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Maintaining Sobriety—How Self-Control Helps

By: Carol Morriscey

Self-Control and Addiction

Self-control is defined as having authority over your thoughts and emotions, and being able to resist temptation in difficult situations. Although addiction is a complex disease which cannot be prevented or cured purely through self-control, self-control is an important part of remaining sober after recovery. Therapies offered at drug rehabs are used to address the pre-disposing factors and thought processes which are associated with addiction. Once these are appropriately addressed, self-control can play an important role in maintaining new-found sobriety. Luckily, according to researchers, self-control is something that can be strengthened and cultivated. Here are several practices to achieve a greater degree of self-control.

1. Concretely Define an Achievable Goal

Having a clearly defined goal which is not unachievable is the first step in bolstering your self-control. Statements such as “I am going to cut sugar out of my diet” or “I am going to begin eating healthier” can be problematic. The first statement is likely unachievable, as there is either processed or natural sugar in the majority of food. The second statement is vague and not clearly defined, does this mean you will stop eating dessert once a week, or that you will eat only vegetables from now on? Such statements decrease the probability of success in achieving you goal, and should therefore be avoided. Instead chose a statement that is concrete and achievable. For example, “I will stop snacking after dinner” is a clearly defined goal that may be challenging, but is achievable. Defining your goals in this way will help you achieve them, in turn building your self-confidence.

2. Believe in Yourself

Believing that you are able to accomplish a goal is the first step in achieving it. Social Scientists define this as having an “Internal Locus of Control”. In other words, you believe that you have some control over the events in your life, and you have the power to change certain things. Those who have an internal locus of control are more likely to achieve the goals set out for them than those who have an external locus of control—in other words they do not believe they have the power to change certain things. Believing in yourself and shifting to an internal locus of control will be instrumental in building your self-confidence and your ability to achieve your goals.

3. Delay the Behaviour

Desires and temptations come in bouts. Usually, if you delay a behaviour for a period of time as short as 10 of 15 minutes the intense desire that you previously had will have mellowed or subsided. Therefore, delaying a temptation even for a short period of time is a great tool for those trying to exhibit self-control.

4. Meditate

Meditation enhances our ability to resist temptation. It allows us to focus on our long-term goals, instead of momentary desires. As a result, we can take control of our emotions, as opposed to letting them control our actions. Meditating briefly each day can confer these benefits, and allow increased self-control.

5. Developing a Pattern of Self-Control

The best way to bolster your self-control is to practice it, and make it a daily pattern. The more you practice resisting temptations, and chose to continue pursuing your long-term goals, the easier it will become. This is especially true when recovering from an addiction. Each day you remain sober will make the next day that much easier.

Addiction and relapse are not the absence of self-control. However, by bolstering your self-control you will have another tool in your toolbox for maintaining your sobriety!

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