Why is self control important?

Having struggled for years with a chocolate addiction, I know the territory well. I used to eat one bar of chocolate a day. I slowly lowered that to zero chocolate. Then, a few years ago, I decided to go easy on myself and allow myself one bar (200gr) a week. I stray a bit above that every once in a while, but am pretty successful at my goal in general. But it does take self control. You know what they say: once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I’m afraid it’s the same with chocolate: I’ll always be a chocoholic (yes, that’s a word).

Never mind that research shows that pure chocolate, in small amounts, is healthy. Never mind that research shows that in women eating chocolate is actually correlated with psychological health. The amount I ate was too much, and with the sugar and fat content, could not be considered healthy. And of course: eating chocolate means eating less of the food we all know is healthy too: vegetables, fruit, protein etc. I was long past finding excuses for myself.

The reason I am writing this piece is that one of my favorite psychological blogs (no idea why they are on spring.org.uk) did a series on self control recently. Surprisingly enough the result of research is apparently that there are roughly two things that will help people gain self control:

This is interesting. First of all, it explains something about some theosophists I know: they seem a bit overly self controlled, which this research suggests is due to too much abstract thought 🙂 Of course the reverse could also be said: studying the more analytical spiritual traditions (Theosophy, Vedanta, Buddhist philosophy, Kabbalah etc.) will help you gain self control. For most people this is probably a good thing.

In passing this explains why those kids who do better in high school, are less likely to have sex early on: they have more self control.

But to me the second part is more surprising: affirmations as a help for self control. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the claims about affirmations, but this does give them validity. Affirmations don’t help because they create the reality people need to live in, they help because they help people get more self control, which in turn helps them achieve a greater percentage of their goals.

On the other hand, exercising self control is tiring. I think we all know this. The way to avoid eating chocolate is not to have it in the house. Having it there means eating it. That way the only moment to exercise self control is when you’re in the shop, passing the chocolate corridor. One way to be sure to give into temptation is to make it easy to do so.

So, did theosophy help me gain self control over my chocolate addiction? I’m not sure. I grew up in a home where abstract thought was normal. We discussed science and politics over breakfast. Theosophy fit into that pattern, just adding a religious and spiritual dimension.

My addiction went in stages. First, I went into addiction by treating chocolate as the cure to my problems. Then I was in denial for some time. Then I was out of denial and started fighting it. The whole process took years. I was a theosophist for most of that. But yes, theosophy was on my mind during that whole time and probably helped me stay on the track of abstract thought my parents and genes had already put me on.

27 thoughts on “Why is self control important?”

  1. What is the nature of an affirmation?

    Is there a good affirmation?

    Is there a better affirmation?

    How might an affirmation raise consciousness?

    What does affirmation have to do with reality?

    How might morality effect affirmation.

    1. Hi Richard,
      Great questions, though I don’t have an answer for all of them.

      >>What is the nature of an affirmation?
      Is there a good affirmation?
      Is there a better affirmation? >>

      There are all kinds of affirmations. For instance this quote can be an affirmation:

      “Be the change you want to see in the world.” -Mahatma Ghandi

      Someone using that quote in their spiritual practice would repeat that quote every time they saw something they wanted to change. Or they’d repeat that to themselves every morning, or every night before going to bed. The key is the repetition and the ideal set in the affirmation.

      I suspect the reason they work has nothing much to do with the content at all (so worrying about good and bad affirmations is useless). It’s about the temporary boost in self confidence, the making sure one focuses on what’s really important instead of on the nitty gritty details of life – that sort of thing.

      The example affirmation above (found online) is one that clearly ties in with the whole ‘abstract thought’ thing: it sets a high ideal (abstract). That in itself is likely to change the way the person practicing that affirmation deals with their daily life.

      As I said in my piece: I’ve always been a bit skeptical about affirmations to begin with, so I’m no expert on what kind of affirmations one should do.

      >> How might an affirmation raise consciousness? >>

      I don’t think they do. Or perhaps I just explained how? It depends on what you mean by raising consciousness.

      >> What does affirmation have to do with reality? >>

      Affirmations are part of the tradition of ‘The Law of Attraction’ and ‘The Secret’. In that spiritual tradition it’s claimed that things like affirmations can change our reality. For instance, ‘I deserve a job’ – an affirmation – is supposed to really be effective at getting a person a job in reality.

      In that case it’s likely to do with helping become more self confident as well as focusing on the essentials instead of the details.

      >> How might morality effect affirmation. >>

      Affirmation is a spiritual practice. A moral person is likely to choose different affirmations than a selfish one. As such our personality, including our moral compass, would affect our affirmation.

