The Practice Of Self-Control



Self-control is the ability to control the expression of our emotions and desires under stress

Fear, envy and rage are emotions. They come upon us unbidden, both because we are human and weak but also from our hard-wired instinct to survive. Self-control is not the absence of emotion, but the ability to control its external manifestation.


Practice is the regular performance of an activity or exercise of a skill in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency

When we speak in terms of a practice we usually are referring to a profession or religion, as in a doctor practicing medicine. We don’t think of self-control as something to be practiced. Instead,  when we speak of self-control, we usually express it as a status, possession or discrete effort as in:

STATUS: I need to be more self-controlled

POSSESSION: She needs to have more self-control

EFFORT: He needs to exert more self-control

Self-control is a skill, not a characteristic 

The problem with viewing self-control as a status, possession or effort is the implication that it is something you have rather than something that you do. If it were the former, we should be able to dial it up whenever we need it. It should be as easy as flipping the self-control switch to “on” so that we can be self-controlled.

Alas, we know it’s not that easy. Self-control is not something that can be summoned on demand during periods of stress, any more than one could simply summon the ability to play the piano. Self-control, like the piano, is a skill not a characteristic.


Self-control is a skill that requires commitment 

Just as with playing the piano or performing surgery, self-control is not a skill that can be picked up casually, like learning a card trick or how to tie a square knot. Just as a man commits himself to the practice of medicine, by determining to perform it with unwavering determination, he must also commit himself to the practice of self-control.


Self-control requires daily practice

Somes skills really are just like riding a bike. Once you have learned them, you never forget. Just hop back on and start pedaling. Self-control is not like that. It’s more like flying a plane. The less regularly you practice it, the less skilled you will be and the more likely it will be that you will crash under stress. A rusty pilot might get by in clear skies, but periodic practice is required for him to be prepared to land safely in a storm.


It is for the unexpected event that we need practice self-control

Just as the sudden storm proves the pilot’s skill, it will be those unexpected chaotic moments in our lives that test our mettle as self-controlled Leaders. Since (by definition) we cannot anticipate the unexpected, the only way to be prepared for those challenges is to continually seek to improve our self-control in every situation in which we find ourselves.

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