Self-Control: Is it an Illusion | A Simpler Explanation

As I sip my morning coffee, I came to realize a lot of things when thinking alone. One of which is that as a creator in the self-development area, I began to question self-control which is a big topic when talking about self-development. I am particularly curious about self-control as an illusion. Upon deeper thoughts and research, I found deep things regarding the topic and I would like to give some insights.

The main reason why self-control is mainly an illusion is that there are a lot of factors outside of our control that guide our decisions. While we think that we are in control of everything we do, the truth is that there are lots of things that make us decide without thinking.

The reason I am writing this article is that it is just something that came to my mind earlier, and while researching to get more insights on the topic, I came upon multiple scientific research that seems hard to understand for an average Joe. Thus, I want everyone who reads this to understand self-control is an illusion. Why and what causes it to appear like an illusion to others.

This article is meant to simplify the idea into something that anyone can understand. Of course, my thoughts included.

Is self-control an illusion?

Self-control is an illusion because almost all our actions are guided by uncontrolled factors. While we think that we are acting based on our own thoughts, the truth is there are lots of factors outside our self-control. There are multiple things that we just accept without some thought into them that make self-control an illusion.

Unlike most of my articles, this is quite a heavy one to understand. Perhaps it is heavier than the deepest thought article I’ve made which is an article about finding the meaning of your purpose. If you are interested in deep thought articles like this, you may check out that article: What does it mean to find your purpose?

The point is that as someone who made lots of articles about self-control, I came to realize something deeper upon studying a lot about self-development.

The reason is that most people don’t think heavily about the topic of self-control is an illusion that we need to accept and understand if we want to improve ourselves more efficiently.

But first, let’s simply explain what an illusion is.

Illusion simply means that it is a thing that makes our perception or thinking wrong. Nothing more and nothing less.

This can simply be understood by giving an example. In this sense, self-control.

When we decide on things, we always think that we are acting according to our own will. The truth is, we mostly act based on a lot of other factors particularly our environment.

Bear with me.

In my article about how self-control is depleted, I talked about how we could manage our limited self-control. One of the things I’ve given as an example is that if you want to eat right, then put healthy foods on your dinner table and hide the junk foods.

You could find the article here if you’re interested in reading it. Here is the link: How is self-control depleted?

Here is the thing. The reason why I said that we should change our environment to save our willpower is that we act according to our environment.

It is way easier to eat healthy if you don’t have any unhealthy foods around. It is easier to jog if your running shoes are just beside your bed.

It is easier to write a journal and self-reflect if your pen and notebook are beside your bed.

To explain it again in a simpler manner, guess how many times you check up on your phone.

According to research from Asurion, an average American checks their phone 96 times a day or every 10 minutes.

Remember, we are talking about average here. So some might even be checking hundred times a day.

And most of that is unconscious. When you ask a person if they know whenever they’re checking their phone out, most would say that they’re checking it consciously.

Do we really check our phones consciously?

Recently, I’ve been checking out on myself. I installed an app blocker on my phone to check if I am checking social media apps unconsciously.

On my first day of installing an app blocker, I’ve been caught up checking and opening my social media apps unconsciously about 8 times in just half a day.

I unconsciously unlock my phone, open Instagram or Facebook then browse.

Take note that I am already one of the few people who are aware of this, but I am always caught checking my phone unconsciously.

In fact, I already made a social media detox a few years back where I listed all of my experiences including its benefits. You can find it here: Everything you need to know about Social Media Detox.

Why am I saying this? The reason is that I am in the self-help niche. I am a creator in a self-development niche.

I know the bad effects of social media that it can get addicting.

I am already on the low side of people checking social media. I don’t check my social media 96 times per day on average.

But I was browsing mindlessly. 8 times in just half a day. How much more when an average person opening social media 96 times try this?

As you can see, there are times where we act automatically without regard to our rational thinking. That’s why self-control is an illusion. There is clear evidence that self-control and logical thinking work together. I explained that in my article about running out of willpower. Here is the article: Can you run out of willpower?

With these examples, you can not understand why self-control is an illusion, in the next section we would explain why our brain does this and what we can do to turn it to our advantage.

What causes self-control as an Illusion?

Of course, knowing that self-control is an illusion doesn’t help much. What can we do to make something like this to our advantage. That’s what this section is about as we explain what causes this to happen.

Our Brain wants a shortcut

Our brain wants a shortcut, that’s why self-control is becoming a big illusion.

Our body has a simple rule to survive, use as little energy as possible in case we ran out of food. Remember that our hunter-gatherer ancestors can go for 3 days without food.

Thus, our body was designed to conserve energy as much as possible to survive.

