Pick one thing you want to focus on. Then ask yourself:
- What are three things I can do prepare for this change?
- What are five steps to make this change happen?
- What are three things other people can do to help me with this change?
- How will I know I am making progress?
- What will I do if I progress backward?
- What is one thing I can do today to start working toward this change?
2. Radical Acceptance: Distress Tolerance Skills
Building self-control is about accepting situations as they arise and understanding that while we might have impulses to respond to or behave in specific ways, we don’t necessarily need to act on them. Radical acceptance is the process by which we accept stressful situations to manage our reactions.
This worksheet is an excellent resource for further developing an understanding of radical acceptance and understanding the right questions to ask yourself when faced with a scenario that elicits a strong emotional reaction. In turn, this can help you develop a greater sense of self-control.
Exploration statements in the worksheet include the following:
- Observe your reactions to the reality you are facing. How do you respond? What statements come to mind?
- Remind yourself of what has happened, factually, and tell yourself, ‘This is what happened.’ Do not allow your emotions to embellish the situation.
- Consider how the best version of yourself would react when facing this reality. What do you say? How do you feel? What behaviors do you allow? Write a list and think about what changes need to happen to meet this best version.
3. The three Rs of habit change
James Clear is a prominent author and thought leader on habits. Habits are really important for self-regulation and self-control. When you become used to behaving and reacting in certain ways, you form habits that allow these behaviors to continue.
A habit is much easier to access and act upon with minimal thought processing, so when seeking to gain better self-control, thinking about the habits you need to change can be a significant step in the right direction.
In this worksheet, Clear talks you through the process of habits and how to create ones that lead to the behaviors you want in your life. A great part of this resource are the three Rs of habit change. Here’s what this looks like in short.
Changing a habit has a three-step pattern:
- A reminder or trigger that initiates a response
- The routine the response then follows
- A reward for the response
When working on self-regulation and control, and creating a more positive response, here’s an example of what the three Rs could look like.
Example: You want to exercise better self-control around your diet.
- Reminder: Mealtimes are when you eat. For example, at lunch, your colleagues might all go out for a fast-food lunch. You are trying to eat healthily but enjoy social interaction.
- Routine: Perhaps your old routine would be to ignore your healthy lunch and go for some fast food instead. To build a better habit and enable better self-control, you need to address this routine. You could:
- Plan ahead and see what healthy food options are available too.
- Take your lunch with you.
- Reward: Socializing with your colleagues would typically be your reward, so your new habit might leave you worried you would miss out on this. But by making a plan and implementing some new habits that support your self-control, you can achieve new rewards (sticking to your diet goal) or encouragement from your colleagues if you share your goal with them.
A Look at Self-Regulation and Self-Control With Kids
Learning about and understanding self-control is an important developmental stage for all children.
Typically, most children will have very low levels of self-regulation and self-control as they begin to develop more complex emotions and reactions to the world around them.
Anyone who has experienced the ‘terrible twos’ of the toddler age will most definitely be able to attest to that!
Many people are familiar with the ‘marshmallow test’ (Mischel, 1974), where young children were placed in a room with a marshmallow in front of them and told not to eat it. Those who didn’t eat the marshmallow were promised a greater reward (more marshmallows) if they managed to resist temptation. The purpose of the test was to see how well the children could demonstrate self-control and delay gratification for a bigger reward.
Mischel (1974) followed the journeys of the original children in the study and found that those who were able to delay gratification successfully by not eating the marshmallow reported higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index later on in life. Mischel theorized that a stronger sense of self-control early on in life led to better success later.
Graziano, Reavis, Keane, and Calkins (2007) found similar results when exploring children’s capacity for emotional regulation with academic outcomes. They found that students who tested well for a high level of emotional control were also positively associated with teacher reports for academic progress.
It’s important to note that several variables impact and encourage a child’s development and understanding of self-regulation and self-control. Not surprisingly, children often role model this behavior from their parents, so it’s important to develop your understanding and capacity if you’re seeking to help young children grow their self-control muscle.
3 Exercises and Activities for Children
As parents and educators, helping young children develop self-regulation and self-control is important, for the list of benefits noted above and a greater sense of life fulfillment overall. Here are five simple exercises and activities that can be used with children of all ages.
1. Goal recognition exercise: Short-term reward vs. long-term success
Successful self-control is all about acknowledging that short-term rewards won’t help you achieve a long-term goal. Helping children to explore what some of their goals might be and how self-control can help them achieve those goals is a great way to develop positive self-control.
