The 4 pre-requisites to self-control

An organisation I work with asked me if I could deliver a roll off the tongue talk about ‘self-control’. Hearing the words ‘self-control’ triggered something in me so I wanted to understand what this was. I took to writing my thoughts down which gave me some real insights about why I was triggered and also where we can begin with improving our self-control.


I understand ‘self-control’ as being able to manage your emotions, to be able to react in the way you would ideally like to react, particularly when presented with challenging circumstances. For me, self-control is creating a pause between the stimulus (the situation happening around me or to me) and the response (the way I react to the stimulus). It is that split-second moment where we have (if we work at it) the power to choose how we behave or what we say next. I believe this is something we can all achieve with some work on our minds.

I am now sitting in the space between the stimulus (being asked if I could deliver the talk) and my response (this article). I’ve been afforded a large pause here, lots of time to gather my thoughts on this. In everyday situations, the situation is likely to require a far quicker response. For example, if someone says something to hurt your feelings or if you receive a service you are not satisfied with, or if technology fails you during an important meeting. In those scenarios, there is not the luxury to go and compile our thoughts into an article.

So, what was it about the words ‘self-control’ that didn’t sit with me or that took me by surprise? On reflection, it is two-fold. Firstly, the words ‘self-control’ feel to me like they carry some judgement, for me it follows the thoughts of ‘get a grip of yourself’ or ‘you’re out of control’ – and that’s a ‘me problem’, that is my ego attaching meaning to those words. A helpful observation to have and being able to recognise and observe our ego is part of the way towards self-control.

Secondly, self-control is a skill, it is something we can all learn but I think because it was such a long (and continuing) personal journey for me, I was wondering how on earth a roll of the tongue talk could be given in an hour on the topic.

So, here are my thoughts on what sits behind ‘self-control’.

1. Self-compassion

This has to be a starting point for me because working on managing your emotions is hard. Our subconscious minds are programmed all by about the age of seven, and for most of us, these programmes will stick with us through life until we actively work on changing them. This is no mean feat and by diluting it to the two words of ‘self-control’ makes it sound so easy.

There will be times when we are working on our self-control and we won’t get it right… we won’t react how we wanted, we may even react in exactly the opposite way we intended to. In order to make the journey to self-control sustainable, we must lead with self-compassion; when things don’t go the way we wanted them to, to be able to speak kindly to ourselves and to release judgement of that.

2. Recognition and observation of ego

Our lovely egos, working to keep us safe. Our egos are our minds, they are our thoughts and our humanness. Recognising that we are not our thoughts but that we are the ones who are able to recognise and observe our egos is a complete superpower.

Being able to step back from something difficult and to observe your thought process is how we can start building that new muscle to help us create that pause we need, which will allow us time to make a choice. Working on observing your thoughts can begin as simply as starting to notice your thoughts and thinking ‘that’s an interesting thought.’

3. Managing stress

Another way we can begin to give ourselves enough muscle to create that gap, is to really take care of ourselves. As you’ll likely know about yourself, the more stressed we become, the more likely we are to not have the capacity to respond in the way we would like.

Taking time for self-care, working on your personal boundary setting, improving your sense of self-worth and practising mindfulness, can all support us in being less stressed… it’s a lot… right? I’m really starting to see why the thought of an hour's talk on self-control left me stumped!

4. Learn and reflect 

Last but not least, our ability to take time out to ourselves, where we have the opportunity to reflect on what’s gone well and what’s not gone so well with our self-control. For me, this has taken the form of this article, for others, it may be a session with a coach, or time spent journaling or meditating. A chance to learn and grow, recognising that this is absolutely a journey!

A journey that is worth taking too… I’d love to know what self-control means to you? Are they words that resonate with you? In what ways would your life be different if you had increased self-control?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Peterborough, Cambs, PE6
Written by Emma Humphrey, Wellbeing & Mindset Coach and Dynamic Hypnotherapist
Peterborough, Cambs, PE6

Emma holds a distinction level diploma in personal performance coaching (via the Coaching Academy). Her mission is to support people through coaching to be well, feel well and live well through making changes in life, career, mind, and body.

Show comments

Find a coach dealing with Personal development

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals