People who cannot control themselves can never control others. Self-control sets a mighty example for one’s followers, which the more intelligent will emulate. – Napoleon Hill
[This is the second in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]
Self-control is an essential quality. By demonstrating it, you separate yourself from the majority of those around you. The Bible centuries ago described our time as “critical” and “hard to deal with.” Part of the reason is people in general are “without self-control” (2 Timothy 3:1-3). Whether you accept the source, the assessment is readily proven. In fact, modern science agrees that a lack of self-control can significantly affect your happiness, even among infants.
Andrew Reiner, writing in the Washington Post, cited a study known as the Marshmallow Study from the 1960’s. It presented 653 four-year olds with a choice: eat the marshmallow in front of you now, or wait until the researcher returns to the room and receive a second marshmallow. The study found that those able to resist the urge to eat until the researcher returned enjoyed higher SAT scores and, as they aged, remained thinner, less prone to divorce and drug addiction than their more impulsive counterparts. Is that ancient history? Not at all. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (Dunedin Study), an ongoing study for the past 40 years, published some astounding findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The study followed 1,000 New Zealanders over 32 years, starting at birth. Researchers found that children as young as three who showed lower self-restraint were “much more likely to face future struggles with high cholesterol and blood pressure, periodontal disease, chronically empty savings accounts, debt and single parenthood. Those with less self-restraint had much higher incidences of drug and alcohol dependence. And ‘43% of least disciplined children had a criminal record by age 32, compared with just 13% of the most conscientious.’ If this isn’t disturbing enough, ‘one generation’s low self-control disadvantages the next generation,’ the researchers stated.”
What does all of this mean for you? Without self-control, you can’t hope to succeed. So, if we’ve known about the need for self-control for centuries, and studies have clearly documented the ill effects a lack of self-control brings, why is it so hard to master? Part of this stems from the fact that we’re imperfect. That makes us prone to do things that are not in our best interests. Add to that the many distractions we have in modern society, from social media, online gaming, and many other forms of entertainment. Let’s not forget mainstream media with its appeal to instant gratification. Taken all together, it’s not hard to understand why we exist in a society where “get it now!” is the norm. Thus, those of us hoping to accomplish anything significant have an uphill battle, like salmon swimming against the stream. I know; I constantly have to fight the urge to do the “easy things” which appeal to my desire for fun and enjoyment (like spending time surfing the web without definite purpose or engaging in online social interactions that don’t promote more major goals) rather than doing the things that help me accomplish my objectives. So, I hear ya; I feel your pain!
What Can Help Me Develop More Self-Control?
Self-control is one of several qualities that work in concert to help us become better people. When linked to faith, virtue, knowledge, endurance, godly devotion, brotherly affection, and love, self-control helps us become a well-rounded, productive person (2 Peter 1:5-7). However, none of those qualities are wholly inborn. We have to work at cultivating them. Since we’re focused on self-control in this discussion, what are some things we can do to more effectively develop this quality?
- Control your thoughts. The things we think about control our actions. If we’re focused on positive things, that will dominate our thinking. Thus, our decisions filter through the thoughts we put in our minds. The media is constantly bombarding us with the idea that instant gratification is the way to happiness. To counteract that, focus on books, magazines, and audio recordings that helps you see things the way they really are. Read about people who’ve accomplished the things you want to accomplish. See the sacrifices (aka ways they exercised self-control) they made and how it contributed to their success.
- Control your associations. The company we keep has a powerful effect on us. The old wisdom holds true: Look at your five closest friends and chances are you’ll see yourself reflected in them. The thoughts, motivations, and activities of our friends exert influence on us, and sometimes it is not subtle. So, are you surrounded by people who show self-control, or by people who give in to every whim and emotion that hits them? If the former, fantastic! If the latter holds true, then remember this sage advice: “If you can’t change your friends, change your friends.” – Jim Rohn
- Know yourself. We all come from various backgrounds. Some were more nurturing than others. If we had good guidance that helped develop in us a respect for and appreciation of the exercise of self-control, that’s wonderful! For some, though, this wasn’t the case. If that’s your situation, know you’ll have to work harder to develop this quality. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a life thing. In a classroom, some students may excel at math while others struggle. Yet nothing prevents the one struggling from putting in extra effort and achieving or even exceeding those with natural ability. Once you understand the point from where you start, you can map out a path to your goal.
- Seek the help of others. We all need help, because none of us are perfect. Asking others to help us demonstrates appreciation of this fact. However, I’m not saying everyone is a good candidate to offer assistance. By encouraging you to seek the help of others, I mean seeking the help of those who understand what you want to accomplish and will support your efforts. As noted earlier, self-control is not so common anymore. Therefore choose your confidants wisely. As mentioned before, those who have accomplished the things you wish to accomplish and demonstrate a desire to help others (both qualities are necessary) make great choices.
Exercising self-control is a challenge. Thankfully, it is one you can successfully meet. By controlling your thoughts and associations, knowing yourself, and seeking the help of those qualified to assist you in developing this necessary quality, you can succeed. This will help you achieve your goals and live the fulfilling life you can and should enjoy.
What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to self-control? What steps will you take to overcome them? Let me know in the Comments below.
- Attributes of Leadership – Unwavering Courage (kerwynhodge.wordpress.com)
- Self-Control is the Biggest Predictor of Your Success (openforum.com)
- Delaying Gratification, Improving Self Control, And The Marshmallow Test (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Leadership Virtues: Next Up, Temperance (peter-rock.com)
- To Predict Success in Children, Look Beyond Willpower (scientificamerican.com)
- Discipline is the Secret (robertjrgraham.com)