Self-Control: Like Gravity, it is Real but Not Understood

The problem as I see it with thinking and re-thinking ‘self-control’ is that it mixes many complex issues about which people make huge assumptions blended with passive acquiescence to common sense.  So you do not need to re-think one or two fundamental issues about human behavior and experience, you need to re-think many, and all at the same time.

The basic starting point is that the experiences we have during ‘self-control’ seem very real, and they are.  I am just arguing that how we think about it and attempt to change it are just not right yet.  But it is vitally important to get the thinking right because so many interventions and therapies are based on self-control, and most are not working.  If they do work, we do not really know why, so any extensions then do not work.

Here are what I believe are the main issues of ‘self-control’ that need a radical re-thinking; changing one or two is not enough:

  • We are taught from birth that we have self-control which works and this has gone through centuries in different forms (as have the ideas that the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, and particles exist)
  • ‘Self-control’ is actually based mainly on social and historical contexts but these are usually hidden and very difficult to observe
  • The common methods of observation fail to ‘see’ the contexts involved in the experience of self-control; we are not yet attending to and measuring the right things
  • The whole idea of a ‘self’ also needs re-thinking as well: it is not about an inner person but external social contexts in our lives and our image management to maintain social relationships (even sociologists agree)
  • We are wrongly taught instead that thinking occurs inside us, it originates from our ‘self’, and is private (this includes BA/AC ‘private events’)
  • Acquiescing to the usual ways of thinking about self-control also allows people to blame the victim, so there are conspiracy reasons why these views are so prevalent in a liberal, individualistic society (“Poor people just cannot control themselves when they get money”; “Obese people just have no self-control with food, it is their own fault”)

(The next three are the key difficult ones; and the ones that will get me burned at the stake for heresy or locked up for weirdness)

  • But we do not actually control our thoughts, they just “pop into our head” as we say, arising from the contexts we are in (this way of thinking is very difficult to change, but examine your own thoughts when they arise and judge whether you actually made them be thought or they just appeared–“all thoughts are intrusive thoughts”)
  • We do almost everything we do without needing to talk or think about doing them (this way of thinking is also extremely difficult to change, that our actions are not controlled by words, thoughts or rules)
  • However, we do talk or think about what we do all the time, and a lot (yes, the experience is real) but this talking and thinking are for other people and image management; they are not for controlling what we are actually doing at the time; they are about how we will talk about our actions later and make excuses or make god stories out of what we are doing, etc.

It takes a long time but if you can re-jiggle your thinking about all of these, you will get to a better understanding of the experiences and origins of ‘self-control’ (and be even more super cool than you are already, and be like Zen Masters, Yoda, and Master Shifu).

And more importantly, changing your own behaviors will improve because you will not be straining your nerves to engage your ‘will power’ and then blaming your-inner-self when you fail.

Instead, you will focus on re-arranging your external contexts, especially the social and historical, when you want to do ‘self-control’ behaviors.

A good way to attempt all this is to re-think these issues first by considering other people; how the people around you do or do not do the things which are commonly said to require ‘self-control’.  What contexts are needed in their life for ‘self-control’ to ever work?

Then you can try it with yourself, since that is much more difficult.  But all it takes is just a little self-control… doesn’t it?


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