Greater self awareness, self acceptance, and self control will empower us to rise above the potentially deleterious effects of stress and ego issues; and help prepare us for a healthy, authentic relationship. Mastering stress and issue triggers can be tricky and humbling, but is well worth the challenge. In this post, we will take a look at how to develop greater self control, since doing so will help us rise above these murky mind mazes to reach our dreams and find real love.
If Self Control Is Our Weakness, Let’s Make It Our Strength
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted by Martin Seligman and his colleagues, surveyed two million people, having them rank order 24 of their strengths in specific skill areas. Self control got last place (that’s right, 24th of 24), despite its ongoing cause and effect relationship with our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Since the stress of strong negative emotions literally causes our brain to shift into survival mode, limiting thoughts, perceived possibilities, and courses of action to those associated with fighting against or escaping from a threat; when in this state we may perceive and react to things very differently than we normally would. If we lose control, and express our loss of control through negative words, attitudes, or actions; it can be especially damaging when occurring in a love relationship. Since we probably won’t always be able to control ourselves completely, we may want to consider dealing with this tendency (losing our self control) from approaches addressing both prevention and intervention. This paragraph is excerpted and paraphrased from an earlier post “Eight Ways to Gain More Self Control in Relationships.”
Mindfulness and Meditation
Most traditional and alternative sources agree when it comes to methods for increasing self control. They usually recommend variations on themes of mindfulness and other forms of meditation. Fulfillment Daily teaches us how to train our brain for greater self control. It suggests that when challenges come our way we tend to freak out because part of our brain is temporarily hijacked in these moments (triggered into the stress response/Survival Mode); and offers mindfulness and meditation as solutions. This article provides a clear explanation of the science behind our struggles for self control, and practical solutions for mitigating them. Journalist Deborah Kotz, in her Psychology Today post entitled “Meditate Your Way to More Will Power,” explores strategies for boosting self control based on her “Science of Will Power” class at Stanford University. She says “I was surprised and happy that she highlighted the importance of mindfulness for strengthening self-control, and even linked to the guided meditation MP3s I created for students in my class:
“Practicing mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day can actually boost willpower by building up gray matter in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and govern decision making.” In “How Does Mindfulness Improve Self Control,” Genevieve Douglass, a positive psychology coach living in New York City, discusses how the “noticing” effect of mindfulness meditation reduces self control depletion. Her article is innovative and insightful, research based, and rich with resources and references to other relevant studies. The goal of her work is to help people discover and live in accordance with their authentic selves. Kelly McGonigal [author of The Willpower Instinct (who also reminds us that we should remember our goals and values to form better habits)] says that the method outlined in “Boost Your Will Power With This Meditation Technique” “will get the blood rushing to your prefrontal cortex, which is pretty much the closest we can get to speeding up evolution and making the most of our brain’s potential.”
Self Control And The Emotional Vulnerability of Real Love
There is one type of situation that is significantly different from all others when it comes to self control. When we choose to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable to another within the context of a love relationship, we may be electing to share a portion of the control over our lives with them. Doing this is a reflection of the depth of love, faith, and trust we are giving, as a gift, to them. In doing it, we may be giving them some of what would previously have been our self control. Although this completely changes what we both experience; creating a three part control structure; in my opinion, it is part of the joy and richness of a real love relationship. The three parts include the self control of each of the two individuals, and the shared control of the partners. I believe this creates the potential for us to experience those surging peaks and valleys of emotion that can accompany real love. When a relationship is stable, and when both partners are managing it responsibly; this shared control can be a delicious enhancement in life. It is also a choice we make, and we can always take it back. But while we are allowing someone else to have so much power over us, it is important that we are able to control ourselves pursuant to all other matters of life.
If we have mastered it in all other areas of our lives, then it will be easier to recognize what is specifically coming from our relationship, and its shared control. This will help us be better able to take responsibility for our choices when we have given some of this control over to someone else because of our trust in and love for them. If we have not mastered it in other areas, and are still struggling to gain basic self control; then we may more easily confuse these other struggles with the shared control of our relationship (as the cause). Developing sufficient self awareness, self acceptance, and self control will allow us to live within the safety of love’s vulnerability (including the shared control), without being adversely affected by stress and issue triggers.
Photo Credit: Hugh Bell
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