Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Value of Self-Control

Thanks largely to Freud most of us believe that self-control is a form of repression. Nowadays, people call it self-denial.

Freud’s view was not science and it wasn't true, but it’s a nice image: you bottle up your feelings until one day, like compressed gas, they explode.

Of course, Freud also believed in delayed gratification. His view was Stoic, even ascetic. At best, he was suggesting that if you renounce immediate gratification you will achieve satisfaction—i.e., an eternal reward-- at some point in the future.

Freud was rejecting the idea that self-control could be satisfying in and of itself. He saw it as a necessary evil, not as a positive achievement, to be encouraged.

According to a study performed by University of Chicago researcher Wilhelm Hofmann, individuals who exercised more self-control were happier in the short term as well as in the long term. Specifically, he asked people whether they had or had not acted on their desires.

The Atlantic summarized the results:

The more self-control people reported having, the more satisfied they reported being with their lives. And contrary to what the researchers were expecting, people with more self-control were also more likely to be happy in the short-term. In fact, when they further analyzed the data, they found that such people's increased happiness to a large extent accounted for the increased life satisfaction.  


As they go about their daily lives, people with a lot of self-control appear to generally be in higher spirits; in the long run, they're happier with their lives. To explain why this would be so, the researchers conducted another online survey. What they figured out is that instead of constantly denying themselves, people high in self-control are simply less likely to find themselves in situations where that's even an issue. They don't waste time fighting inner battles over whether or not to eat a second piece of cake. They're above such petty temptations. And that, it would seem, makes them happier ... if still just a little bit sad.

Of course, it all depends on how you define happiness. If you see it, as Freud did, modeled on the most extreme form of instinctual gratification, you will continue to disparage self-control.

More interesting here is the note on temptation. Apparently, once you have learned the habit of self-control—by practicing it, of course—you will find yourself less susceptible to temptation. You will find that you will not feel as tempted to eat or drink or do anything else in excess. And you will be so contented with your life that you will no longer believe that extreme gratification will bring happiness.


JP said...

And the Egyptian regime changes.

And on to the next round.

Anonymous said...

A woman says to her daughter: You eat and eat and eat and don't stop! You have no self-control.

The daughter internalizes this message: I eat and eat and eat and don't stop! I have no self-control.

There is an obscure line in the Bible. "A blow from a whip raises a welt. But a blow from the tongue smashes bones."

I will wager most people who lack self-control had their bones smashed by adults who lack control over their tongues. Freud was one of these children who had his bones smashed in my opinion.

profits101 said...

when I was in 5th grade in.... 1965 (?) the only male teacher we had (math) administered a punishment/detention lunchtime system known as "The 5, 5, and 5." We already knew about this in 4th grade. As much as I thought I would escape this... I didn't. So... "The 5, 5 and 5" was a matter of writing 5 words, 5 times, for 5 days on the blackboard of the room, and then it was back to your seat for the rest of the lunchtime detention. Each word had been selected to provide we miscreants with something to meditate on as we watched our brethren outside the windows playing.... One of those words was Self Control. And I have to admit.... you did end up thinking about them, because, afterall... here I am writing about it.

Dennis said...

Self control is nothing more than self discipline. It is controlling one's feelings and compassions and using the power of one's logical, rational mind.
When one gets mad they stop thinking, fail to see the real problem, if it does exist or has importance, and take actions that are almost always wrong. One allows others and outside influences to control them.
Self control and self discipline is the key to success in almost every endeavor or challenge that one faces in life. It is about developing those good habits that will take over when one is under pressure or the world seems, emphasis on seems, to be giving one the back of its hand so to speak. The constant repetition of those good habits every day will ingrain them and make life so much easier to deal with and improves your understanding that one has the ability to succeed.
It stands to reason that people who exhibit self control, self discipline, will be happier.
One of the things I enjoyed about studying martial arts was not only the physical discipline, but also the mental discipline and philosophy. The major steps were; #1-AVOIDENCE, which is about 90 percent of most things, stop, hurt, maim and then kill. NOTE; real damage is way down the list. It is the essence of self discipline.
There are things and people who are going to make us mad, but self control will give one the wherewithal to see the real problem and just maybe a way to solve or to greatly ameliorate it.
Responsibility, self control and self discipline, what great words to live by.

Junior said...

There is quite possibly a casual link between this post and the larger story of fatherless families through divorce or a mother's choice.

Psychologist Warren Farrell, a former NOW board member who left when NOW fought with him for supporting men as well as women, has written and spoken about the critical role fathers play in delayed gratification:

“Fathers also play a huge role in teaching delayed gratification, the single most important highway to maturity. When children are allowed to do something without having to do anything to get there it undermines this process.”

Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis,
Self control isn't about controlling your emotions, self control is about controlling your behavior despite your emotions. I can feel any emotion I want - how I behave while feeling that emotion is the measure of my self control.

Happy 4th!

Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis said...


Happy 4th to you and all those that you care about.

Anonymous said...

Happy 4th of July to you, too, Dennis.

I exercised the maximum powers of self-control yesterday crossing the Lewiston-Queenstown bridge from New York into Canada. 85 minutes. I hate waiting in line. I don't think I would've been a model Soviet citizen.