How to Enhance the Skill of Self-Control
“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.” - Elie Wiesel
It’s unfortunate that self-control is so often overlooked because it possesses life-altering power.
This virtue, not often thought of as a skill, can be developed and enhanced. Self-control carries great importance because underdeveloped self-control increases risk in almost every area of life. On the contrary, for those who know how to enhance this virtue and use it, the gains are profound!
So, what does it take to become a master at self-control?
According to research, self-control isn’t necessarily a fixed trait, rather it’s a virtue and strength that can be skillfully developed and enhanced. This is great news because even if you don’t yet possess the poise of James Bond, suave and cool as a cucumber regardless of what circumstance ensues, you always possess the ability to develop it.
Enhancing the Skill of Self-Control
Well… self-control is actually really cool.
Imagine feeling like you’re in the driver’s seat in any situation. Like you have the power to influence your experience at will. Of course, I’m not talking about becoming a typical control freak, I’m talking about becoming an atypical control freak.
What’s the difference between a typical and an atypical control freak you ask…?
A typical control freak tries to control the situation and everyone around them, which tends to be an impossible feat, and makes anyone using this tactic look agitated, overly controlling, and desperate.
An atypical control freak strives to control themselves in the midst of difficult or upsetting circumstances, exerting influence rather than control, appearing much more poised, collected, and cool. This version of control also reduces reactivity and resistance in others.
Here’s a quick personal story…
I recently found myself in an unexpected wrestling match. From the outside looking in, I was ill-prepared. My opponent, wearing a muscle shirt and sweatpants (not to mention also possessing youthfulness and recent hours spent in the gym) seemed much more prepared for the encounter than me, as my modern style suit jacket and slim-fit dress pants provided an obstacle all their own.
Caught unexpectedly in the firmness of his grip, I reacted, and pushed back; force matching force. However, I quickly realized muscle power alone wasn’t getting me out of the situation. As onlookers watched in apparent disbelief, something clicked for me. Even though I had no idea why, or how I ended up in the circumstance (and still don’t really), a simple principle appeared clearly in my mind –
“The only thing you can control is you!”
Moving with the guidance of my inner Mufasa, I embraced my fate and participated as though I was performing an intricately choreographed dance. Everything became crystal clear, as my opponent asserted his efforts fruitlessly. The more deliberately I controlled my self, the more confused and exhausted he became.
Brain over brawn eventually ended the battle.
Thus stands the simple principle of self-control. Unlike my opponent, I didn’t strive to over-power and control him; I was striving to control my self.
Self-control is so powerful because it keeps things within the realm of what you can actually control.
Let’s face it, most of your day is often spent in circumstances beyond your control…
Fighting to get some technological device to work properly.
It’s not about struggling to get things around you to comply and conform; it’s about adapting your response to express your best self regardless of the situation. This ability leads to better adjustment, higher self-esteem, and healthier relationships.
The most powerful and influential people are those who recognize the vastness of factors outside their control, yet have the wisdom to tailor their responses through deliberate and intentional action.
You may have encountered training on how to deal with people and the challenging reactions of others, while never receiving confirmation on how best to respond to your own reactions.
Personal reaction and triggering points are inevitable because uncertain or adversarial situations tend to induce your fight/flight/freeze mechanism. It’s common to want to eliminate these natural tendencies in order to gain a sense of poise and self-control. Ironically, leveraging these reactions, rather than eliminating them, is the best way to step into what psychology calls self-regulation – recognizing your reaction through self-awareness, and responding to it through self-control.
Sometimes your initial reaction is the best response possible, and other times it’s the worst. Leveraging your personal reactions intentionally in the direction of your choosing provides unshakable power and influence, regardless of the circumstance you may find yourself in.
How Do You Claim Your Unshakable Power & Influence?
By learning to respond intentionally to your own reactions!
Practice these 3 Steps to Enhance your Self-Control:
1. Leverage AWARENESS of your own REACTION.
- Recognize you’re in a difficult or less-than-ideal situation.
- Recognize you’re “knee-jerk” fight/flight/freeze reaction to the situation.
2. Identify OPTIONS.
- Determine whether or not your initial knee-jerk reaction is the best-fit response.
- If not, what other responses/options may be better?
3. Choose the RESPONSE that fits best.
- Once you find the most fitting response, replace your initial reaction with the chosen response.
These steps work, however, they require practice, practice, practice. Remember, self-control is a strength, and to turn it into a skill that you can use at will, you have to exercise it like a muscle.
Likewise, becoming aware of your initial fight/flight/freeze reactions takes practice as well. These natural responses all carry subtle indicators prior to becoming full-fledged reactions, so it takes time to learn to recognize when they’re about to happen.
Responding to your own reactions with a more self-controlled and adaptive response will help train your brain to be more responsive rather than reactive, allowing you to carry more response-ability and exert more personal power in any situation!
Written by Brad Kauffman, M.A.