In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 18, he discusses how self-control leads to success. And how to master this key skill.
You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
At the end of a year people tend to hold extended celebrations, follow social routines, and get lost in activity. The question is, do you change your daily schedule and join in, or not? Put another way, you can either fall into the way the crowd thinks or be courageous and show a higher degree of self-control. That’s not to say you can’t take part, as if you didn’t then some may consider you to be a social outsider. But it’s good to know when enough is enough and leave others to get on with things.
In fact, one of the most important life skills to develop, for those just starting out in life (and everyone else), is the skill of self-control. It will lead you to success. If you don’t develop self-discipline, it causes problems: health problems, distraction, procrastination, financial problems, clutter, things piling up and overwhelming you, and much more.
Self-control needs motivation
The first question is, how do you even get motivated to start? Most of us don’t want to think about our lack of discipline, let alone take action to improve it.
Once you realise that you’re causing yourself pain … you might develop a whole-hearted intention to stop hurting yourself. You might say, “OK, that’s enough with making my life worse. Let’s try to make it less bad.”
With that in mind, you can tell yourself that you are going to:
- Start taking small actions to make things better
- Do the things that hurt you less
- Push yourself into discomfort a little bit, so you can get better at this over time
- Get good at self-control with some practice
- Keep these things in mind as you practice, as you get the urge to not practice, and as you make mistakes and then want to give up.
There are other good motivations as well. Two examples are:
Self-control & helping others
If you get better at exercise or healthy eating, for example, you can help your aging parents who need to get better at these things. If you get better at not procrastinating on your life’s work, you can help more people with that meaningful work.
We have a brief time here on Earth, and the life we have is a gift. When we procrastinate and give in to endless distraction, and don’t make the most of our time, we are not fully appreciating the gift we have. Instead, we can appreciate it by being present, being grateful, and being purposeful about how we spend our time.
With these motivations — or whatever motivations move you the most — we can start to practice.
Self-control & success
A useful way of practicing self-control is to plan some time where you decide to uncomfortable. For example, eat only basic food or dress in a straightforward way. This will help to train you if you must live like this out of necessity. You’ll soon realise that this exercise isn’t as bad as you feared, and you can cope with it. The other thing it will do is that when you’ve reached the end of this self-imposed period of austerity, you’ll be much more grateful of what you have. So, the food you’ve taken for granted will taste better. Also, the clothes you thought weren’t stylish will seem like the latest fashion, and so on.
Also, when you are living like this just remember that you’ve chosen to do so. Think about the millions of people in the world who don’t have a choice!
Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with this thought: unrestrained anger is no different from insanity. The trigger for anger may be due to someone you hate, what they’ve done or not done. Likewise, this trigger may come from someone you love. But remember that it’s not the person who is causing the anger, it’s yourself. You’ve made a conscious choice to get angry. Once you’re enraged then you’ll forget about reason and tranquility, and you don’t want this to happen.