Ten Methods for Maximizing Individual Self-Control Potential, Mood, Memory, and Life Success
Self-control was something I lacked as a child, bored in school. I played class clown quite a bit. I interrupted classes. But largely, I was just bored, being toward the top of the class. I’d read ahead in the book, but after going so far, would decide to let the class and teachers catch up. I’d again get bored, often raising my hand to answer so we could just move it along, but teachers would refuse to call on me, often saying, “let’s give others a chance.” I’d slow the process of everyone catching up by blurting out either jokes or answers to questions before others could answer. I think it would have been better to pass me ahead a grade or so, to keep me busy and entertained. I also likely would have finished high school if that were the case, as I got sick of it with about 2.5 years left, when problems at home finally culminated in, for a time, giving up on having a future.
I was diagnosed with ADD (now ADHD I think) in grade school, a hyperactivity disorder. They demanded I be drugged with Ritalin or they would remove me from the school. My mother acquiesced, thinking honestly it was the right thing to do. I took some dose, then more, and more. Within a short time, I felt like a zombie. My behavior did improve, and so did my grades slightly (they were already near the top of the class), but I felt like I was walking around in a haze, and felt disinterested in talking to others (something I did almost compulsively, and often told “too much”, before that).
I decided at some point, the same year I started taking it, to stop taking the pills. As my mother would watch me take them before she left for work, I would have to spit them in the toilet when she wasn’t looking.
I knew I had to maintain the self-control, to stay off the meds. So, I did. I managed to keep grades up slightly, as when on them pills, and managed to keep my behavior low-key. After some passage of time and grading periods (showing consistent results without the meds), I came clean to my mother over a report card presentation and after a parent-teacher’s meeting which gave me glowing reviews for my newly controlled behavior.
From them on, I realized if I wanted to, I could totally control myself.
A few times I had violent confrontations where I would have to restrain myself to keep from being harmed more seriously (plotting for retaliation at a later date). Other times, I would simply pretend to squash the problem as to handle things less violently. One example was being hit in the back of the head with a glass beer mug, and turning around, demanding the person then strike me in the face with it. As a female close to us both got between us, I instantly switched to an apologetic demeanor, shook his hand so she’d quit crying, and assured he and her that all was alright.
All was not alright. I paid to have his car stolen, left up on bricks, in front of someone’s house, no steering wheel, no tires or rims, etc., so everyone would know who did it, but without having to admit it. I never admitted it until 10-15 years later (not long ago).
I easily acted totally innocent. I convincingly lied, and felt little empathy about it. I wasn’t conscienceless, I just felt justified. The other alternative would have been far more violent and worse, in my mind.
Why do I bring this history to light?
I have further enhanced since then, through philosophical and psychological work on myself, alone, my ability to resist impulses most people cannot. I believe there is an underlying ability, to varying degrees, in most people (to exclude severe personality disorders, some head injuries, very young children, individuals with severe brain disease, etc.), to control impulses. I think also, this potential can be further maximized.
I will now list evidence of this claim:
“Inhibitory control may also be improved over the long-term via consistent aerobic exercise.”
Exercising regularly was my way of, partly, dealing with depression (which I have not experienced for quite a few years, but which I had badly for about two decades). I indeed noticed an increase to impulse control in the process.
“Females tend to have a greater basal capacity to exert inhibitory control over undesired or habitual behaviors and respond differently to modulatory environmental contextual factors relative to males. For example, listening to music tends to significantly improve the rate of response inhibition in females, but reduce the rate of response inhibition in males.”
Women should listen to music to increase self-control. I believe men should too, but I think generally this does more harm than good, because men listen to far more aggressive music, featuring emotions such as anger, as opposed to music which might evoke emotions better suited to control. I also listen to inspirational songs, to get a good cry out for the that day if needed, that way it “gets out of my system”, and this has aided me with my impulse toward negativity and depression. I find this allows me to snap out of sadness and hatred more quickly. Again, I noticed some help to impulse control.
“The results of this study found that the inhibitory control test was the most effective in allowing the child to remember things. The improvements were found due to an increase in attention and reaction time. Most of these tasks involved analyzing a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.”
So, impulse control exercises in children can improve memory, as compared to other exercises for memory, due to such exercises improving attention and reaction time. In other words, the more you resist temptations, the better your memory can get (at least in kids), because resisting such temptations leads to attention and reaction time increases.
“…[R]egular exercise over a period of several months has been shown to persistently improve numerous executive functions and several forms of memory. In particular, consistent aerobic exercise has been shown to improve attentional control,[note 3] information processing speed, cognitive flexibility (e.g., task switching), inhibitory control,[note 4] working memory updating and capacity,[note 5] declarative memory,[note 6] and spatial memory. In healthy young and middle-aged adults, the effect sizes of improvements in cognitive function are largest for indices of executive functions and small to moderate for aspects of memory and information processing speed. It may be that in older adults, individuals benefit cognitively by taking part in both aerobic and resistance type exercise of at least moderate intensity. Individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle tend to have impaired executive functions relative to other more physically active non-exercisers. A reciprocal relationship between exercise and executive functions has also been noted: improvements in executive control processes, such as attentional control and inhibitory control, increase an individual’s tendency to exercise.”
