Self-control: what it is and how to develop it

The modern high-stress world makes unique demands on psychological stability. It's not enough to be smart and friendly now. It is vital to be able to control your desires, feelings, and emotions. First of all, negative ones interfere with the achievement of goals. This requires self-control. In the article, you will learn what it is, what its importance, and how to develop this skill.

Self-control: what it is and how to develop it

What is self-control?

Self-control is the ability to control our emotions; impulsive behavior helps us achieve goals and complete daily routine tasks. It is necessary for successful work, study, social relationships.

We can say that self-control is a kind of thermostat whose function is to maintain balance and stability, both internally and externally. When it works correctly, it contains the impulses and desires that lead us away from important tasks. For example, if you want to do well on your exams, you need to stay home and prepare. But at some point, you might want to meet your friends. Or the boss made you very angry, but to keep your job, you need to hold back from harsh words. For such situations, self-control is necessary so as not to succumb to the impulse and not do stupid things.

Scientists have found that people with high self-control levels are often more successful in various areas of life. Individuals who have well-developed self-control have a kind of extra willpower, as it takes less effort for them to exert it. This is due to the influence of emotions on the decision-making process and, in general, on our behavior.

A feature of human psychology is the desire to satisfy one's desire here and now. If we fail to do this, we experience negative emotions, and therefore stress. The less self-control, the stronger this stress will be and the more harm it will bring to health, both mental and physical.

Self-control is a complex cognitive process that requires other skills, such as the ability to identify, understand and regulate your emotions, the ability to reflect and be critical of your actions. This allows you to control your decisions and impulses and change behavior in certain situations.

Difference between self-control and self-suppression

It is essential to understand that self-control and self-suppression are not the same things. Self-control involves being aware of your emotions, understanding them, and managing them based on this. On the other hand, self-suppression means a person's desire to hide feelings, not pay attention to them, wait for them to disappear by themselves, or actively try to get rid of them.

Here's an example to help you understand the difference better. Imagine that you feel anger, and you have a desire to destroy everything that comes to hand. But you know that now is not the right moment, and you need to be restrained. In such a situation, two ways are possible:

  1. Self-control strategy. Become aware of your feeling, accept it, and try to evoke the opposite emotion, such as focusing on a pleasant memory or shifting your attention to something else that will help reduce the intensity of the emotion.
  2. Suppression strategy. Clench your fists, not understanding what is happening to you, and mentally crush everything around you, continuing to experience stress and negative emotions. Or you might not cope with the suppression and move on to real action.

I think now the difference between these terms is noticeable: the consequences of each of the approaches.

If an emotion, such as anger, becomes trapped within us and cannot be aware of and regulate, then rage takes over our thinking and behavior. All this leads to irritability, anxiety and significantly impairs productivity in achieving your goals. Conversely, if we know how to control negative emotions, we can change our state.

How to improve your self-control

How to improve your self-control

Self-control development includes two stages - the ability to identify and understand your emotions and the skill to control them - i.e., reduce the intensity or replace negative emotions with positive ones. Let's figure out how to train each of them.

Learning to identify your emotions

So, the first step to increasing self-control will be mastering the skill of identifying your emotions. And first, it should be noted that there are two types of emotions: primary and secondary.

  • Primary (or basic) emotions are universal, and most people can quickly identify them. These include joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise. We are well aware of their physical manifestations and well understand what they mean.
  • Secondary (or complex) emotions are more challenging to recognize because they are, in fact, a combination of several basic ones, and their manifestations are not so obvious. It would help if you learned how to decompose secondary emotions into primary ones to define them.

Most often, it is secondary emotions that we experience. Having learned to recognize and analyze them will be much easier for us to control them, gradually dealing with each component. For example, a complex emotion such as anxiety arises from fear and guilt or shame. Once we feel anxious, we can identify all those thoughts that cause fear, guilt, or shame in us and work with each of them separately. This dramatically simplifies the process and increases the level of self-control. Thus, instead of succumbing to a negative emotion, we immediately turn on its analysis's intellectual process - and only this already significantly reduces its influence.

The tips below will help you learn to identify emotions.

Study the psychology of emotions

The ability to distinguish emotions requires some theoretical training and long-term practice. Simple life experience will not be enough here - it is imperfect, we too often make mistakes in our conclusions (maybe this is why we feel that our self-control is not so good?)

Here is a list of books from which you can learn more about the psychology of emotions:

  • Paul Ekman "The Psychology of Emotions. I know what you feel";
  • Carroll E. Izard "The Psychology of Emotions";
  • Evgeny Ilyin "Emotions and Feelings."

The ability to recognize emotions is one of the core profiling skills covered in a separate 4brain tutorial. If this topic is interesting to you and you want to gain in-depth knowledge of it and immediately start practicing theory in practice, this course will be useful.

Keep a personal diary of emotions

Get yourself a paper or electronic notebook in which you will keep your self-control diary. Having felt this or that emotion that is difficult for you to control, immediately hot on the trail, write down what is happening to you, according to the following scheme:

  • What is the name of the emotion you feel?
  • What physical manifestations does it produce?
  • What thoughts does this come up with?
  • What actions can be taken in this case?

This format has several advantages. He forces you to go straight to analysis. In the future, you can consult with a psychologist without forgetting anything. As you learn to recognize simple emotions, you can move on to more complex ones over time.

Learning to control your emotions

Having recognized which emotion is currently affecting us, we can move on to the next essential self - control. The challenge is to find ways and activities that will help reduce the emotional intensity or switch to other emotions. Each person has something different - experiment and search.

Here are some tips to help with this:

  1. There is a simple way to help neutralize negative impulses or at least reduce their intensity. Just distance yourself from the situation. For example, go for a walk or leave this place for a while and then come back. Even such a simple change of geographic coordinates will already improve your condition.
  2. Another versatile method is brief physical activity. A few sit-ups, push-ups, or even a rubber band will significantly reduce the passion's intensity.
  3. Finally, visualizing fond memories is a simple and subtle way to evoke positive emotions in yourself. As vividly as possible, all the details (sounds, colors, smells, etc.) present any positive experience and focus on it.
  4. Just as you track your emotions, you can now observe self-control development - with the help of a diary. Feedback is essential in improving any skill - and keeping a journal will give you feedback if you are not using a psychologist. 


Self-control is a skill that allows us to regulate our emotions and desires without suppressing them. To learn self-control, you need to train two skills - the ability to identify and understand emotions and the ability to regulate them. Study the psychology of emotions, observe yourself, analyze your behavior, feelings, and thoughts with the help of a diary - this will give you feedback and a deeper understanding of your actions. Experiment and look for ways to influence your emotions. Walking, physical activity, and visualization help almost all people with this.


Post a Comment