overcontrol

Practice Self-Control (2)

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

– Carrie Fisher

Reading time: 15 mins

Delaying gratification

The late Hollywood star Carrie Fisher certainly knew about instant gratification. Known for her biting wit and satirical bent the above quote was a comment on her own weaknesses but also described the nature of culture in the 21st Century. Gratification, in all its guises has proven to be the primary channel through which the human family escape reality and the darkness within.

That drive for the instant “hit” gets ever stronger the moment it is satiated. This leads to the following statistics:

    • Obesity: About 36 percent of American adults are obese — more than 1 in 3. And, globally, more than 1 in 10 humans are obese.
    • General substance abuse: Nearly 21 million Americans ages 12 and older had a substance use problem in 2015.
    • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 88,000 deaths each year.
    • Sex: The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which is 18 million – 24 million people.
    • Pornography: More than 80% of women who have porn addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
    • Gambling: Over 80 percent of American adults gamble on a yearly basis. [1]

The above are extremes. But for every addiction that becomes full-blown there’s another one germinating in the wings. We don’t have to be a gambler or substance abuser to know that we have a problem with controlling our desires and impulses. Often it’s a very fine line between addiction and what is considered “normal.” Equally we can be addicted to all kinds of covert negative behaviours which cry out for limitations and order. “Think before you speak” might be the most obvious and applicable to most of us. Practicing self-control means that you’re able to delay ego-gratification without going into an emotional tailspin. Do this often enough and it becomes an asset, thereby improving the quality of your life.

Stanford professor Mischel has spent his life exploring this very topic and provided some very interesting data that proves self-control is a key component of individual mastery. His psychological studies date back to the 1960s and involved children with an average age of 4 – 5 years old. Mischel and his research team published their findings in 1972 as Cognitive and Attentional Mechanisms in delay of gratification and it remains the most influential experiment on self-control available. These experiments were refined and improved over the decades, but the basic format remained the same. Popularly known as “The Marshmallow Test” from the book of the same name, Mischel’s discoveries and conclusions make fascinating reading, so we’ll return to some of suggestions on building self-control later on. Meantime, let’s look at what this ground-breaking experiment was about.

(more…)

Advertisements

3. Practice Self-Control (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

— Epictetus


Reading time: 10-12 minutes

Let’s get the definition out of the way so we can get to the meat of the issue:

“Self-control [is] the ability to inhibit competing urges, impulses, behaviors, or desires and delay gratification in order to pursue future goals”

Self-control is probably the bane of everyone’s life to some degree of another – how to exert self-control and the faith that such a discipline can increase one’s quality of life in the long-term. There is the kind of self-control that most of us have in order to get through the day and exist as a functioning member of society. Without it, we’d end up in a psych ward or closely resembling many of our esteemed leaders…Many of the most repellent movers and shakers of our world are masters at giving the illusion of self-control in public, but allow all kinds of masks to fall once no prying eyes are around. Indeed, as they ascend the corporate, political elevator they don’t have to worry about controlling themselves, they live for the power to control others.

While many of us ordinary folk may not lust for power, we have are own mini-power differentials taking place everyday as we struggle to balance what we want with what we need, if not for our highest good then for a more peaceful life. We know that reciprocating the insistent charms of a sexy guy or girl at the office might be great for one’s sex instinct and appeals to our sense of adventure but not so good if you’re wife or husband trusts you implicitly. Our love for that person, our conscience and sense of responsibility will generally drown out that biological response – if it’s strong enough. If pre-disposed to alcohol as means to self-medicate, having that last drink will always end up being a binge session if we don’t listen to that memory and impose order as a protection against certain chaos (and a hellish hangover).  Allowing another family member to push our buttons for one thousandth time so that we react in kind is similarly about adopting limitation and internal order in the face of emotional heat that would otherwise taint the whole household. Once the trigger point or hot button has been pressed with a background of stress and tension, other issues tend to come bubbling up and it’s next to impossible to put that fiery genie back in its bottle. Sure, you’ll make up and apologise (if you’re lucky) but such reactions over time tend to wear down the will to try.

The problems come when a sufficient amount of intrapsychic storms have been allowed to build up and begin to uproot what was once stable. A battle with a past addiction or the waiting shadows in a family with a history of repressed emotions can be released, seemingly from nowhere. Psychic carnage is just one step away should we relinquish that self-restraint. But that’s what usually happens because we haven’t been taught any preventive measures, nor had our parents. And our education system only manages to increase the level of ignorance when it comes to self-knowledge and mastering ourselves at the most basic level. Schools and their overdevelopment of intellectual rigour replaces emotional intelligence and social awareness. Since the process of thinking and expressing a thought is riven with emotion it’s hardly surprising that we end up in a boiling vat of reaction when under pressure from every quarter.

(more…)