Our struggle with self-control

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? We all struggle with self-control at times. Forming new habits, aiming for goals or trying to develop character, can often leave us feeling the frustration of the quote by St Paul.  

The dictionary defines self-control as:


 “The ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires, especially in difficult situations”  

But how do we get to the place of being in control of the self?

Whenever I think of having more self-control I automatically feel a bit a more tired. It’s like a funny knee jerk reaction because, I feel like to embody self control it will tiring, an uphill struggle. 

So why does self-control feel like such a heavy and weighty topic? I believe that comes from our motivation behind why we value it. Often it comes from a desire to be better, be healthier, be more productive, be calmer. 

It is motivated by wanting more of something that we feel we are lacking. Or it comes from a place of protection and preservation, protect the good that you have stored and cultivated, don’t risk depletion….but again this is also coming from a sense of lack. It easily becomes something we are striving towards using our own strength and energy. This why self-control can feel so heavy and a little exhausting. Maybe it is why we often crave a holiday from it. 

So, what does self-control look like when it doesn’t come from a sense of lack? What does a lighter but no less profound version look like? I believe pure self-control comes with truth, and truth instils a greater sense of identity in us. 

My mum always use to repeat this phrase to me when I was growing up: 

Culture often tries to tell us that the reverse is true. Do what feels good, this begins to form our behaviour, which ends up creating interesting beliefs where we are trying to grapple for what feels true.

Self-control is not governed by our emotions but helps keep them from ruling us. It is the ability to do things despite how we feel. 

It is really important when considering self-control to look at the truth that creates our foundational beliefs. How we define ourselves fundamentally affects how easy self-control is to implement. 

If I believe my value and worth lie in the success of my actions then self-control starts to become a daunting topic. Suddenly our worth and identify is resting on how well we can control ourselves. Now that is a terrifying prospect. 

The weight we feel is the consequence of repeated failure, slips ups and the dread that success will elude us, or we won’t be good enough. This feeds into the core belief that if I am not productive I am not enough.

The alternative approach starts from a place of truth and core identify, so when we mess up, have an unproductive day or react in a way that we regret, it doesn’t affect our core sense of self-worth. 

There is grace to start again when we are not defined by the moment when we lack self-control. 

There is a lightness to this approach. The pressure if off, and actually the focus has shifted. If we are struggling with self-control around a topic it can be helpful to address if there is something untrue that you are believing. 

Self-control is about having a practise where we dust ourselves off daily from false expectations, and we to tune back into that core sense of self. Rather than being motivated from a sense of lack, we become motivated to step out with the courage to be all we have been created to be. 

If you are struggling with self-control around a topic it may be helpful to assess your driver.

Is it coming from a sense of lack? I am not enough until….. I am thinner…fitter…more successful…achieve this goal. 

Or it is coming from the truth about your core belief and identity. I value my health, success is not the outcome but about giving it a go, I am a creative individual who comes alive when I …..

It is a subtle shift but I think it is a fundamental one. Maybe take a moment to check in with the true core belief you have about yourself. How that is this fuelling the motivation behind your actions. 

Visit our Track Library to do your reflective self-control meditation today.

Meditation and the Brain

Over the past few years we have seen meditation become increasingly popular. It has become recognised by healthcare as being a practice that can improve a person’s mental health. But, how exactly does it do this?

To understand why meditation is good for our mental health we must do a whistle stop tour of how meditation effects the brain.

The science

You may have heard of the terms grey matter and white matter, which makes up the brain. Simply put, grey matter is the cell bodies and white matter is filaments or the wires that extend from these bodies. Studies show that meditation can increase the grey matter in our brains; this means that there is an increasing density of cell bodies in certain areas of the brain.

The particularly interesting aspect, is which areas of the brain, meditation practice seems to affect. Here is a description of the top 3 areas affected:

  • Assessment centre of the brain = lateral prefrontal cortex:  This part of the brain helps us perceive things more logically, rationally and from a balanced perspective. It can override our ‘Me centre’ of the brain which takes things personally.
  • Me Centre = Medial prefrontal cortex: within this area there are two sections. One section which refers all experiences back to you e.g. your perspective and experiences; and, another section which is involved in feeling empathy.
  • Fear Centre = Amygdala: linked with our fight or flight response. This primitive part of the brain can create the physical feelings of anxiety.

The effect

Meditation has been shown to increase connections between the assessment centre and fear centres, increasing our ability to critically assess a situation when we experience threat or pain. It also increases grey matter in the areas of the brain linked with empathy, allowing us to be better able to see things from another perspective and demonstrate more compassion.

On top of these amazing increases in grey matter, meditation has also been shown to decrease the connection between the Me Centre and Fear Centre.

As a result we are less likely to always view physical sensations of stress/anxiety through the lens that the problem is with us. This is now where the critical thinking kicks in, allowing us to assess if we are the problem or if it is external. This gives us the ability to assess rather than just succumb to sensations of anxiety that arise in the body. This is why meditation has shown to reduce levels of anxiety. In order to experience these incredible benefits we need to treat the brain like muscles in a gym. By having a regular practice we strengthen these new neural pathways. Although it is possible for the brain to revert back to its old ways, even maintaining a short regular practice everyday can keep these new neural pathways nice and strong.