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Self Control


Self Control



“No matter the cause, the source, the reason; it merely explains the behaviour, it does not excuse it”   

Del Mathison

Research and scientific investigations continue in the search for connections between behaviour and neurophysiology. If unfortunately, this is to provide plausible reasons, mitigation and possible excuses, then all is in vain.  

The human brain is the single most powerful ‘thing’ on the face of the planet. Not weapons of destruction, terrorism, governments, multi-national companies, media, fame or fortune. 

The brain & minds of the individual as a single entity or as a part of a collective, have devised, developed, created and invented all that we now take for granted and much of that we fear. 

The essence of the mind’s functioning lies not in its neurophysiology. It lies in its capacity to undertake the most enduring and unique facets of existence; the capacity for CHOICE. When all is stripped away and laid bare; and our views simplified by the focus shifting to basic, fundamental and easily understood principles and concepts of life, this fact remains.

Choice, not chance!


 “What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do” 


Our world implies choice; it is identified through vocabulary and instruction. Yes,No; Right, Wrong; Good, Bad; On, Off; Right, Left; Stop, Go……. Generally speaking we function, not with any grey areas of ‘maybes’, but very specific, clear ‘black & white’ rules. It is reflected in society’s laws, in businesses’ ‘codes ofconduct’ and even in the sporting arena. In the latter, technology is being increasingly utilized to make the necessary distinctions for decision clarification. The ball was either grounded or not; the player was off-side or on-side, and so on. 

We might not all agree with the various laws, rules & regulations, though we all must abide, or bear the consequences of not doing so. 

The Rugby League player and others involved with the sport should be highly aware of the need to ‘play by the rules’ and execute ‘self discipline’. The game itself, involving training & preparation and on-field performance hinges on these factors. When someone is capable of employing self discipline in relation to training and physical preparation, then how is this ‘self discipline’ sometimes not exhibited in social existence? If a player is able to muster considerable ‘self restraint’ on the field despite provocation & hostility, then why do we not see the same restraint & control ‘off the field’ 


Clenched Fist


“Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought” 

Margaret Oliphant 

On a more personal and singular level, the individual also has decision making capacity and responsibility; not only to the larger society, their employers, family, friends or teammates, but more importantly, to themselves. Whilst generally easier to initiate choice automatically and without ‘decision-making’ in respect to rules & regulations, it becomes infinitely more difficult with respect to one’s own mind and the associated thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. 

Self control is that which applies to choice & the execution of decision making. The term can be defined as ‘the act of denying yourself; controlling your impulses’ or ‘resolutely controlling your own behaviour’. Other terms often used are ‘self discipline’, ‘self denial’, self command’, ‘self restraint’, ‘will-power’, ‘self-will’. They all imply the utilization of the same internal, psychological mechanism; that which controls, regulates, restrains or tethers the emotions & desires, thoughts & impulses that provide impediments to successful personal & societal functioning. 

It is easy to understand what it means; much more difficult to undertake its’ meaning. 

         “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies. 

  The hardest victory is the victory over Self” 


Before going any further, it is important to recognize that there are certainly those for whom self control or impulse control is more difficult. Biological and physiological impediments through genetics, illness, disorders, disease, developmental deficiencies and injury can make self control almost impossible. Medical & pharmacological intervention and behavioural management strategies may need to be employed with such individuals. For these, however, there are clear, identifiable reasons for the behavioural anomalies and afflicted impulse control. For the majority, particularly those who manage to function adequately within mainstream society, and for whom no evidence of physiological disruption to ‘executive functioning’ in the brain exists, the capacity for self control remains.  

Despite the difficulties some experience, there are also instances where individuals have risen above their overt impediments and disadvantaged conditions, to succeed in life by employing self discipline or self control and defying the experts or others who believed it to be impossible. 

We marvel at these folk; they evoke in us strong emotional and sometimes tearful responses because of their remarkable achievements, yet for many ‘normal’, ‘physically well’ individuals simple self control is seen as ‘too hard’ and therefore neglected. Perhaps life is so structured and relatively ‘easy’, without constant struggle and those areas requiring self discipline will possibly disrupt the status quo of one’s existence.  