      I’ve been wondering too: how does affirmation influence morality? In fact, I wonder, how does the whole ‘abstract thought’ thing affect our morality?

      This research shows that looking at the larger picture makes people more self-controlled, but would it make them kinder, more generous etc. to specific people? That’s a whole other question and I don’t know that there’s any research done on that yet.

      1. Affirmation are meant to deal with intent. It gives purpose to the creational talents we are all developing.

        For instance :
        – intent to live a happy life
        – succeed in something that seems unattainable

        But as one of my friends once said to me “you find what you are looking for”.
        So if/when an affirmation does not seem to work, then look at what does come up, because infinite intelligence is showing you what is in the way of getting to your goal.
        Although not reaching your ‘end-goal’ yet, it will you something really valuable to look at. And yes it is something inside, an opinion, an habit, an idea that might be in for a change of perception. It will enrich your life, don’t give up !

  2. Of course a good case of diabetes like I got will keep you away from the chocolate. There were so many things I thought I could not do with out that I now do not even miss.
    I quit smoking cold turkey six years ago. I analyzed my habit and realized that the need for it was an illusion I had created in my own mind. If I created the illusion, I thought, I can dissemble it. I think if we analyze our behaviour, we find within the behaviour the very solution that will help us cease the behaviour.

  3. controlling a thing without understanding of its futality may bring it back with more intensity.complete understanding of its futility will drop it without further yearning of it .

  4. That is 100% right Nandan, which is why we need to analyze, or as one good friend of mine says, “examine” the motives by which we do things, and from that decide whether they are something that should be continued or dropped. People who can’t quit smoking are not devoid of self control. They have plenty of self control…they continue to smoke in the face of certain disaster..that takes self control. Self control is not the issue, the issue is understanding why you do what you do. Once you know why, you will know the “why not.” Buddhism tells us to examine our actions, our thoughts. Are we really addicted to something, or do we think we are because others, notably commercial media, tell us we are. Is your addiction “real”, or is it an illusion created and strengthened by years of constant conditioned thought, from ourselves and from others. I discovered the latter and dropped a pack a day habit cold. If mind is the essence by which all is controlled, then we can use the very mind that had entrapped us to free us.

  5. al puglisi.examine a thing on intellectual basis gives us superficial understanding, in other words it is unanble to root up the habit which has become part of subconscious or has formed a deep impression on psyche.right kind of meditation has all the ability to go beyond the intellectual faculty of human mind and produce direct wisdom.no habit which is unwholesome to the individual or society can not take place after that.all habit r good with yr conscience is at peace ,the best way of checking own intention.

      1. absolutely.depend on the type of habit on which we r seeking self control.deep rooted habits need great effort and deeper understanding and the boat or intellectual understanding is required to cross the river . but think in lighter way what if habit is hiding deep in forest .will u still carry the boat?method of understanding subconscious r different .

    1. I wasn’t just saying that – research shows that people trying to control themselves use up more energy and will be likely to fall to (a different) temptation afterwards.

      I am tempted to think though that to some extent it’s possible to train in self-control, but it’s probably more useful to focus on WHY self control is important. Like – ‘shopping won’t make me happy’, instead of – ‘I should not buy this dress’.

  6. Affirmations are an interesting subject.
    For many people they do not work because they generally refer to something in the future, and since there is no such thing as the future, they never eventuate!
    There is no future, (only the present) because one 300,000 of a second past midnight, it is already today again.
    Affirmations are a form of prayer, and by combining affirmations with visualization, we can increase the power of the affirmations manyfold.
    I have devoted an entire section on the power of prayer and affirmations in my forthcoming book, “The God Code in the Seven”

  7. Great article and thank you for the information analysis and links. Addictions come in many forms and your experience with choclate is not that different from my own to other things. Keeping the focus on the end rather than the means (abstract rather than the concrete) is a great way of conquering that self control. The things we could achieve if we could channel the energy of our minds.

    I will link to this article from one that I am writing from my own website.


  8. I prefer that which I tell myself to approximate the truth.

    My affirmation is my attempt to tell myself the truth in a way that encourages me to self-betterment.

  9. Self-control is important because if people did not control themselves there would be chaos… and there still is a significant amount of it because people do not control themselves enough.

    BTW, there is chocolate that has evaporated cane juice or maybe (better yet) sucanat instead of denatured sugar… it might all be vegan, in which case of course it may have less fat and has no cholesterol.

