Gratitude and Meditation Support the Mind
“Doing homework instead of watching Netflix.” Or, “Eating a salad instead of a cookie.” Or this one, “Pay attention in class and stop talking.” As a middle school student, these are some of the most common ways I hear people talk about self-control. We each have our version of these instructions that involve what self-control is and why we need it. It’s often phrased as some version of, “I need to do ____ instead of ______.”
Just like it sounds, self-control is the ability to be disciplined and to control one’s self, one’s emotions, or one’s behavior, especially in challenging situations. My interest in self-control is related to how much I enjoy studying the mind—in my yoga teacher training and in my ongoing study.
One of the books that has helped me understand the concept of self-control is the book Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. In Way of the Peaceful Warrior, he describes emotions as the weather patterns of the mind. We can affect these weather patterns of the mind through our thoughts. We can have some control of our thoughts through the practice of observation, of constantly monitor our emotions. It’s a practice of being the witness, recognizing what you’re feeling and asking yourself why you are feeling that way.
Emotions often arise from our thoughts more than from the actual events we experience. For example, I was recently an actor in a play. And after the final curtain call, I felt sad. When I applied some observation and reflected on this, I realized that the actual event of the show closing wasn’t the emotional trigger. I was sad because of how much I would miss the show and the cast.
It was time to put the advice into practice of reflecting on what is behind my thoughts and feelings. If I had shifted the direction of my thoughts, I would have felt completely different. The following thought could have inspired more joy; “It was a lovely experience, and I will miss it, but now I have much more time to spend on other things.” My emotions were connected to my thoughts.
The ego is another factor related to self-control. The ego is your sense of self-esteem or self-importance. If you do something that has even the slightest chance of affecting your self-esteem, your ego can stand in the way of your ability to practice self-control. This is why self-love is such an important part of self-management and self-control.
Strong self-worth, self-love, and self-esteem allows you to recognize that making a mistake doesn’t mean that you are a loser or make you any less of a person. The fear of making a mistake that affects your entire identity can put you in a situation where your ego can control you. Back to that play. The ego can give you the message, “Don’t audition; you might embarrass yourself.” Or, “Don’t sign up for an honors class because you might not be absolutely perfect at it.” The ego can even interfere with something as simple as asking for help in math class because your narrative is, “I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Sorry to inform you, but those voices are your ego talking. Trust me, I’m not here to call you out on this to say, “Your ego controls you, but not me! I’m fine, my ego never controls me. I’m perfect and I’m better than you,” because that would be my ego talking. I know that this happens to me. I’ve observed it in my own life when I pay attention.
How about that math example? Yeah, that’s me. Self-control is a practice. It’s a practice that is part of the practice of yoga. I use the following two tips for improving self-control.
1. Gratitude for Emotional Self-Control
The first tip is deceptively simple. Gratitude is a powerful way to control your thoughts and emotions, especially negative ones. The moment you find yourself complaining or unhappy, turn your attention to something you feel grateful for.
Another value of gratitude relates to blessing blockers, which are things that stop you from receiving gifts and, well… blessings. The biggest blessing blocker is complaining. If you constantly complain about everything you have, you won’t receive more. Gratitude is the opposite of a blessing blocker. If you demonstrate what you feel grateful for, you’re sure to receive more.
An example of how this can be expressed is when you help someone out. When the person you’re helping expresses gratitude by saying, “Thank you,” you’re more likely to show up for them again. If you help someone and they are completely ungrateful for your assistance or they even complain, you may not want to go out of your way to help them again.
Every morning on my way to school, my mom and I share our gratitude lists. Doing so sets up a positive vibe for the rest of the day and it reminds us how blessed we are. It completely changes our mindsets.
There is a reason why meditation is such an important practice in yoga. People may have a preconceived notion that meditation involves an old man sitting under a tree in complete silence for hundreds of years until he becomes enlightened and ascends into the heavens. That’s not what I mean at all.
I mean sitting in silence for maybe 10 minutes. Nothing too complicated, just quieting your mind. Our minds are so noisy, with so many distractions. Being able to quiet your mind and turn your attention away from the noise for just 10 minutes can be so helpful for developing greater self-control. When you control your thoughts, you can control your emotions. When you can control your emotions, you can control how they are expressed. That’s what self-control is all about!
Put meditation into practice with one of a number of techniques. You don’t really need anything. You can just sit in silence and focus on your breath. Focusing on your breath will calm your mind and help you control your thoughts.
So next time you find yourself struggling with self-control, try listing what you’re grateful for or just meditate. Trust me it works!