What is self control? Most people believe that there is an independent power in us which we can control our emotions and desires. Does such power exist in human nature? Here I would like to bring to your attention the following examples:
Example one: Allen was arguing that he quit drinking alcohol. He said that he was an alcoholic for years and one day he decided to quit drinking. Isn’t this self-control? It seems that he had the power over his desire (want). What is this power? Where is this power? And why can’t we use it at all times?
He explained that his wife was always unhappy from his drinking habit. He tried to quit a few times but he started drinking again. Finally, when his wife decided to divorce him, then he quit drinking. The analysis of Allen’s self-control is simple, want to drink and fear of upsetting his wife. In the beginning the fear was less than the want so he continued drinking but when the fear of losing his wife became greater than the want he then quit drinking. Do you see any other factors involved in these motions besides wants and fears? There is no factor such as self-control. Simply the outcome of want and fear determines our motions.
Example two: Pierre decided to quit smoking twenty years ago. He said he tried to quit smoking many times when he was young but he didn’t succeed. One day when he was holding his two year old daughter in his arms, the cigarette accidently touched his daughter’s face and burned her cheek. Then he decided to quit smoking for good. The question is: if there is such power as decision making or self-control, why didn’t Pierre succeed quitting smoking in the past? It’s obvious that there is not any other factor besides want and fear in these motions. He failed quitting in the beginning because the fear of losing his health and/or fear of spending money for cigarettes was less than the want to smoke. The cry of the innocent child gave him such guilt, however, that he couldn’t forgive himself. He quit smoking for good because the fear of suffering by remembering his negligence was always greater than the want to smoke.
We perform motions according to the resultant of our wants’ and fears’ sums. There is no power such as self-control in human nature
Example three: You burp when you are by yourself but you don’t burp in the presence of others. You think that you have the power to control your desire (want to burp), but in reality there is no such power. The fear of suffering from people’s perceptions or reactions is greater than the want to burp. That’s why you don’t burp when others are present.
Example four: You always argue with your husband at home but you control yourself with him when the two of you are at a party. There is no self-control here. It’s the fear of people’s perception that is greater than the want to argue. That’s why you don’t argue in public; you argue at home easily because there is the want to argue and no fear to prevent you.
Example Five: Lisa used to buy clothes by charging her credit cards. She was always behind with her payments and her mom kept telling her, “Don’t you have control over your emotions?” Finally, Lisa ended up with lots of debt and filed for bankruptcy. She suffered a lot from having bad credit and it took her about fourteen years to rebuild it. It seems as though she would have control over her emotions after this long period of suffering, yes? But, actually there is no power to control her emotions. It’s the fear of losing her good credit that is greater than the want of having beautiful clothes.
Any other self-control example you might have in mind is the result of want and fear. In other words, we make motions when there is less suffering or more enjoyment. Read more