Throughout my life, I have found both success and failure at many different junctures. Whether it’s personal or professional pursuits, I’ve found one quality to be consistent when I have reached the heights of success. At the peak of the mountaintop, I know I would not have been there without mastery of self-control.
There are many virtues in the world that we could name as contributing factors in our success, and arguably many of them are paramount. However, I see more and more that in everything that I do, self-control stands above them all. It is truly critical to success—yours and mine—in work, hobbies, fitness, and relationships.
Why Self-Control is Crucial to Success
1) It forces you to think objectively.
When you are in a stressful situation, forced to make a tough decision, or even just weighing two attractive options, having a well-trained sense of self-control forces you to think objectively. Self-control is that safeguard that brings you to pause rather than making split-second decisions, saying something you shouldn’t, or acting on bad impulses.
You are instead trained to pause, think, and consider the consequences of your actions. You don’t think about what you want in that singular instant, but instead, you weigh more clearly what is before you. Self-control holds you back from pursuing the selfish desires that many times do us more harm than good. Rather than indulging, we can be introspective and critical.
This leads to better decision-making.
2) It keeps you consistent and on-task.
When we lack self-control, we can find ourselves jumping around to whatever has our attention at the time. Consistency is difficult to master when you lack self-control. Think about the last time you tried to stick to a new exercise routine or a diet plan. How much self-control did you have? It’s difficult. When you have self-control—self-discipline—you can more readily stick to your commitments and see your goals through to their completion.
The same can be said for just being on task in your day-to-day life. Self-control keeps distraction from creeping in and keeps you focused and on-task. This means you get more accomplished, feel less stressed, and be more productive and satisfied at the end of the day. There’s a ripple effect on your mental health, your physical health, and your relationships when you have self-control.
3) It prevents foolish mistakes.
A lack of self-control creates mistakes. There’s no doubt about. When we fail to control our impulses, we pick the chip overs the blueberries. We choose Netflix over the gym. We choose to win the argument over making peace. Self-control, however, guards against making the split-second decisions that we will regret—whether it’s bad food, words spoken in anger or carelessness, or making decisions that are short-sighted.
How to Practice Self-Control
1) Identify where you are most tempted.
If you want to develop a muscle for self-control, it begins with being self-aware. Knowing yourself and where you are most vulnerable is where you can begin. This is so you can truly guard yourself and be vigilant against unhealthy impulses. For example: do you know you have a sweet tooth and have difficulty saying no to any sweet treats?
To practice self-control, avoid buying sweets in the first place. When you do, make sure they are small portions. When you eat desserts, always serve on small plates and force yourself to have to take extra steps to get seconds. (In other words, don’t take the entire ice cream container with you to the recliner.)
If you know you have a temper, be aware of how quick you are to say harsh words or speak out of turn. Practicing self-control in your speech is necessary for fostering healthy relationships personally and professionally.
If you know where your weaknesses are, you can take measures to practice discipline.
2) Start looking at the big picture.
A significant aspect of self-control is perspective. Many times, a lack of self-control is rooted in that in-the-moment impulse. We are only thinking of what will make us feel good now. However, when we practice thinking in terms of the big picture and considering the long-term in all things, it becomes that much easier to have self-control.
You’ll choose to exercise because you’re thinking about your health in 10 and in 20 years. You’ll decide to invest and save rather than spend because you’re thinking about a child’s education. When you look more broadly at your life rather than in instant, daily gratification, patience and self-control begin to come that much more easily.
3) Avoid decision fatigue.
One of the hurdles in practicing self-control is decision fatigue. If you’re anything like me, you’re called upon to make a lot of decisions in any given day. If we’re honest, this can be exhausting. For many of us, the accumulation of decisions big and small can create an atmosphere of fatigue. We become exhausted so that any decision becomes overwhelming.
What do you want to eat? You don’t care, you don’t want to decide. So you default to fast food because it is quick and easy. You have a big decision at the office and have been debating for weeks and it’s been driving you crazy. Just decide! A decision is made just to make it, regardless of whether it’s actually the right choice.
Decision fatigue is real, and it leads to impulse and a lack of self-control. Our decision-making skills degrade throughout our days, especially when we’re stressed and tired. Be aware of this. Make room for self-care and a good night’s sleep.
And most importantly, focus your energy on the things that are of real consequence. When you are aware of how your self-control is compromised by circumstance and personal inclinations, you will be more able to take control and make better decisions for your future.
Have you seen self-discipline at work in your success? Share your experience in the comments.