Today, I explore self-regulation techniques and the importance of personal limits for personal growth and mental strength.
Within this discussion, I explore self-regulation, why it’s essential for an individual’s flourishing, and how to avoid falling into harmful behaviors.
By the end of this post, you’ll have gained insights into practical strategies for mastering self-control, from acknowledging imperfections to learning from history, and how these strategies can lead to a more fulfilled life.
Table Of Contents
- Individualism’s Greatest Weakness: Self-Worship
- The Impact of Bad Habits on Personal Responsibility and Growth
- Vice Destroys Individual Happiness And Societal Stability
- Strategies for Self-Regulation
- 1) Acknowledge Imperfection
- 2) Evaluate Personal Habits
- 3) Embrace Responsibilities To Aid In Self-Regulation
- 4) Physical Fitness and Struggle
- 5) Learn from History and Tradition
- 6) Explore Religion and Community Accountability
- Self-Regulation Techniques: The Importance of Personal Limits and Self-Control Strategies
- Actionables: Master The Art of Self-Regulation
- Reading List
Individualism’s Greatest Weakness: Self-Worship
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
The main pitfall is self-worship. Self-worship is the delusional belief that something is good simply because you do it. Individuals are not gods. We are not to be worshipped. Our actions have to correspond with what is virtuous. We are not above virtue.
And our vices do not magically become good because we enjoy them.
Unfortunately, most people will self-worship. Man is a rational creature. We must rationalize our actions so we can justify our participation in them. Rationalizing vices is a common issue where we justify our bad habits, hindering our self-improvement efforts.
The Impact of Bad Habits on Personal Responsibility and Growth
Why does this matter? On a small scale, vices typically undermine the individual’s life and those around them. Most of our vices are reasonably mundane and can be regulated with effort. For example, I have a temper, and I’ve, to my great shame, yelled at my children on occasion. I’ve sought restitution, but such behavior will negatively affect them, especially if I don’t reign in my poor behavior.
But most vices, such as drug use or porn addiction, create rippling effects that hurt individuals and others. When rationalizing these vices, we develop systems and arguments designed to defend the consequences of such vices. Once supported, the vices and their destructive repercussions spread, leaving poor results for everyone.
Pornography fuels the sex trade, rewires brains, and undermines relationships. Drug use makes addicts who cannot control their lives. In these circumstances and others, vices create dysfunction. In a state of dysfunction, individuals cannot live their lives effectively. Such individuals will clamor for external excuses and assistance. This clamoring leads to the state’s growth and the community’s degradation. Two things that do not improve the life of the individual.
Mindfulness and self-control are key to avoiding larger issues and achieving personal success and happiness. A loss of self-control leads to greater tyrannies. Not having limitations on your vices only leads to chaos.
Vice Destroys Individual Happiness And Societal Stability
The main problem is how we can rationalize our vices and make excuses for our stupid actions. Of course, such rationalization never works. Humans know vice is terrible. We understand a lack of self-control is disastrous.
This is why vice causes anxiety, stress, and fear. If we lack self-control, personal and societal dysfunction is all but guaranteed.
For example, a drug addict may be “free” to take drugs, but he is not free to do much else. He cannot accomplish his dreams, care for a family, or make moral claims. He is addicted and incapable of functioning without his next hit. He can rationalize his drug use, but he is still trapped.
But even on the smaller end, vice still affects us. If you suffer from sloth, engaging in physical activity and pursuing your dreams effectively proves challenging. Such instances create missed opportunities to achieve your best self by helping yourself and others. For example, if you’re lazy, you can’t learn the skills that will help you earn a dream job.
Strategies for Self-Regulation
Therefore, the call to place limits on yourself is a wise and prudent one. Do not fall for the noise that limitations are “oppressive.” Addiction is oppressive. Personal weakness is oppressive.
1) Acknowledge Imperfection
The collectivists believe the mob is perfect. The individualist does not have the luxury to make the same mistake about the individual. We are all human, and being human, we are all flawed. Our imperfections make us who we are, but they are important to recognize and regulate.
You have to remember as an individual, no matter how accomplished you are, you are not above petty mistakes, abuses, and other vices and sins.
This reality is the first place to start. If you can accept your own fallibility, you can move forward with a clearer mind.
2) Evaluate Personal Habits
“Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.” – Wilkie Collins
When you look at your hobbies and fun activities, you must ask if you can go more than three weeks without engaging in such activities. Testing whether I can go three weeks without junk food or playing video games helped me understand how much of a hold these things have over me.
This insight allows you to reflect on your hobbies: their roles in your life, why you participate in them, where your life would be without them, and so forth. The key is to look closely at yourself and your actions.
Make a game plan once you understand your hobbies and their hold on you. Work to regulate your habits by setting clear goals and meaningful rewards. The ability to control your desires, no matter how innocuous, is crucial to self-improvement.
3) Embrace Responsibilities To Aid In Self-Regulation
The best way to civilize yourself is to find responsibilities and embrace them. Being accountable to others and your best self elevates you and helps with self-regulation.
Responsibilities force you to think about virtue by pursuing external goods for internal success. When you think about your responsibilities, you are less likely to obsess over your comforts. For example, focusing on being a better parent makes you less likely to justify lying on the couch all day.
List your responsibilities and how to excel at them. How can you improve as a parent, employee, spouse, and so on? Once again, set clear goals and provide rewards for your successes. Your successes will feed into themselves and keep you motivated.
4) Physical Fitness and Struggle
Physical fitness is vital to personal happiness. The well-documented benefits of being in better shape are undeniable. The fact our society does not place more emphasis on physical wellness shows how broken we are.
