Self-control. Self-discipline. Delay of gratification. Whatever you call it, it’s a skill that can be practiced and improved upon.
Take a minute to think of areas where you could use more self-control. Is it eating less of a particular food that is unhealthy or maybe eating more of a food that is healthy? It is exercising “wait time” and letting your initial anger pass before disciplining your marshmallow-demanding two-year-old? Is it adding ten minutes a day to your workout? Is it not checking your iPhone every two minutes for new emails or texts? My personal list could go on and on.
Whether it’s something related to the physical, the emotional, or the spiritual, numerous studies show that exercising self-control leads to better overall health. As you continue to think of one or two areas where you could use more self-control, consider a few suggestions for practicing and improving your self-discipline:
1) Give up something small but significant. For about four years in my early 20s, I went without sugar for six of seven days every week. Six days a week I would abstain from any added sugar, and on the seventh (which, for me, was Sundays), anything went! At first, I would plan all week on what sugary items I was going to binge on Sunday, but, as time went on, I cared less and less about eating my “Sunday sugar.” This was a great exercise in self-control for me. I did it for the physical benefits, but now, as an “older” adult, I can see the mental and spiritual benefits as well. Is there something small but significant that you could give up?
2) Add something that you know you should do but currently aren’t doing. Maybe it’s increasing the amount of days or the amount of time per day spent exercising. If you miss a day doing whatever it is, make it a rule (and stick to it) that you’ll add an extra day tomorrow or next week. For example, at one point in my life, what worked for me was to jog a set amount of time/distance for five days a week. If I missed a day, I would add that time/distance to the next day…it wasn’t an option; it was the rule. Not making it your goal to do that something every day of the week will give you a “flex” day or two or three in case you miss a day (or two or three) to make up the missed time. While the first few days and weeks might be hard, it won’t take long before the addition of days or time will become the new norm. I increased from jogging about 5K a day to almost 9K a day by very slowly over time increasing my daily norm. It was a very slow, natural increase that was hardly noticeable day-by-day but certainly was noticeable over time. Whatever your “something” is, make it doable for your stage of life and increase with time. Also, set yourself up for success. If it’s getting up early for a morning workout, sleep in your workout clothes (seriously…it works!) or put them at the foot of your bed for an easy-on in the morning. If it’s not hitting the snooze button and waking for your morning quiet time, set out your reading material and open it up to your starting page the night before.
3) Set an attainable but difficult goal and a “due date” to achieve that goal. If your goal pertains to exercise, why not seek out a one-mile fun run, a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, or a marathon now so that you have a goal (the distance), a due date (that you can’t change), and the motivation (pay for it now!)? The RunOn! Texas website maintains an excellent list of local races (http://www.runontexas.com/calendar/Calendar.htm) as well as links to get registered online. Register with a friend, and keep each other accountable!
While the physical benefits of improving our self-control in areas such as nutrition and health and wellness might be the initial goals, consider how being more self-controlled in an area pertaining to the physical can help you be more self-controlled in your spiritual walk as well. Any of the above-listed suggestions related to physical aspects of life could easily translate to the spiritual. Go back to the list that you brainstormed earlier related to areas where you could improve in self-control. How many were physical and how many were spiritual? Consider adding one spiritual item to your list and then using suggestion 1, 2, or 3 from above to improve in that area.