Self control is a skill we can learn

Published on The Jakarta Post (

The Jakarta Post   |  Thu, 01/01/1970 2:00 PM  |


Picture yourself as a four-year-old put in a room with a bowl of cookies. What would you do if the adults asked you not to eat them? What if you could have not one or two of those cookies but the whole bowl, if you could wait 15 minutes to eat them? Would it be easier to hold off then?

The ability to control one’s impulses, emotions and desires is known as self-control. Self-control is a barrier that keeps someone from letting one goal overrule a more important goal.  In this example, the larger goal was the promise of being able to finish the whole bowl of cookies instead of having just one or two of them.

A teenage girl might skip a party to study for a math test. She is still motivated to go to the party, but she does not allow that desire to overwhelm her wish to get better grades. Similarly, a teenage boy may choose to attend soccer practice instead of going for a movie with his friends. His desire to make the soccer team next semester might override his desire to socialize and watch a movie.

Just saying “no” is often not enough; we should be able to restrict ourselves.  The teenage girl may tell herself, “I know that I have a test, but everyone will be at that party”. However, she would need to remind herself that it is really important to do well in school. She could even think of other options such as hosting a party after the exams. The teenage boy may say, “This new movie is a must watch! And the girl I really like is going to be there.” But he could remind himself that making the school team requires consistent attendance and think of a solution such as going to the movie tomorrow or maybe asking if someone would be willing to see it twice.

By learning self-control, you can make suitable decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that reap positive results.


1. Start by analyzing your life and the areas in which you lack control

A good place to start is with asking lots of questions. For example, if you think your grades aren’t up to the mark, you might need to be more mindful of your study time, and remind yourself about the connection between grades and your study life. If you are gaining weight, you may need to give up on your binging. Take time to read about nutrition and healthy ways to lose weight that might make your diet more enjoyable. Or, if you may be pushing yourself too hard, think about taking breaks on the weekends, even if you are doing wasteful things.

Recognize that you are trying to gain self-control based on incentives and reasons. Try to give yourself rewards and understand the logic behind whatever it is you are doing. It could also be about your moral issues rather than your habits. Question yourself regarding your reactions to certain actions, such as: How do you think that person felt about being treated that way? What do you think would be the best thing to do in this situation? What would you do if you were asked to have sex, steal or take drugs?

2. Act on your analysis

By this time, you have recognized the areas where you want to exercise more self-control. You have delved further into the problem and realized where you are going wrong. In order to build self-control, you must practice self-denial. Challenge yourself to break your destructive habits. Challenge others to challenge you to break your habits. Need to study? Tell your family members or anyone to get you off your phone or computer and insist you hit the books instead. Gaining weight? Reduce your food portions and cut out your junk food. Set your boundaries and make them clear. Enforce them if they are broken. For instance, if you sit on the computer more than you should, increase your study time before you reward yourself again. If you constantly break the rule, switch off and put away the computer altogether. Encourage yourself in your good decisions. Get help and support from your family and peers as well.

3. Analyze your action

After making alterations in your habits, don’t forget to look at your successes and not your failures. Give yourself time to evaluate your actions and if you think you are going wrong, take the opportunity to make the right choice and look for progress. When you make the mature and responsible decision, congratulate yourself and maybe even give yourself a little more freedom. However, if the results aren’t as satisfying, maybe because you are still gaining weight even after making proper diet changes, try exercising or consulting a doctor. Your grades aren’t improving? Try listening in class and reviewing work every other day. Always look for solutions and remind yourself to continue on this path till you are pleased with your outcome.

4. Self-discipline is the key

Discipline is hard work. It takes a lot of effort to get yourself to where you want to be and keep yourself from going astray. But that work is worth it! Putting boundaries and rules in place with consequences will keep you stay on track and maintain discipline.

Continue to correct yourself and try to stay strict with yourself. Make this change a habit, not just a trend. You must make these steps a constant guide for the rest of your life. You would feel principled for sharing your lunch or doing your homework for a week, but if you turn back to your bad habits, all your hard work will have been in vain.


Self-control is the most important type of control. It is not a simple process to follow when trying to gain self-control because it requires strong willpower. When you think you are strong enough, instead of removing the subject of your desire from your presence, purposefully challenge yourself with this subject. Turn your television on or leave your computer on next to you while you try and study. Leave a bowl of your favorite snacks in front of you as you eat your bowl of salad. If you could go along without being distracted, not only will you gain a stronger will, you will also feel the strength of your addiction begin to fade. But remember to never punish yourself too much and don’t get carried away with your desire to gain control. It wouldn’t be healthy to not eat or to not rest.   Don’t let self-control become just another addiction.


— JP

Copyright © 2011 The Jakarta Post – PT Bina Media Tenggara. All Rights Reserved.


About fiyati

Saya adalah seorang anak perempuan yang lahir di Samarinda dan menempuh kehidupan sebagaimana biasanya, namun yang membuat saya berbeda ialah motto hidup saya yang takkan bisa dirubah oleh keadaan apapun jua. "Impossible is Nothing"

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