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Too Much Self-Control

Most of us think that it’s essential to have a lot of willpower, to be able to resist temptation.

We believe it’s critical to have strong self-control.

Too Much Self-Control

We all hope we’ll be able to avoid giving in to that impulse to eat more ice cream; keep ourselves from expressing anger at a loved one; or make ourselves finish a vital project even though we don’t feel like it.

Generally, self-control is a good thing.

Our world needs people with high levels of self-control, those who can inhibit their momentary desires, think about long-term goals, and take well-thought action toward them.

But business leaders and entrepreneurs need to see that at some point, too much of a good thing just might be bad.

Excessive Self-Control

Self-control – the ability to inhibit competing urges, impulses, behaviors, or desires and delay gratification in order to pursue future goals – is often equated with success and happiness.

Indeed, failures in self-control characterize many of the personal and social problems afflicting modern civilization, including substance abuse, criminal activities, domestic violence, financial difficulties, teen pregnancy, smoking, and obesity.

But too much self-control can be problematic.

Excessive self-control is associated with social isolation, low interpersonal functioning, and severe and difficult-to-treat mental health problems, such as anorexia nervosa, chronic depression, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Signs of Too Much Self Control

Here are some signs that willpower is ruling our lives, and that easing up on restraint could actually be a good thing.

  • Empathy Levels. Our brains evolved to care. Ever seen someone get a bad cut and retracted your own hand as a result? It’s the mirror neuron network at play that allows us to feel the pain of others.

However, when we keep very tight control over our emotions, we fail to nourish this network and diminish our ability to enter the minds of others. By not being able to care or connect, we miss out on the very essence of what it means to be human.

  • Safety of Our Comfort Zone. A habit of exercising willpower over the natural human tendency to be curious about new situations and potential opportunities, can kill our desire for novelty, diminish our courage, and even limit our true potential.

Sticking with the same restaurants and tried-and-tested menus, refusing opportunities for growth that may involve potential risks, and turning away from new relationships that are unknown keeps risks under control. But it also shuts the door to new learning, resilience, and change.

  • Unexplored Creative Expressions. We feel alive through creative expression—it makes us connect to the unique combination of our passions, talents, and strengths.

And although willpower indeed allows us to make time for pursuing creative pursuits, creativity and willpower are far from synonyms. Willpower keeps us focused on a pre-determined goal, while creativity demands that we flow with the emotional experience and follow its trail into the unknown, with openness, curiosity, and courage.

  • Experience Mental Disarray. Most psychological disorders are disorders of excess chaos or excess rigidity. Mental rigidity can lead to an unnecessary urge to control other people and life’s curveballs.

It can also lead to more severe psychological disorders such as self-harming and eating disorders, when we become addicted to controlling our own mental and physical states.

A happy, balanced life lies somewhere in between self-control and self-expression. Self-control is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice and fatigued with overuse. By staying conscious of this fact, we can use it to create order and structure in our day. And, we choose to not use it to make room to breathe and time to connect.

The Bible

Self-control is a major topic of the Bible.  2 Peter 2:9b says,

“people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

We are to exercise control over the desires that take us away for the command of God and the teachings of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of training to run a race and of conditioning our bodies to perform the best we can.  We must be diligent in staying in shape so we can finish and win the prize. Training takes self-control, just as staying faithful to the Gospel takes self-control.

Too much self-control becomes our master just as too little self-control.  When we lose empathy, curiosity, and passion, we lose some of the gifts give us by God. 

Make sure, both in business and in life, to take a chance every-once-in-a-while. You’ll learn something new, and that may just change your life forever.