 “He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty” 


Western civilization has certainly contributed to problems with self control. As mentioned in the forward to this book, we live in a ‘fast food’ society and have developed a ‘fast food’ mentality. Effort is not required for many aspects of our life. Why bother cooking a meal, when you can heat up a frozen one or drive through and collect. Why bother sorting out problems that might cause low mood or frustration when you can ‘pop a pill’ or temporarily block it out by ‘having a fewdrinks’. 

Unfortunately this phenomenon has the capacity to carry over into other aspects of our lives. This is evidenced by many of the excesses and abuse of substances, where restraint and ‘controlled decision making’ is seemingly forsaken. 

 “He that would be superior to external influences must first become superior to his own passions” 

Samuel Johnson 

There is a huge quantity of material relating to behaviour & self control. ‘Classical & Operant conditioning’, ‘culture & behaviour’, ‘Personality & self control’ are but some. Many theories and practices centre on ‘behaviour modification’ and relate to external methods of developing appropriate responses & behaviours in the individual. Rugby League employs ‘fines’ as a type of behaviour modification strategy, and realistically so, given the issues the governing bodies and clubs are confronted. The problem with most of the literature and methodologies is the intrinsic nature of ‘self control’; the most important word is ‘SELF’. 

The reasons why we need a structured society with its many laws and regulations is largely attributed to requirement of order & appropriate, acceptable behaviour. Without these, chaos & anarchy will result. Why? Because individual human beings have varying degrees of ‘self control’ and need this control externalized for their own good. 

 “Freedom is not produced by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling that desire” 


For ‘self control’ to be effective and ‘real’ or ‘genuine’, there must be the application of the following key elements. 


1.       Recognition or acknowledgment of the personal problem


2.       Acceptance of the need to make changes & the choice to ‘change’ 


3.       Decision to purposefully, deliberately & consciously seek the method by which this

         change can be facilitated 


4.       Decision to apply discipline, focus & sincerity toward their goal


5.       Active undertaking of strategy chosen 


6.       Utilisation of ‘feedback’ from others as a means of monitoring progress & success 


7.       Acceptance of minor setbacks or flaws, combined with continued determination to 



Feedback is incredibly important to the development and maintenance of ‘selfcontrol’. The sources of this feedback are many and varied. Family, friends, teammates, media, general public, employers, coaches, CEOs, those within clubs and administrative entities; they are all sources of both positive and negative feedback and will effect how the individual proceeds in their quest for improved, altered behaviour and the self discipline required to attain this. 

There are many examples within the area of sport that relate to ‘Self Control’ and the success that follow. 

Perhaps one of the most telling illustrations of both ‘Self Control’ & ‘Loss of SelfControl’ is that which occurred in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ on 30th October 1974, in the Zaire. 

Muhammad Ali was attempting to regain the undisputed heavyweight championship title from the younger, fitter & more powerful George Foreman. 

Most pundits & boxing aficionados expected Foreman to win, given his awesome punching power. What transpired baffled the experts. 

Ali, knowing full well that he could not compete with George with his usual method or on equal footing, employed a strategy which became known as ‘rope a dope’. He allowed the younger Foreman to punch him relentlessly, covering up as much as he could and occasionally responding with a few ‘telling blows’ of his own. He further let Foreman have him on the ropes where this onslaught could continue and periodically challenged George to ‘hit him harder’. He made derogatory and inflammatory remarks in the clinches; sarcastically smiling. 

The end result was a tired, battered & bruised Foreman who’d lost his way, lost his ‘cool’, lost his plan and ultimately lost the fight. Ali had unexpectedly triumphed with supreme self control & discipline and causing Foreman to lose his ‘SelfControl’. 

Foreman himself stated after the fight that ‘Ali had not won it, but rather he had lost it’. 

