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What is Self Control ?

In normal parlance, self-control simply means controlling oneself from behaving in a certain manner. This manner could either positive or negative, and controlling it means to withhold or restrain oneself. This form of control is not exerted by any external force or body but is conducted through one’s own thought processes and decisions.

Self-control is usually used as a verb, i.e., an action. Hence, it can be described as using restraint or holding back; an act that stops one-self from doing an act that may or may not be justified and could lead to other negative repercussions. For example, restraining oneself from slapping a person in a fit of anger means asserting self-control on one’s emotions and actions.

Self-control has been variously described and is often used inter-changeably with self-will, self-restraint, and self-discipline. Though these terms are similar, yet each of them has a different meaning depending upon the context that they are used in. For example, self-restraint could mean restraining oneself physically (literally) or metaphorically. To explain further, physical restraint is tangible and a means of restraining with a physical action (for e.g., not venturing outdoors during a cyclone); while metaphorically, it would mean controlling oneself from certain emotions and is intangible in nature. Self-will pertains purely to willpower, that is, what you can will yourself to do or not do. For example, a mountaineer can will himself/herself to scale the peak of the mountain, thereby propelling himself further. Willpower is nothing but sheer determination to succeed in something specific. Similarity between self-discipline and willpower arises from the ‘strength of will or mind’ but at the same time indicates a period of time wherein a certain amount of regulation is established.

Self-control may be sporadic or continuous depending upon the circumstances in which it is used. Abstaining from eating a second piece of cake is infrequent (sporadic) self-control as this occasion arises sometimes. However, preventing oneself to indulge in food everyday is a more consistent (continuous) self-control being practised.

The Century Dictionary describes self-control as self-command, i.e., an order or direction that is given by one’s own mind. It is not a directive imposed by an external person or authority but is an instruction given ‘by self, to self and for self’. However, the concept of control does indicate a certain amount of strictness. To put it simply, the idea or action that is being controlled should be done in all seriousness and not lightly.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term self-control is defined as “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires, especially in difficult situations”. Such reining in need not be done for every activity but in circumstances of great importance that can lead to harmful or complicated situations. At times, small indulgences are necessary for normal livelihood; however, if they result in harm to self or others, then some amount of holding back is required and that is where the concept of self-control comes in.

Controlling someone else’s actions and behaviour is not possible all the time, but controlling one’s own action is certainly achievable. A certain type of thought will spur on a specific action, but this action can be stopped through self-control. The thought is converted into action only of the person allows it, but if the person realises this thought-to-action conversion is taking place, then self-restraint can be introduced.