Why don't I have more self control?
I used to ask myself this a lot. Why don’t I have more self control? Why can’t I get myself to wake up earlier, exercise more, meditate every day, etc.?
As if I am more than one self — the one who wants to wake up earlier and the wild beast that needs to be controlled, tamed, beaten into submission.
Which led me to all sorts of negative self talk and beating myself up throughout my teenage years, my twenties, and early thirties.
I’ve struggled with chronic illness since I was a teenager. Because I’ve always needed more sleep than people around me, I’ve felt ashamed, I’ve bullied myself, I’ve called myself lazy, and put myself through some real trauma.
And despite all those attempts to control and tame myself, I still need more sleep than most people I know.
I read a few books in the last few years that illuminate this idea that we need to try and “tame” ourselves in various ways:
Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson is an adorably illustrated book that positions us as selves with an inner gremlin who is responsible for our self sabotaging behaviors and fears. This book encourages us to anthropomorphize our inner critic / fear voice / etc as a little gremlin to whom we can give a name, an outfit, and certain personality traits. Then we do a variety of exercises designed to help us take back control from our gremlin.
It’s not bad, and some of the exercises can be helpful (I didn’t do them all…)
I think it can be helpful to separate yourself from your self sabotaging behavior or your fearful, critical thoughts, in the same way that meditation helps you separate yourself from your thoughts so that you can start to direct your thoughts in alignment with your life goals. It’s a really solid first step if you want to actively change the trajectory of your life.
However, after a lot of thought and experimentation with these ideas, I don’t think it’s helpful to think of any part of your psyche as “bad” as a lot of this book tends to do by the very nature of the word “gremlin.”
You tend to think of this gremlin as this part of you that's always hanging out causing trouble, and you just wish it would go away. I just think it is really really self harming and traumatic to think of any part of yourself that way.
Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson gives us another perspective. In this model, we divide our psyche up into *three* selves — the self that wants to be healthy or whatever (the “adult self”), the inner child (which is defined as the raw emotions we feel, like fear and desire for comfort or security, etc.), and also an “outer child” (which is defined as the behaviors that happen when we act out in response to those fears or desires).
Again, we’re encouraged to anthropomorphize various aspects of our psyche and picture them as children that we need to lovingly discipline as a good parent would so we can take back control of our lives.
This book also contains several exercises, mostly journaling prompts and visualizations that can be very insightful.
There’s a lot about this idea that I like, especially the emphasis on providing lots of love to these parts of your psyche.
The inner child is like a small child that just feels these raw feelings, you can’t blame her for them. The outer child is more like a teenager who is acting out of a sense of protection for the inner child.
It is helpful to start to separate out the behaviors from the feelings, which goes a layer deeper, I think, than the gremlin book. You can see that you (as your inner child) feel fear or pain, and then you can see how you (as your outer child) reach for binging on Netflix to numb that pain.
The “taming” that needs to be done does not involve shaming or punishing the part of you that feels the fear or pain, which is the super insightful part that we all can learn a lot from.
But still, I take issue with the very idea that there is a part of our psyche that needs “taming.” I am not a parent and have no plans to be, but I still hear enough about parenting teenagers that the idea of trying to “tame” one makes me cringe.
If we could shift it to “mentoring your outer child” we might be on the right track.
It’s like this part of us is SUPER creative, quick on its feet, resourceful, and sort of irresistibly magnetic if you think about it. Though we have all of the intentions in the world to eat healthy or whatever it is, this part of our psyche is able to WILL us into buying and eating an entire pint of ice cream — think of all the moving parts that that entails!
I certainly don’t want a part of my psyche that is that powerful and creative to be “tamed.” I want it to continue to be its wild magical self, and I want to mentor it and nurture it to get on the side of my “adult self” desires and goals.
THAT is the key to “self control” — it’s not about discipline or control at all. Especially to accomplish creative goals. We *need* all that wild energy and magnetism … we just need to learn how to set that energy loose on our goals!
THAT is the work that I am doing as I go into my 3rd year of self-employment & entrepreneurship. I am not trying to push myself into some mold of what I think entrepreneurship is supposed to look like. I am trying to find the keys that unlock my creativity and let that wild powerful part of my psyche run loose towards accomplishing amazing things.
If you’re interested in doing that too, hit reply and let me know. I want to hear from you! What are you hoping to create? Let’s do this together.