Why Self-Control is Your Greatest Asset in Recovery
By Dr Becky Spelman
Recovery from addiction is one of the hardest things anyone can have to overcome. It’s different from most other mental health disorders in the amount of self-control required – not only to break the cycle of addiction itself, but to maintain the level of sobriety that’s been achieved. Many addictions can be staring you in the face, willing you to give in to your urges. And so, you need to develop a deep sense of inner fortitude to hold back from succumbing to temptation. Self-control is not a virtue but represents a serious currency in your journey towards recovery.
How Addiction Erodes Self Control and Personal Boundaries
The further you fall into a cycle of addiction, the more the lines become blurred between what’s acceptable behaviour. It can be subtle at first. You make small allowances that are justified as necessary to maintain a sense of balance. But there is a trade-off. And over time, the behaviour begins to take on a life of its own. Your boundaries become extended a little further and a little further until they’re so far out of your reach that you have no control over them anymore. Your boundaries are nowhere in sight. And so, with your self-control no longer functioning, it creates an even greater spiral into your addictive tendencies.
What Does Self Control Actually Look Like?
True self-control is your ability to regulate and control your behaviours in order to avoid undesirable outcomes, bring yourself closer to more desirable ones and help achieve your long-term goals. It isn’t any one thing in particular but a combination of internal logic and knowing the consequences of giving in to your temptations, so you can ultimately make better choices.
4 Most Effective Strategies for Improving Self Control
Here are four of the most effective strategies you can put into practice right now, that will help you better self-regulate and improve your capacity to say no.
1. Delaying Gratification
So much of our temptations are rooted in the ‘want it now,’ mentality of instant gratification. It’s not something that’s solely an issue within the context of addiction, but is endemic of our society as a whole. By cultivating an attitude of detaching from our wants and desires in a time-based sense, you’re better able to self-regulate when it comes to impulse control. In short, what’s being suggested here is developing an attitude of patience. Do you really need to have everything right this instant? Can you put off your material wants for an extended period? When you start to bring this type of thinking to all areas of your life, it becomes second-nature. It’s a habit that is so easily transferable that you find yourself naturally holding back on things you want right now so you can better appreciate them at a later date.
If you want to gain a greater degree of self-control, you need to be honest with yourself. And it might mean more than keeping mental tabs on your missteps. It can be very easy to paper over the cracks and bury unpleasant details in your mind. What is really meant by self-monitoring is creating an airtight form of personal accountability. And this might mean keeping a log or journal of when and where you wanted to give in to temptation and absolutely include those times when you did fall off the wagon. The only person who can accurately police your actions is yourself. You are the only person with such intimate access to all of your daily activities. Hence, it is your responsibility. But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard. If you start a journal, there are many ways in which you can gamify your self-monitoring process. Keep a track of how many tempting thoughts you have throughout the day, and see how much you can lower that score at the end of the 30-day period.
3. Motivation (Having a Compelling Reason and a Cost)
When most people try to give up or change a negative habit before they’re ready to, it often results in failure. And the key reason behind this is motivation. There has to be a drive to change. There has to be a compelling reason and associated cost with not succeeding. This will vary on a person-to-person basis. For some, the reason may be separation from a young family due to substance abuse issues, while for others, it may be serious health concerns that have served as an alarming wake-up. At some point, there comes a call to action that makes you not just want to change your habits, but truly need change, otherwise risk losing something near and dear to you. This type of motivation serves as something of an x-factor for the amount of self-control you’re able to harness. If you’re having trouble sticking to the promises you’ve made yourself, ask, ‘what is it going to cost you to stay on the road you’re travelling.’
4. Avoid Temptation
Although it may seem obvious, placing yourself in situations that are going to cause you mental and emotional discomfort isn’t the wisest decision – at least not when you’re at the outset of your recovery. In some instances, it may be unavoidable. If you’re trying to detox from caffeine, the smell of coffee in the staff break room may be hard to avoid. But you can stop going to the coffee shop or and passing all of the coffee in the supermarket. You can minimise your exposure to temptation in the absence of being able to cut it out completely. Avoiding temptation is just that – avoidance. But you can take this a step further and anticipate when you might be exposed to potential pitfalls. This way, you can make alternative plans to sidestep, instead of taking a leap of faith over the top of them.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling addiction issues and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
Psychology Today (25th Mar 2017) 10 Strategies for Developing Self-Control. Retrieved on 27th December, 2020 from, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201703/10-strategies-developing-self-control
Very Well Mind (25th Mar 2017) How to Improve Your Self-Control. Retrieved on 27th December, 2020 from, https://www.verywellmind.com/psychology-of-self-control-4177125
Practical Recovery (19th Ma7 2017) Recovery from Addiction: Self-Control. Retrieved on 27th December, 2020 from, https://www.practicalrecovery.com/prblog/recovery-addiction-self-control/
Why Self-Control is Your Greatest Asset in Recovery was last modified: July 5th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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