An important skill learned through SEL is Self-Control. Very Well Mind explains that self-control is one’s ability to regulate emotions, behaviors, and reactions to increase positive outcomes in a situation and achieve SMART goals (see our Resilience blog for a little more information on SMART goals). Self-control is not just about desirable outcomes though, it is also about changing behavior and habits. A great example of this is changing your work schedule slightly to make sure you have a chance to eat lunch. I know many of us work straight through lunch, myself included, as we have so much to do, but having lunch is an important part of everyone’s day as it provides us with the nutrition we need to get through the rest of the day and it offers you a small break in the busy day to focus on you (hello self-care!).
Having self-control allows you to regulate your emotions and attention in times of stress, anxiety, and even anger. Self-control is recognizing your emotions before they bubble up to the surface and add more chaos to the situation. Dr. Heshmat from Psychology Today notes that in times of anxiety, self-control helps one shift their attention from the anxiety provoking thoughts to rational thoughts. For example, shifting thoughts away from “everyone is going to hate my speech, it is going to be so embarrassing” to “I worked hard on this speech, and everyone may not like it, but that is okay. I will do my best at presenting this information.” Heshmat also notes that this attentional control helps individuals focus easier on the task at hand, by ignoring other distractions.
As many of us can guess, self-control also helps us kick bad habits and live a healthier lifestyle. Positive Psychology notes that self-control is important in helping someone overcome addiction to caffeine, sugar, tobacco, and much more. It is also an important part of diet and exercise. For example self-control is recognizing that your daily walks are an important part of your mental and physical health so you will yourself to go on one regardless of the weather.
Now self-control can be an elusive skill to some (especially young children), which is why it is important to continue practicing self-control. This article by Common Sense Education not only discusses the importance of self-control but provides some fun exercises educators can utilize in the classroom. Our favorite was having an open discussion with students about thinking before they post something on social media. This is a great way to have students think about impulsivity and how it can impact them and others. We also liked this exercise because it can tie into so many other SEL topics, such as the importance of internet safety and cyberbullying.
Positive Psychology and Psychology Today also provide some great ways to practice self-control. Both articles also note the importance of practice. Self-control is a skill that needs to be practiced by everyone, regardless of their age. One great way to practice self-control is to pause and take a deep breath when you are angry. This pause and deep breath allow you to regulate your anger so you don’t lash out, but it also helps you collect your thoughts and act in a more rational way. Another great exercise to practice self-control is with delayed gratification, another task you can practice with your kids/students. Try setting a goal for yourself and once that goal is achieved, you can reward yourself a little bit. This reward could be anything you would like it to be, such as having a celebration, eating a piece of candy, taking a nap, or just enjoying a little sunshine. For example, if you finish folding and putting away the laundry, maybe you reward yourself with ice cream for dessert, a new outfit or a trip to the movies. Learn what motivates you and work with it!
We hope this encourages you to get out there and practice some self-control. We promise, the rewards are worth it!