We don’t always get it right. We do mess up. We say things we want to take back and do things that are not safe or fair and they do hurt others. We may make a big mess of things at times. Benjamin Franklin said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” Have you found yourself sometimes wishing you didn’t say something or do something due to momentary lack of self control? Of course – all of us have.
Just recently in a meeting of about 60 people I called out unnecessarily the faults of a group of individuals. I thought I was doing it in a kind yet reminding sort of way, only to realize as it came out of my mouth that it did not come out the way I wanted it to. It took me months to overcome that slip, to regain the confidence of the group. These things happen, but the question is what can and should we do?
Saying “I am sorry”, is so powerful when done in a sincere manner. When we say those words we are taking the responsibility for the words or actions that we took. Whether the act was by accident or a bad choice we must first take the responsibility and then make amends. To apologize can take a great deal of courage and self control. It could be that what we said was not wrong it just may have been “the wrong thing at the tempting moment”, and we may be embarrassed by our action. We may be scared too. If we are a small child and we know we have done something that hurt someone or that is not in line with our family rules / principles, we may be scared and it will take a lot to admit we are wrong and work on making things better.
I might suggest that how we do this is just as important as doing it. Whether we are kids or adults, looking the other person/s in the eye and admitting our mistake and then asking how we can make things better takes a great deal of strength – but in the end our ability to do so and to listen to the feelings of others will have a great impact on the relationship of all parties. Teaching our children how to do this by role playing and by example is key to this aspect of self control.
Today we are going to talk about asking permission. What does asking permission have to do with self control? It starts at a very young age. When a child wants a toy or crayons that someone else is using or has in their possession, the first thing that pops in their head is to grab it and take it for themselves. Then as they get older they may use things that belong to their siblings or friends without asking. As teens this may evolve into going out or to places without clearing it first with their parents. As adults we may do things because we feel we have the right to do so (because we are adults).
What would happen if as a 5 year old we just grabbed the markers out of the hand of another child? Is it safe or fair? Will that solution work? Of course not, we expect that we would learn to ask nicely without grabbing or yelling. So we say “Excuse me, may I use that marker when you are done?” As we get older We can begin to learn about respecting the rights of others and their property. Even as pre-teens we learn that it is the respectful thing to ask for permission from our siblings and friends if we want to use their video game, or other possession. Then we return it when we say we will. This begins to build trust and respect for each other.
As we get older and have more freedom though we want to remember that just because we have the right to do something does not mean that it is the respectful thing to do. Asking for permission for things that we want and need, instead of just taking them, helps to build trust and respect. If as a teen you are spending the evening at a friends house and they decide to go visit another persons house, it builds trust and respect if we call and ask permission from our parents. Why should we do this? Using our empathy imagine how mom and dad would feel if they called for you and you were not where you said you would be. They would first be very frightened and then upset and then they would begin to not trust you for your word. A simple phone call would resolve all of that and create a better relationship with your parents.
Having said that about our kids it is time for us as parents to examine how we treat them. If we are going out do we let others know where we are going and what time we expect to return. If this is not a practice we have, we cannot expect our children to do any different. In fact they are going to believe that being a grown up means you can do what you want, when you want, without telling anyone. Taking this simple step of – self control – has far reaching impact on our relationships with our family and friends.
For us adults it may seem to be a silly subject to bring up about using manners requiring the use of self control. I have found though that listening very deeply is very hard to do. What I mean by that is that as our child, spouse, workmate or someone trying to help us in the store is trying to tell us something, that many times we are thinking about the point we want to make or what we want to say – while they are talking. This may lead right into interrupting them or finishing their sentence – so we can get our thoughts in to the conversation. Now while we correct our children for interrupting us while we are on the phone or speaking to another adult, they are watching us do the same to others. Oh how funny it is that the things that bother us about our children the most are the very habits and attitudes that we see in ourselves.