To keep it short, “strong body, strong mind.” More evidence of the need for exercise to maximize control in the self. Also, again, it aids thwarting depression.
“Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.”
“Self-control is like a muscle. According to studies, self-regulation, whether emotional or behavioral, was proven to be a limited resource which functions like energy. In the short term, overuse of self-control will lead to depletion. However, in the long term, the use of self-control can strengthen and improve over time.”
This suggests it’s good to “cheat” occasionally, but that long term practice, with cheats, will lead to overall improvement in self control skills/”muscles”.
“Individuals with low self-control tend to be impulsive, insensitive towards others, risk takers, short-sighted, and nonverbal. The general theory of crime holds that self-control is established in early childhood through three major factors: the strength of the parent-to-child emotional bond, adequate supervision by parents, parents’ ability to recognize punishable behavior, and appropriate discipline by parents.”
And this suggests proper parenting should result in good self-control in offspring. Other studies show not hitting children as a form of punishment increases their ability to maximize self-control.
This is where I remark, I am a MAJOR risk-taker, but all my risks are controlled. My losses are small if I lose, but winnings are large if I win. I am not an impulsive or compulsive gambler, but have played professional level poker for about 8 years. I am also ridiculously risky with my cryptocurrency holdings…far beyond anything I would advise to others. I simply have an extremely high risk tolerance. I am not risk averse. I do not take even small risks, however, if I cannot emotionally handle the loss, or more to the point, if I cannot afford the loss.
“…[D]epressants, such as alcohol, represent barriers to self-control through sluggishness, slower brain function, poor concentration, depression and disorientation.”
I drink very little alcohol, and always have. I drank more at 16 than at 21. Drinking also increases probability of depressive episodes. It also lowers testosterone. But the effect here that is pertinent is it’s lowering our self-control abilities.
“By continually strengthening and reinforcing a behavior, or weakening and punishing a behavior an association as well as a consequence is made. Similarly, a behavior that is altered by its consequences is known as operant behavior There are multiple components of operant conditioning; these include reinforcement such as positive reinforcers and negative reinforcers.”
It’s important to reward yourself with “cheats” when you have met goals in self-control. It’s also important to “punish” yourself, by denying yourself an unrelated activity, when failing to meet goals. The reason I use unrelated activities is that making the “punishment” an extension of time between “cheats” can cause depletion of self-control, which will compound itself, lowering long-term goals in controlling one’s self.
“In the 1960s, Walter Mischel tested four-year-old children for self-control in “The Marshmallow Test”: the children were each given a marshmallow and told that they can eat it anytime they want, but if they waited 15 minutes, they would receive another marshmallow. Follow up studies showed that the results correlated well with these children’s success levels in later life.”
Self-control is essential to adult success, hence those with impulse control issues tend to be accidentally self-destructive.
“Reviews concluded that self-control is correlated with various positive life outcomes, such as happiness, adjustment and various positive psychological factors. Self-control was also negatively correlated with sociotropy which in turn is correlated with depression.”
Again, the link between self-control and moods.
“Exerting self-control through the executive functions in decision making is held in some theories to deplete one’s ability to do so in the future. Ego depletion is the view that high self-control requires energy and focus, and over an extended period of self-control demands, this self-control can lessen. There are ways to help this ego depletion. One way is through rest and relaxation from these high demands. Additionally, training self-control with certain behaviors can also help to strengthen an individual’s self-control.”
This is why you should have rest days when exercising physically, as well as mentally. Weekends, or two days off, staggered throughout the week, can increase self-control and mental health. This may be why nations with higher work demands have higher depression, suicide rates, and violence rates.
“Willpower is a resource that gets depleted, particularly when you are rundown or hungry. However, you may increase your capacity for willpower by engaging in activities such as mindfulness, meditation and exercise and/or by ensuring good nutrition and adequate sleep.”
Here proper diet and plenty of sleep, along with a cognitive routine meant to increase self-actualization, is shown to aid self-control. This also allows the body to heal when physical exercise, and also allow the mind to maintain and grow willpower when mental exercise.
“…[T]here is a significant association between emotion dysregulation and symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating pathology, and substance abuse. Higher levels of emotion regulation are likely to be related to both high levels of social competence and the expression of socially appropriate emotions.”
Emotions are also more easily controlled (like sadness, lust, etc.) when the body and mind are addressed as mentioned throughout the post.
“With a failure in emotional regulation there is a rise in psychosocial and emotional dysfunctions caused by traumatic experiences due to an inability to regulate emotions. These traumatic experiences typically happen in grade school and are sometimes associated with bullying.”
Again parenting becomes apart of the strategy.
I hope I have shown that the following factors can help maximize self-control for individuals, whatever their non-zero levels of potential, individually.
1.Changing philosophy on life (as to allow #2).
2. Changing psychological state (as to allow #1).
3. Proper physical exercise (as a result of #1 and #2, and their interplay).
4. Proper diet.
5. Staying away from depressant drugs.
6. Proper treatment of children.
7. Proper mental exercise.
8. Listening to non-aggressive music.
9. Emotional “venting” through controlled emotional releases, like “a good inspired cry”.
10. Proper rewards for meeting goals, and proper punishment for not meeting goals.
Things improved via these processes:
4. Success in life.
By Tony Palmentera