When you write frequently about lifestyle design and personal finance you get asked a lot of questions. What does it take to live a happy and healthy life? What does it take to be successful? What does it take to live a fulfilled life? How can my relationships be better? What is the one thing that will change my financial life? I could spend years talking through the details of what it takes to be successful in every area of life. In fact, given enough time, I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually write a post that details specific ways to address each inefficient area in our lives. However, we will all realize pretty quickly that a simple thread weaves through everything we experience in life. Self Control. It all boils down to self-control.
We define self-control as the ability to control our own impulses, feelings, emotions and actions. Life is all about how good we are at defining our desires and the courses of action in following through with them. To make ourselves better people, we must actively develop our self-control. For the scope of this article, we’ll break it down into health, money, relationships, and success.
We control a large portion of our overall health. Sure, some parts of our genetic makeup are out of our control, be we certainly have plenty of influence on how well our bodies operate. Long-term, we have control over what we consume, how much we sit, what types of activity we engage in, and the overall care we put into our body. It takes effective self-control to keep our bodies in great shape. We need to develop healthy habits for cooking and dining. We must move frequently, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Self control is what motivates us to develop and maintain healthy habits that will keep us energized for life.
No matter how much income we make, we must still make difficult decisions about how we want to allocate our resources. You can’t out-earn difficult financial decisions. In fact, often the more you earn, the more choices you have. Choices are great. But choosing effective spending will always be a battle of self-control. We often must control our instincts that outweigh immediate pleasure and execute internal plans that will bring long-term satisfaction. Having self-control gives us the ability to forgo immediate consumption and manage expectations by controlling our emotions around money.
We can intentionally develop control of our mind, attitude, and approach to spending money. It is certainly a more effective approach than trying to buy our way into contentment. It may be more difficult to change our mindset than to thoughtlessly accumulate stuff. If we never exert the self-control to manage our emotions about spending, we will always be discontent no matter how much income we make. Self control is vital.
If I were forced to give a single piece of premarital advice to anyone, it would be simply: Cultivate self-control, and look for a partner who also shows the ability to control their own body and mind. Relationships are certainly both challenging and rewarding. No relationship is as important as the one with the person whom you expect to spend the rest of your life with. But really, all relationships can benefit from your ability to control your mind, thoughts, and actions.
A lack of self-control can often been seen in individuals who maintain bad habits (that they themselves desire to control but are unable). We all have challenges in an area or two of life when it comes to controlling our emotions and bodies. Are the areas of struggle in your life a big deal to you or your partner? Most people go into relationships thinking they can change someone. Although couples will surely evolve together, be a careful judge at how well your relational interest controls their own body and mind. I think one of the easiest determinants of an individual’s self-control is how well they meet their own expectations. Specifically, look for someone who is good at controlling their emotions in times of stress or conflict. Long-term satisfaction in relationships is driven by two people who practice self-control.
It is interesting to me that the common theme throughout almost all world religions (and even non-religious schools of thought) is the cultivation of self-control. The universality of it and its ubiquitousness highlights the value it can bring to individuals that learn how to effectively control their mind. Successfulness is often a function of being disciplined in our thoughts and actions. It takes self-control to abide by the rules of society, do well in school, work hard when there are easier options, and follow a deep held conviction when others disagree. Ultimately, maintaining success in any area of life requires constant attention and self-control.
Cultivating Self Control
If you want to get strong, consistently lifting heavy weights will make it happen. If you want to lose weight, expending many more calories than you consume will shed mass. But self-control is a little harder to develop. There is not a simple formula that guarantees success in that area. It is often about being adaptive, understanding how our minds work, and practicing the art of setting personal limitations (and goals) and following through. Often, developing new habits or removing toxic ones are keys to flexing our self-control muscles. Personally, we employ the use of 30 day challenges to test our durability and see how much self-control we can exude in different areas of our lives. We define realistic goals and build a plan to obtain them. We set personal limits in all areas of our life to encourage greater flexibility and mental fortitude. It all build self-control.
Self-control is the fundamental principle that rules all others. When we learn to control our impulses, feelings, emotions and actions our lives become radically different. What are you doing to flex your self-control muscles? Do you actively seek progress in being better at how you control your body and mind? We all desire to make or maintain progress and happiness in life. In the end, it all boils down to self-control.