So here are a few things to remember when we may need to interrupt a conversation. Lets use an example of mom talking to a teacher with her child beside her. Lets say the child wants to ask a question of mom. (so many times the questions they want to ask are not about the conversation but rather about what they want to do now or later in the day) Of course it would not be self control to whine or just to blurt something out while tugging on the sleeve of mom. In fact as the child gets older they would want to learn what was appropriate to question at this time and what should wait.
The self controlled way of dealing with this is to (1) wait for a break in the conversation; (2) say “excuse me” and (3) ask nicely (one time, not whining or demanding) Now their may be times that waiting is notnecessary , and that would be in the case of an emergency. As our children get a little older we can help them to appreciate what asking nicely includes. Things like tone of voice, facial expressions and the words we say.
In my mind though it all begins with respect for the other persons thoughts and rights to express them. It begins with our being interested in how the other person feels about a subject and our willingness to ‘listen deeply’ to be sure we understand how they feel, with an emphasis on others.
Every decision or choice we make results in a consequence. Now that can be a good or a bad consequence. If our choice results in a good consequence we get rewards, and if our choice that we make results in a bad consequence then the results can vary. It may be a punishment, or a bad feeling within ourselves or a loss of a privilege. Just to take the time to examine the possible results will help us many times to make a decision that we will be pleased with in the long run.
If we choose to work hard in school or at an activity, this will result in us feeling good about ourselves and some form of success in that activity. We may improve in a skill, better our grades in a class, be chosen to help others. If we choose to give our time or money to a charity, this will result in our feeling good about being of help and we may see the results of our efforts. For instance recently I heard of an organization called Shelter Box. This is a box that is sent to disaster areas like Haiti and in the box is a tent for ten people and all sorts of supplies needed for living including 6 months supply of water purification tablets. This organization allows you to track the box that you contributed toward so you can follow where it has been sent and is being used.
If on the other hand we choose to lie to our parents, workmates, spouse or if we choose to cheat or steal in some manner then we will most likely be found out and will suffer some form of punishment. But lets say for some reason we are not found out and not punished in a public way. The hurt and damage done to ourselves, the way we feel about ourselves is long lasting. Every time we make a choice like that we damage our ability to be true to ourselves and others.
So how do we make good choices and practice self control? One way is to get into the habit of asking ourselves 3 questions: (1) Is the choice I make going to work? (2) Is this a safe solution? (3) Is this fair to myself and to others? Then evaluate them as compared to all the options and make a choice – not just doing the first thing that pops into our head!
One of the most common reasons parents bring their children to a martial arts school is to teach them about impulse control. Doing the first thing that pops into our head without thinking through all of the possible solutions can end up in results that are less than what we hoped for. So we are going to spend some time this month on the subject of self control.
Our child development specialist, Robyn Silverman, gave us this system for gaining this control. We want to remember STEP.
Here is how it works. S is for Stop. First we must find a way to slow ourselves down before we do the first thing that pops into our head. It might be taking 3 deep breaths or stepping away from a situation, but we must distract ourselves before making that decision. T is for THINK. Make a list of all the possible solutions you can come up with. Some of them may seem ridiculous, but the point is to let your mind be creative and think of all of the ways you could handle this situation. E is for EVALUATE. Now look at each solution and decide if this would result in a good consequence or a bad one. Is this solution safe? Is it fair? Some of the choices you will throw away and some you will keep. But then you need to decide which one is going to be best for you at this time. P is for PROCEED. Now is the time to implement your choice. Here is where great balance is needed as you proceed you choose what is thoughtful with being eager and gutsy. You balance your goals and self motivation with being level headed and thoughtful.
Maintaining self control is really just about slowing down and thinking through our choices before acting on them.
Each month we define and discuss a word of character development with all of our students. This month the word is Self Control. It will be defined this way.
Young students: Self Control means: “I stop and think before I act!”
Older students: Self Control means: Slowing down and thinking through choices before acting upon them.