You will need:
- Pen and paper or cardboard
- Old magazines
- Scissors and glue
First of all, have a conversation with your children. What is something they would love to achieve? Is there a toy they want to save up for or a family activity you can all work toward, such as an adventure day or vacation?
Perhaps there is a school-related goal, such as a spelling test or reading assignment they need to work on. Or maybe there is behavior that needs addressing. Have they been a bully on the playground, and you want to help them build better self-control around how they react to stressful emotions?
Once you have decided on a goal, create a goal chart. Think about how long you want to work toward this goal – a month, six months, a year? Agree together and then agree on some checkpoints.
For example, if the goal is to address negative behavior in the playground, you could set a six-month goal of being awarded ‘Kindest Child’ in class or getting a good report at the next parent–teacher meeting. You could create a checkpoint at one month, two months, and three months, where your child receives a small reward for good behavior.
Extend the checkpoints to keep challenging your child to develop long-term self-control.
Use markers and cut out pictures from magazines to create a more visual representation of the goals your child is working toward. Get fun and creative! You could also pick stickers to mark each day, week, or month that your child successfully exhibits the behavior that moves them toward their next checkpoint. The more colorful and fun, the better.
Keep the board somewhere you and your child will see it every day. Encourage conversations around how they’re feeling and give lots of positive feedback where appropriate.
Let them talk about how difficult they might be finding self-control and acknowledge their feelings, but keep reminding them of the long-term goal you’re working toward.
2. Self-control scenarios: How, what, when, where, and who
This exploration game can be great to get children thinking about the different components of scenarios and how they react.
You will need:
- Pens and paper or cardboard
- Magazines (for pictures if you want)
If you feel creative, you can make up some scenario flash cards. Think about different scenarios where you want to help your child build up their self-control. You write these out, draw them, or use pictures to help paint the scene. Aim to create 5–10 different cards, and you can always add more later. Example scenarios might include:
- Another child is playing with a toy you wanted to play with.
- You have eaten one piece of cake and are full, but someone offers you another piece.
- We are driving in the car, and it is taking a long time to get to where we need to be.
Allow your child to pick one of the scenario cards and get them to discuss the scenario with you. What’s happening? How does it make them feel? How would they react, and why do they think they would react like that? How does their behavior make other people around them feel?
Next, get them to think about self-control in relation to the scenario. Consider questions like the following:
- Would you need to use self-control in this scenario? Why?
- Would it be easy or hard for you to use self-control in this scenario?
- How can you and I make it easier to use self-control in this scenario?
You can revisit this activity as often as you and your child would like to. Again, keeping a diary or visual board of what types of behaviors you both want to work toward in response to different situations is a great way to keep encouraging this development.
3. Delay gratification exercise
This one can be hard to implement, especially if your children are not used to experiencing a delay in getting their wants gratified. Still, it can be a fantastic exercise to develop self-control. It can be used in everyday situations, or you can use an imitation of the marshmallow test to demonstrate what delaying gratification looks like.
Everyday situations might be things like:
- If your child sees a toy, candy, or pair of shoes they want, don’t buy it for them right away. Let me know you understand they want the item, but that you are not going to purchase it today. You can agree on another day in the future when you might buy it or simply let them know it won’t be today. If your child is new to this exercise, perhaps setting a short timeframe can help them begin to get used to this experience.
- If your child devours their meals to get to have a tasty dessert, you can use delay gratification to encourage them to be more engaged and mindful of their food and develop self-control over the present rather than what might come.
- When your child throws a tantrum in response to something, wait before you try and soothe them or coax them out of the behavior with a reward. Explain to them why you are waiting and the behavior you would like to see. Only reward them when they calm down and start to show that behavior.
3 More Self-Control Ideas for Young Children
Developing a full and robust sense of self-control is something that continues to happen throughout childhood, the teenage years, and even into adulthood. Ultimately, there is no quick fix, but there are some great ways to keep encouraging this learning.
1. Use everyday scenarios to inspire self-control
Helping your child to develop a stronger sense of self-control doesn’t have to be complex or planned into your day through additional exercises and activities. You can use everyday scenarios as a learning tool.