Physical fitness and struggle are hard to deny. Either you can lift the weight or not, run the marathon or not. You cannot lie about your physical abilities.
If you want to improve your physical fitness, you must suffer. You have to stop being lazy and eating foods that make you fat but happy. You have to be disciplined and focused. All these realities diminish vices and humble you as you subject yourself to the pain of physical greatness.
Therefore, if you want to limit your worst self, you exercise. You will achieve physical strength and curtail the voices and whims that erupt within you.
5) Learn from History and Tradition
Tradition provides wisdom for individuals. Many modern-day people think our ancestors were backward and stupid. However, our ancestors lacked comfort and technology to distract themselves, so they better understood human nature and flaws.
Our ancestors have shown us that certain behaviors and traditions have consistently helped individuals limit their behaviors and excesses. For example, marriage is the best, most stable path for expressing sexuality. Marriage benefits the individuals, children, and the society at large. Having this “limitation” on one’s sexual appetite creates more stability and success for the individual than not.
Additionally, see what limitations wise men have placed on themselves throughout history. Do they sleep at a specific time or refuse to engage in certain behaviors? Not all great men are perfect. For example, Ayn Rand is my hero, but she had flaws. However, I would improve immensely if I followed her writing schedule or developed her discipline. Instead of saying I will “do it my way” and proceed to waste time on fleeting pleasures.
Lastly, history helps us understand how self-regulation is essential to success. Learning from the past is critical to mastering self-control. Rome and its decadence are prominent warnings to our hedonistic lifestyles. But most individuals worship themselves and see no problem with the excesses. Thus, we follow the same path as our ancestors and act surprised when individual vice contributes to inflation, broken homes, and over-medication.
6) Explore Religion and Community Accountability
Admittedly, following all the advice above can still make it difficult to have self-regulation. That’s why community and, to a lesser degree, religion can provide more justification and assistance with self-control.
When we look at self-regulation, we have to rationalize it, just like we do for our vices. Vice is easy to justify because our society loves vice, and external factors support our degradation. However, religion and a virtuous community provide different narratives and incentives.
Religion is a mixed bag. The best religions provide a narrative as to why we should pursue virtue. Such narratives grant a Creator who made us for greatness. The Creator is forgiving yet stern and provides the spiritual support we need to accomplish our virtuous aims. Despite skepticism, we can never discount the power of such a narrative. Wisdom and peace are found in religious ceremonies and practices, especially since they build discipline and focus.
However, religion can provide arbitrary, restrictive rules that help with nothing. Furthermore, religion suffers from what all collectives do: leadership. Most churches have subpar leaders who are not more virtuous than their followers. Such leaders cannot provide the wisdom of overcoming your worst self; following them provides no comfort for the individual.
Therefore, community is the better option. A group of people holding you to a higher standard is crucial for self-improvement. For example, a friend can ask you how your book is coming along, which creates the guilt of not sticking to your goals. Or, a spouse can help you overcome an addiction by providing support and reminding you of the dangers of disappointing someone you love.
Self-Regulation Techniques: The Importance of Personal Limits and Self-Control Strategies
“One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.” – Gustave Flaubert
Not everything on this list is for everyone. Religions are more dubious than not, and certain traditions restrict the individual with no apparent benefit. However, I caution against rejecting these items for petty, emotional reasons.
Everything from anger to drugs and adultery will rob you of mental stability. Your vices do not add to your life; they only consume your resources while providing nothing sustainable in return. Furthermore, those same vices destabilize your life and the lives of others. Our society suffers from collectivism, big government, and hypocritical corporations. But it also suffers from the hedonism of individuals who support the growing state so they do not have to give up their addictions.
Eliminate the possibility of your enslavement. Overcome your vices. Restrict and regulate your hobbies. Pursue the external things that place reasonable limits on your desires so those desires have a more difficult time controlling you.
I encourage you to apply these strategies in your daily life. Additionally, be patient with yourself. Never expect quick results, and never be too harsh about your failings. You need to give yourself generosity but hope you will overcome what ails you.
Actionables: Master The Art of Self-Regulation
“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.” – Thucydides
- What vices do you struggle with? What has helped you regulate those vices in the past? Can you take what has succeeded and apply it to other vices? Why do you think whatever has helped you regulate your vices has been so effective?
- How often do you exercise? Sleep? Eat well? What can you improve in these categories to give your body the best nutrients and opportunities?
- Who are some historical figures you admire? Why do you admire them? What can you learn from their example? How can you apply their behavior and wisdom to your life?
- What are your responsibilities? How can you attend to them better? What are the benefits of doing a better job at your responsibilities? Who else can you help?
- “Atomic Habits” by James Clear: This book provides practical strategies for forming good habits, breaking bad ones, and mastering the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
- “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck: A classic in psychology, this book explores the nature of loving relationships and leads readers toward a new serenity and fullness of life.
- “Self-Control: Its Kingship and Majesty” by William George Jordan: An older but timeless book that emphasizes the importance of self-regulation and how it can be developed.
- “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius: This is a series of personal writings by the Roman Emperor, offering insights into Stoic philosophy, which is deeply concerned with self-regulation and personal ethics.
- “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal: Based on Stanford University’s psychology course “The Science of Willpower”, this book explores scientific insights into self-regulation and how it can be improved.
- “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth: While this is a book, Duckworth’s research papers on ‘grit’ as a predictor of success are also highly informative.
Please remember it’s important to do the actionable. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
Refer to the linked articles and studies throughout this post for detailed evidence and case studies supporting these views.
*Image credit to Unsplash