Developing Self-Control

Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control; these three alone lead one to sovereign power.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’ve often found myself fluttering in the wind so to speak, in regards to the events in my life.  I was– and sometimes still am –of the opinion that things happen to me and that all I can do is react.  I respond to catastrophe’s or a stroke of good luck and do my best to take things in stride.

Thinking like that has often led me to feeling like life is this great roller-coaster ride that I’m on, and I’m shifting in my seat in order to adjust to the twists and turns of the coaster, tightening my grip when the track dictates that the coaster go upside-down.

Life is both interesting and frightening when taken in stride.  From a young age, most of us are taught to take the events that happen to us and to react to them because in the early years of our life, most of our decisions are made for us because we are incapable of making the decisions ourselves.  This trend continues well passed the stage in our lives where we are unable to make reasonable decisions about our lives– it goes through childhood, into our high-school years and then beyond to college or university.

And finally, once you leave these institutions that hold us by the hand in order to prepare us for the trials of the social structure and the world that we live in, we are thrust into the working world, which for most people entails doing what they are told by someone who is also doing what they are told.

Because so much of our lives are under the control of another, it can be very difficult to learn to think for yourself and to take control of your own life.  Being reactive to the things that happen to you will seem natural for most, and controlling your own direction in life becomes a foreign and therefore frightening task.

Nonetheless, taking control of your life and pointing yourself wherever it is you want to go can be absolutely liberating.  It can, and most likely will change your life for the better.

We’ve all heard the story or met people like the hypothetical man who has been working a job he is miserable at just to get by.  Many people do not like their job but they continue working it out of necessity, and most people wind up in that situation because they never stopped and decided what it was they wanted to be doing or where they wanted to go.

The sad truth is that you will likely end up becoming that hypothetical person who works a job they fell into that they don’t particularly like unless you do something about it.  The same can be said with many other things in life, but I find that a job is the simplest example.

Developing the skill of self-control

Developing self-control is deceptively simple, like most things on this site that I talk about.  That should not be mistaken for being easy.  Lifelong habits, whether they have been intentionally created or not are difficult to break, even when you put forth a conscious effort to do so.

If you are already on a life path that you feel was not decided by you, don’t start exercising your self-control by trying to change it immediately.  As with any real big change in life, it is imperative that you start small.

Find something in your life that you’ve been living with that you don’t necessarily like, but have put up with.  Easy things to find are small things in your living area, like a dusty shelf or a cluttered closet.  Find a small annoyance and go out of your way to fix it, so that you’re not thinking how annoying it is every time you have to deal with it.  It could even be as simple as a squeaky door– many of us, myself included, will live with a door squeaking for weeks, months or years simply because we are too lazy to do anything about it.  Squeaking doors are not pleasant, and most people will agree that having a door that does not squeak when you open it is preferable to one that does.

Your first step to taking control should be to remedy whatever small annoyance you found.  In the example above, you would obviously simply oil the door hinges and the problem would be solved.  Once you’ve done your small act, call it good for the day.  Tomorrow, find another small annoyance and solve it as well.

If you keep solving small annoyances, one per day for an entire month you will be absolutely astonished how much better you feel about your life.  While doing something simple like oiling a door hinge may seem to be inconsequential on its own, when 30 similar problems are solved along with it you will feel like this great weight in the form of stress has been lifted from you– a weight most don’t even realize they are carrying around.

Don’t make the mistake of making your ‘small thing’ something like ‘My bathroom is a total pigsty, I’m going to clean it up.’  I’ve done this and the change I’ve tried to make never sticks.  If your bathroom is a total pigsty, then spending all day to clean it up is too much work.  You will probably succeed in cleaning up your bathroom; but it will also likely take you several hours, or even all day depending on how dirty it is.  The next time you think about taking control of your life, or even cleaning up something in your bathroom, the subconscious link you are going to make whether you realize it or not is going to be ‘That is going to take hours!’.  Instead of going to the bathroom and cleaning up something small, you are more apt to leave it alone since it was such a slog to clean the bathroom in the first place and (Believe me, this is very normal) you don’t really want to do it again.

Do yourself a favour and do something small, like wiping down the sink or oiling those door hinges, and call it good.  Give yourself a success for the day instead of saying to yourself ‘The bathroom is still a total mess!’.  If the bathroom is a total mess, it would still be that way tomorrow had you continued your normal habits, so doing something as simple as cleaning the sink is still a big step in the right direction.

I’ve said this before, but the more small wins you have, the more likely you are to go back to an activity so that you can ‘win’ again.  Humans love to win.  You love to win– that’s okay and it’s normal.  I love to win too.

Those small steps will eventually lead to a big change by the end of the month, and you will probably realize that the same steps can be applied to many other areas of your life.  It is possible to take control of your life and point yourself in the direction you want to go.  It is possible to take yourself there, and it’s not the easiest thing to do but it is absolutely, one hundred percent worth it.  Luckily, unlike the metaphor I used earlier, you’re not stuck on a roller-coaster that has to go where the track takes it.  None of us are.  You can lay the track and take yourself wherever you’d like– so long as you’re willing to take the time to lay the track.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go oil my door.

Here are some other related posts that you might find interesting:


Take what you want seriously and it will become a reality

Self Discipline: The Easy Way

Perserverence will solve any problem you’ll ever have

How setting goals plays a huge part in achieving them

4 Responses to “Developing Self-Control”

  1. James says:

    Good to see your back.
    Great advice, you probably get it from your fathers side :-)

  2. Lisette says:

    Exactly what I needed to hear. I’m going off to clean my mirror.

  3. Cleonice says:

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  4. Daouane says:

    this post was really awesome, congratulations and thank you very much for sharing it with us.

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