My Delusion: I cannot control myself in the face of excessive marketing, anger, or other challenges. My Truth: Self-control is a muscle that you can build or manage with forethought.
I’m extremely susceptible to product marketing. I admit it; I’m that average joe who marketers are able to manipulate into wanting their product. I actually went through this phase where I really wanted the Reebok Realflex sneakers because their commercials made me feel like I could actually like running if I just had those sneakers. With 76 running buddies, who wouldn’t want to go running?! It’s a daily problem at the supermarket or any other store. I probably make at least one impulse buy each week. I’m a schmuck.
Does that make me weak-willed? And is being weak-willed a problem I cannot control? In Daniel Akst’s book We have met the Enemy, there may be some truth behind self-control being somewhat hereditary through the dopamine receptor DRD2. There also appears to be a connection with the size of our prefrontal cortex. But apparently you can also manipulate your self-control if you or a third party “threatens” your future self with a penalty. Whether the penalty is the promise of going to hell or a substantial financial amount, they play a part in our “self”-control.
So…which is it? Can or can’t we control ourselves?
My experiences say we should be able to control ourselves, especially when we’re controlling ourselves from harmful things. I’m not sure about others, but I personally feel good when I can stop myself from indulging in destructive behavior. It’s like, “That was a close call. Glad I avoided that one!” When self-control comes to “positive things” like purchasing a pair of running shoes, I think it depends on the definition of “positive”. Yes, it appears like a positive thing – I’m going to go running! – but I think you’d just have to know yourself… If I buy these sneakers, then I’m not really going to go running. If I treat myself to this donut, I know I’m not going to cut out other calories from my diet today. If I go on this vacation, then I won’t have enough in my savings account for that worst-case scenario.
That’s where doing things ahead of time and building good habits is invaluable. If I “penalize” myself for every running session I miss, I’ll probably get myself outside for at least a quick jog. If I get in a habit of working out in the morning, then it’s ok to treat myself to the donut (there’s a fallacy in the “ok” logic I use for this example, but whatever). If I automatically withdraw money and put it in a Savings account before I see what goes into my spending account, then I never get the opportunity to mess around with that money.
What we have to be careful with is any unintended effect that self-control has on us. For some, exerting self-control can feel…good…in an addictive way. Anorexia is one extreme example. Even something as simple as wanting to be frugal and save money because you know you need to be can turn into things like extreme couponing or hoarding.
Be conscious of your actions and how it impacts the life of you and others..