For many children going through this development stage, there will be many instances in a typical day that can inspire a conversation around self-control. For example:
- Waiting for food in a restaurant
- Waiting to play with a toy another sibling or classmate is playing with
- Watching another child open presents at a birthday party
- Going on a longer car journey than normal
Studies have shown that children are better able to develop self-control and regulation when they are provided with enough resources to help them regulate (Putnam, Spritz, & Stifter, 2002). During times when your child might let their emotions get the better of them, remind them of the ‘goal’ and offer them resources with games such as ‘I Spy,’ some coloring, or directly engaging with them.
2. Play games that foster self-regulation
You might not realize it, but there are already plenty of children’s games out there that encourage and foster self-regulation. These games include the following:
Musical Statues: This is a straightforward and fun game for children to play together. It starts by playing some music to get all the children dancing. When the music is paused, all the children must stop dancing and stand as still as possible in whatever position they are in. If a child moves while the music is paused, they are out of the game. You keep going until you have one child left who is the winner.
Simon Says: In this game, one person is nominated as ‘Simon’ and must start each instruction with ‘Simon Says’; for example, ‘Simon says touch your nose’ or ‘Simon says hop on one leg.’ At some point, ‘Simon’ instructs without saying, ‘Simon says’ first, and anyone who follows the instruction is out of the game.
Other board games and card games are also great ways to teach self-control because they teach children that sometimes they win and sometimes others win. It also encourages regulation behaviors such as taking turns, following rules, and inhibiting emotional impulses.
3. Remember: A little bit of freedom is a good thing
While it’s essential to teach young children self-control and develop their understanding of self-regulation and emotion regulation, it’s equally important to remember that letting go is okay too!
Block and Kremen (1996) have studied self-regulation in relation to emotional intelligence. They ascertain that it is just as important to be under control as it is to have total freedom, in the right scenario.
What this looks like can vary, but it could be things like having ice cream and cake for breakfast on a special birthday, encouraging spontaneous and creative play, or letting them get messy with paints and coloring materials. Do not hold unrealistic expectations for what young children are capable of (for example, sitting still and quiet for hours!).
5 Recommended Books on the Topic
I hope that reading this article has inspired you to explore this fascinating area of psychology further. There is much more literature and studies out there if you want to continue on your self-learning journey. Below are five books I’ve come across that really stood out on the topic:
- Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David – Available on Amazon
- Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior by Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg – Available on Amazon
- Handbook of Self-Regulation by Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner – Available on Amazon
- Handbook of Emotion Regulation by James J. Gross – Available on Amazon
- Change Your Thinking by Sarah Edelman – Available on Amazon
12 Quotes to Inspire
Finding a good balance between self-control and emotionally intelligent responses can be a hard act to juggle. It’s worth investing some time into what this might look like, especially if this is an area you sometimes struggle with.
Below are 12 inspirational quotes I often enjoy turning to when I need a refresher on the topic:
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.
The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.
Never respond to an angry person with a fiery comeback, even if he deserves it. Don’t allow his anger to become your anger.
Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.
Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.
He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.
I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.
Robert E. Lee
Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.
If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we do not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.
The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.
Stephen R. Covey
When you let go of control and commit yourself to happiness, it is so easy to offer compassion and forgiveness. This propels you from the past, into the present. People that are negative, spend so much time trying to control situations and blame others for their problems. Committing yourself to stay positive is a daily mantra that states, “I have control over how I plan to react, feel, think and believe in the present. No one guides the tone of my life, except me!”
Shannon L. Alder
A Take-Home Message
From better decision making, goal achievement, and better emotional and physical health, it seems that developing a greater sense of what strong self-control and self-regulation mean to you can only lead to positive things.
It’s imperative to acknowledge that self-regulation and self-control are about finding balance. If self-imposed control leaves you feeling anxious or not behaving in ways that bring you a sense of fulfillment in life, then you have ventured into what psychologists call ‘over-controlled.’
Life is still to be lived. Greater self-regulation and control should lead you to behaviors that create deep satisfaction, purpose, and harmony in your personal relationships.
How have you managed to develop a sense of self-control in your life? Have there been any behavior challenges you’ve overcome through self-control? How did you do it? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self Compassion Exercises for free.
- Adler, N. E. (2015). Disadvantage, self-control, and health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(33), 10078–10079.
- Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. Guildford Press.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Stillman, T. F. (2007). Self-regulation and close relationships. In J. V. Wood, A. Tesser, & J. G. Holmes (Eds.), The self and social relationships. Psychology Press.
- Block, J., & Kremen, A. M. (1996). IQ and ego-resiliency: Conceptual and empirical connections and separateness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(2), 349–361.
- Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Scribner
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