POINTS TO PONDER

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Perhaps you have heard, or even been told, “get a hold of yourself!” That’s a hint that you are not practicing self-control over some aspect of your behavior or communication. A simple definition of self-control is: delay short-term gratification in favor of long-term benefits. Resisting temptations, impulses, and habits that can get out-of-hand are involved. Humans are relatively successful at exerting self-control to achieve long-term outcomes as long as they maintain discipline. Self-control is what helps us manage our emotions and impulses, which enables us to adequately behave in socially and spiritually ways.

Danish psychologist Simon Moesgaard offers essential concepts to better understand self-control. One of them is to recognize that self-control is a limited resource. If there are too many things that a person faces while trying to maintain self-control, over time, it can become depleted. Constant resistance can wear out a person’s patience and stamina. That means a person should seek assistance to help them succeed in overcoming these brief flashes of harmful desires.

That means self-control can be improved by following specific ways of thinking. They are designed to keep one’s goal in mind. Actions are a part of a goal. For example, most dieters commit to healthier diets out of overall concerns about health or physical appearance. Also, paying attention to how one’s actions can fulfill one’s goal. For example, a dieter can have an emotional reaction to both the joy of tasting a piece of chocolate cake and the shame and disgust that comes after eating the cake.

It is also important to realize that lack of self-control leads to selfishness. It involves a game between choosing to give into trivial temptations at the expense of more important accomplishments. Think of your lack of self-control as a twin of yourself with self-control. They are constantly offering things to each other for enjoyment and contentment. If either twin refuses what is offered by the other, then there is no exchange. Only when both agree on giving and receiving can the proposal be offered and accepted. The rationale behind this game is to show that people driven by self-interest instead of self-control will accept even the most harmful offer. On the other hand, if they are motivated by self-control instead of self-interest, they will reject any suggestion that does not measure up to their aspirations of being in full control of their lives and habits.

That’s why psychologists link self-control to successful outcomes. They are just as conscious of shame and guilt as they are of admiration and innocence. As a result, they are far less likely to procrastinate on instituting safeguards to help them resist unneeded and unwanted types of personal satisfaction. It makes them less obsessive-compulsive in giving in to binge eating or drinking.  That allows their self-acceptance and self-esteem to grow and promote high self-control, which leads to better interpersonal relationships, namely, better family cohesion and less family conflict. More specifically, it is linked to secure attachment styles, better empathy, and less personal distress. Besides, people with high self-control report better emotional responses with less anger and better anger management.

In the long run, says Moesgaard, self-control is linked to life satisfaction. Self-control may not give instant gratification; instead, it may bring contentment in long-term happiness. Postponing needs and achieving one’s goals is a measure of success, and it provides satisfaction, which is likely to make us happy.

Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson adds that the first thing you are going to want to do if you are serious about resisting temptation is to make peace with the fact that your willpower is limited.  If you’ve spent all your self-control handling stresses at work, you will not have much left at the end of the day for sticking to your resolutions.  Think about when you are most likely to feel drained and vulnerable, and make a plan to keep yourself out of harm’s way. So instead of thinking about going to eat as a way of calming your nerves, think about going to the library to find a book you’ve heard of, or join a group activity that will help you relax.

The Bible is also very vocal about self-control. King Solomon said that a person without self-control is like a city without walls.[1] In other words, they can be invaded and conquered by a hostile force with very little resistance. And the Apostle Paul states that no temptation can overtake you that is not common to everyone. But God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability to resist. He will help you find a way to escape so that you will able to fight it.[2]  That’s because, having God’s Spirit dwelling within us does not make us afraid of such temptation, but gives us the power of love and self-control.[3]

So, the virtue of self-control extends not only our physical desires but also to our spiritual needs. That’s why we need to know our weaknesses. Outstanding investor, writer, and entrepreneur Mr. Deep Patel (you may have seen him on Shark Tank) says to stay away from temptations. Set goals in life and have a plan on how to reach them. Build self-discipline, which is a learned behavior. Create new healthy habits to replace the old ones, and keep it simple. If you have a strong desire, choose something helpful, not something hurtful to satisfy your craving. Remember, your beliefs determine the amount of willpower that a person has. Always have a backup plan ready to put into action in cases of emergency. For instance, instead of that piece of chocolate cake, get a plate of cheese and crackers; instead of reading a book full of immoral behavior and profanity or watching an R-rated movie, read the Bible, and watch a G-rated Christian movie. Each time you succeed in avoiding temptation, reward yourself. But if you get careless and have a relapse, forgive yourself and move on.

The Apostle Paul had many physical, mental, and spiritual trials and temptations during his lifetime. Still, in the end, he was able to report that he was able to handle them all because of the strength he received from Jesus Christ.[4] If our Lord did it for Paul, He will do it for you! – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Proverbs 25:28

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:13

[3] 2 Timothy 1:7

[4] Philippians 4:13

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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