      1. I looked at a USDA food database, and actually only about 2% of dry chocolate (and 3% of dry soy, often added instead of milk) is saturated fat. The milk that is usually added is up to almost 17% saturated fat when dry, and of course it has cholesterol (a protein) but plants do not. As a vegan I have never really had to worry about getting too much of any kind of fat… possibly I will have to limit saturated fat when I am a senior, but from oil and margarine–apparently not chocolate.

  10. Coming in late here.

    I don’t know why affirmations help, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I am a recovering drug addict, and my sponsor insists that i make daily affirmations to myself. I keep them on a piece of paper with a list of “gratitude” that i read to myseld in the mornings.

    I take issue with the al puglisi’s comment that “Self control is not the issue, the issue is understanding why you do what you do. Once you know why, you will know the “why not.” ” That might be able to be said for chocolate (i’m not sure, since i don’t like chocolate), but certainly it is different for certain chemical addictions. I knew very clearly the “why not” of a cocaine habit (jails, rehabs, near deaths) but knowing the “why not” through and through was not enough to stop me…

    1. I do think for some people it works like Al Puglisi said: they wake up one day and fully know why they started with an addiction and why they should stop it and are capable of quiting cold turkey. I don’t know about hard drugs like you describe, but I’ve certainly heard it for smoking.

      However, I do think it cannot be said the other way around, especially with habits and addictions that are so very life destroying. Just because you don’t know why you started, doesn’t mean you should not try to quit.

  11. Interesting topic.. I’ve come to believe and experience that addictions are essentially the sedation of our unresolved emotions. Mental activity may help us face the facts of what we’re doing, and with self control we can apply some damage control. But yes, it’s pretty hard.. To effectively turn the tide we may practice to become more present, and when increased awareness gently processes the issues that we may not even know still impact us, the desire for substances falls away by itself.
    While that doesn’t happen overnight, it seems at least a lasting solution. One year ago, three chocolate bars didn’t even last one day. Now I often forget that I have some at home, so I can serve it to guests 🙂

    1. Hi Peter,

      🙂 Impressive. You may be right. I’m still at the stage where it’s the amount of chocolate I keep at the house that I need to control, not eating it when it’s there is not an option.

  12. Thanks.. But you know, the nice thing about acknowledging spontaneously lost addictions is that it provides fresh hope for facing the ones that still remain! (your example about chocolate was just one that was so applicable and close to home) — it’s all a continuous journey 🙂

  13. self control is very important in human beings.It is the main aspect that differentiate human beings with animals. Without self control human beings cant be said to be human beings. Morover self control is one of the biggest gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thats what the Bible teaches us too.

  14. recently i have come to the conclusion that self control was my biggest flaw, not because i controlled things that had no need for it, or because i was over abusing the control, but because i lacked it completely.

    not only have i struggled with addiction to drugs but i struggle with even controlling the things i say without having thought things through

    i realize that being young means making mistakes is commonplace (i am 17), and that the only way to actually have self betterment is making the mistake, but realizing it as a mistake and then making change. but if lsd and shrooms have taught me anything, its that some mistakes can last lifetimes, and that is something that i dont think i will ever forget.

    until a recent self awakening, i have been living in a world of false realities. i was living in a world that was driven by my own selfishness, and that is true ultimate downfall.
    having realized my own mistakes, i completely broke down.
    i was looking at the way of life that i had been living, and was so dissatisfied not only with my behaviors, but my lack of self control.
    i completely lost my sense of self. ego death, you could say.
    so in a frenzy of emotion (mostly tears) i made affirmations (and still do) that i cannot and will not let myself fall back into addiction, or more so rather, lack of self control.
    i feel as though my drug use and meaningless sexual encounters were simply epitomizing my own selfishness. i realized that i was using these things as a way to try and make myself feel happy. but the happiness that was gained from those experiences was mostly just instant gratification. ive realized now that i do not need (meaningless) sex and drugs to be happy, and actually (one of the positive things gained from my experiences) is it is the drugs that have taught me that true happiness was (and is) right before my eyes, within reach.

    since my awkening it has been hard, because i still have so much regret for the mistakes ive made. but it is in the past and all i can do is look upon these mistakes and learn from them.
    i am trying to take it day by day, and with affirmations it does make some things easier.

    the words exchanged in this blog are not only meaningful, but inspiring. and i truely thank all of you because along with the new self control i have gained (and that i am working on every single day), these words really help me realize the right path.
    thank you all so much for that.

    jai guru deva, om.

  15. First off..There is NO” self” to control…”Self” is an abstract concept itself…Once one finds out which part of the so called “self” needs the addiction ..it all becomes clear! The addiction will automatically diminish..Look into it: an addiction is always a psychological pacifier to avoid looking into one self..Been there done that!

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