In our last blog post we concluded that The Secret to Self-Control is to Think Before You Act, but Only in Moderation. Today we’ll build on that idea. Lets see if we can find out more about what makes us give in to temptation.
What makes you click on that next episode even though it’s 2 in the morning? Why did you take that second (third / fourth / n-th) piece of cake? Can you somehow stop scrolling your news feed and cut down on screen time altogether?
Turns out there’s a metaphor we can use to help us out. Don’t be fooled, metaphors don’t just sound good, they are also powerful tools. They make thoughts and behaviours easier to spot. Researchers use them all the time to make their findings more down-to-earth and useful to the average person (in this case, you and me). And we intend to make good use of them!
Last time we said self-control is like having an inner pool of strength. How much frustration we can take depends on how deep our pool is / how apt we are using it. This time we’ll say – it’s also about how well you can swim in said pool!
Namely, exerting self-control is more like using a muscle than draining a pool. So, YES, at any given moment there’s only so much frustration you can take, BUT in the long run, using your energy, leaping over obstacles big and small, will build your capacity for self control. Practice makes perfect, this goes for swimming AND facing your shortcomings.
And it goes for younglings as well. Right now your child might be glued to a screen, not able to focus on school work or a simple conversation with you, but think about it! If you stick to the rules, set up a routine like pro athletes do, in the long run you’ll have yourself a self-control champion on your hands.
Sounds good, right? Thank you, science!
Now let’s break it down and see what we can make of this new perspective.
- Practice truly does make perfect
As we’ve said, at any given moment you depend on a finite amount of mental energy (your self-control muscles are only so big right now), BUT your overall capacity is not something that’s given at birth. It’s not like that with your real muscles and it’s not like that with your mental ones.
So sure, it’ll take time, a lot of patience and taking an aspirin here and there, but as long as you keep at it there is no real limit to what you can achieve.
Just imagine! One day your kids are going to put down the phone without being told beforehand. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, they’ll call you out on your bad habits too! What a world that would be.
- Falling is part of growing
And of course, it’s not easy sticking to rules. Hey, on most days you can’t even get to the gym let alone exert yourself mentally. But that’s perfectly okay.
Growing pains are part of, well … growth. Each and every step you take won’t hurt, but yes, some steps might sting a tad too much.
There will be times when you’ll fall on your face. Others when you’ll fight a lost battle, not even sure why you’re trying to hinder your child from munching on candy when all you want to do is join them. But there is something to be said for routine. Turning up and sticking to the rules is important, just remember to pace yourself.
- And lastly, kindness goes a long way
Remember to breathe! Remember to be kind both to yourself and your youngling.
A particular day might be awful, your kids might be their worst selves. You might even lash out, immediately regretting it, but remember – the pain you’re feeling is a sign, a symptom or a signal. It’s both you and your child stretching your mental muscles and learning how to walk. Keep breathing and take it slowly, one exhausting day at a time.
So let’s revise. What should you take away from this?
Words have power and there’s a lot to a name. Whether you’re thinking about your capacity for endurance in terms of cement pools or real-life living and breathing tissue in need of nurture, actually makes a world of difference. Remind yourself of that!
In the first case there’s not a lot you can do, you’re given what you’re given and that’s the end of the matter. Not a lot of sense in talking to a wall after all.
In the other case, however, if self-control is something to work on and develop, you might find you have more wiggle room. After all, if you get scrapes and bruises you’ll know it’s not the end of the world.
In the end, it’s like with maths. Practice, practice, practice, learn how to fail and when you (inevitably) do fail – remember it’s all part of the learning process. It’s a good sign you’re expanding your limits and flexing your muscles.
So keep at it!