I’m certain that there are many who play and have played Rugby League can cite examples of being taunted or challenged by opposition players (particularly in scrums) and who have similarly ‘lost their cool’. The aim of the player involved may be to receive a penalty or have player ‘binned’ or ‘sent off’. There are players of the past that were well renowned for their skill at getting the opposition riled to the point of losing composure, game plan execution & forfeiting of penalties. 

 “Anger is only one letter short of Danger” 


The modern day player is generally only too aware of ‘sledging’ and certainly is able to maintain realistic self control. Many times it occurs in both teams; sometimes there’s a melee of sorts, though most state the usual ‘what happens on the field, stays on the field’. They can be teammates in representative teams, though opposing each other in club games. Arthur Beetson’s famous hit on Mick Cronin in the very first State of Origin didn’t affect their friendship and was seen for what it was; a part of the ferocity & genuineness of the contest.  

This is acceptable, to a point, during the game; not so when ‘out & about’. If a player thinks that ‘what happens in the pub or club, stays in the pub or club’, they are sadly mistaken. Pubs, clubs, nightspots, footpaths, public venues are not for gladiatorial exploits or confrontation. Any pugilism displayed in these situations will be viewed negatively. You may be taunted or abused by some ‘drunken half-wit’ in a pub; so what. Who is he to you and why do his comments require an aggressive response? If restraint can be shown during a game of football, then surely the same self discipline is able to be displayed socially. 

        "To function successfully in our complex world it is necessary for us to possess the capacity not only to express our anger,               but also not to express it"

M Scott Peck 



“He who angers you, conquers you” 

Elizabeth Kenny 

The ‘lost art of self control’ has led many to fall. Most, if not all, of society’s ills could be minimized by thoughtful execution of this very vital psychological function. Lives are lost through accidents, drug & alcohol use & abuse, suicide etc. Lives are ruined by the secondary effects of poor or absent ‘self control’; relationships, families, employment and crime & antisocial behaviour. 


Be on alert for the 'Danger' signs 

It’s not that it is absent, nor that it is unachievable; it is simply that many choose not to make the decision to employ it in their lives. Perhaps there is no ‘feel good’ factor; or any positives are not ‘immediate’ enough for gratification purposes.


Eventually, ‘self control’ does occur. It must. The problem is the damage to the individual concerned and the peripheral and consequential effects prior to the realization of its importance. The earlier one starts to embrace the ‘art of selfcontrol’ the earlier one’s life improves. 



Impediments to the execution of ‘Self Control’ 


All the factors listed below involve effects related to executive functioning within the brain, and more particularly the ‘frontal lobe’. Impulse control, inhibition & disinhibition, rational thought & cognitive processes are those aspects of the mind that provide impediments to ‘self control’ 


·          Alcohol 

·          Illicit Drugs 

·          Physical ‘frontal lobe’ damage 

·          Depression 

·          Bipolar Disorder (particularly in the manic phase) 

·          Learned behaviour 

·          Personality Disorders or ‘strong’  personality traits 

·          Low ‘Self Esteem’ 

·          Specific illnesses, diseases & physical disorders 



·          Self Control emanates from within an individual


·          Self Control involves making a ‘choice’ 


·          Self Control cannot be achieved without ‘effort’, ‘discipline’, ‘honesty’ &



·          If ‘Self Control’ is not employed, external agencies or society will

           provide the control the individual is seemingly unable or unwilling to accept 


·          Self Control is ‘positive’ and will achieve positive results 


·          Self Control is necessary in every facet of existence


·          Self Control or ‘lack of’, correlates directly with exhibited behaviour 


·          Self Control will enhance quality of life, improved relationships, vocational &

           sporting success, health & well being (both physically & psychologically) 



“Without discipline, there is no life at all” 

Katherine Hepburn 


For your viewing pleasure...'The Rumble in the Jungle"


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©2008 Waldel Pty Ltd



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Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D., FICPP
Senior Psychologist/Director
ADC Psychological Services, PLLC
1728 Broadway, Suite 1
Hewlett, NY 11557







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