Our brain is just 2% of our body weight but it is 20% of our energy consumption. That is despite having this shortcut.

What does this have to do with self-control?

To save energy, we have learned to act based on our habits. We do things without rational thinking to save energy.

But that came with a cost. We are not designed to do things out of habit and not by logic. That includes the constant checking of our phones.

We think that we are in control of our devices, the hard reality is that most of us are controlled by our phones instead. When was the last day you had a day without using your phone? For most, that’s a long time ago.

These shortcuts or habits create a sense of control, but the truth is our control is an illusion. We act not based on what we logically think rather, we act based on what we are used to.

That’s the same reason why it’s hard to get viewers on my YouTube channel. The truth is people just want to watch people they already know. It’s hard to get a new audience on YouTube and most creators if not all know that.

This leads us to the second reason.

Our Brain is wired based on our experiences

Our brains are just wired or designed to work based on our experiences. We want things that are familiar and avoid things that are new simply because they might become uncomfortable.

My YouTube example is the perfect example for that.

We usually just want to watch videos of people who we are familiar with based on our experience that they’re the ones we like. We don’t like new experiences.

We can also connect that to our ancestors. Before, there are lots of poisonous herbs and mushrooms in the jungle. Thus, our ancestors were designed to only eat things that they know are edible.

They’re not designed to try eating something that’s unknown.

It’s our experience that shapes us into how we act, how we control ourselves.

We act based on how we grow up, our environment, our culture, and norms. That’s who we are. We act based on our experiences because we are social creatures.

Now, this might seem negative but let’s look at the brighter side. Now that we know about the illusion of self-control and the reasons for it, we can now get to how we can use it to our advantage.

Most of my time earlier was because I’m thinking hard about what can we do about it. The truth is nothing. The illusion of self-control will always be with us.

However, we can use it to our advantage.

If we act based on our experiences and our brain loves shortcuts, then we can have a better environment to help us.

That’s why I said that if you want to do good habits, then try to adjust your environment and not act based on your willpower.

That means if you want to stop checking your phone all night, then don’t allow your phone in the bedroom. If you want to start working for your goals, then make a certain place to work so it can become your habit.

Self-control is an illusion that is definitely not bad for us. The truth is, it helped our species survive through the test of times until today. With knowledge as our guide, we can actually use this to our advantage.

Remember, if we can do bad habits unconsciously, we can also do good habits unconsciously. It is a matter of changing our environment to suit our goals.

Only the things I love. is reader-supported. When you buy through links on the site, I earn an affiliate commission.

If you’re following me, you’ll know that I believe it is essential to have some tools, whether it’s for personal development or lifestyle in general.

So, here are the things I love.


If you want to learn things for free, I recommend watching my YouTube Channel. Click the Button Below to go straight into my Channel. 🙂

Okay, let me first explain my Channel.

I believe that I really can’t explain everything too well on my blog. That’s why I created a YouTube Channel so I can easily explain a lot of things. Plus, I believe that Video Sharing is the future.

Recommended Books

The next thing is books. Books are, for me, one of the cheapest ways to get invaluable information. We can learn personal development, finance, career, relationships, and many more from books.

Here, I will be listing my favorite books in different categories.

  1. For Beginners7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – Personal development has a lot of concepts and ideas to learn. Thus it can be really hard for beginners to know where to start. Thus, I recommend this book since all the basic concepts of personal development are here(except finance, check what I recommended for that)
  2. ProductivityThe One Thing by Gary Keller – This book teaches us the power of focusing on one thing which is the ultimate source of productivity. The concepts taught are what I am using to constantly publish YouTube videos while maintaining this website.
  3. Busy?Make Time by Jack Knapp – This book teaches us how to make time for the things we love. The concept is really simple but I think that makes it a book worth reading.
  4. HealthLifespan by Dr.Sinclair – This Book teaches about the latest scientific research on lifespan. In his book, he has shared numerous things he is doing to slow down his aging process. This can be as easy as eating less which he recommends.
  5. FinanceThe Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason – Perhaps one of the first books I’ve read about Finance, this book for me is the best if we are talking about learning basic finance such as basic saving and investing. The concepts are very simple but effective.


Take this advice as a grain of salt.

I don’t recommend buying Audiobooks one by one. I mean, audiobooks can be quickly finished by listening while working out or doing some mindless tasks.

So here is to save you some money. Just go for a monthly subscription to Audible. I believe that you will save a lot of money with that plus, they usually give freebies to anyone starting.

My Audiobook Recommendation will always be the same as my book recommendations, but I personally like The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. I like how she is so casual while reading her book.

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