Greg took up golf. One day when he was playing even worse than usual, he decided to explain his predicament to his teen-age caddy.
“I took up golf to practice self-control,” Greg said.
The youngster rolled his eyes and replied, “If that’s the case, you should have gone in for caddying.”
The need for self-control is familiar to most of us. We criticize too much. We gossip too much. We overeat. We overspend. We indulge in bad habits thinking one more time won’t hurt. Sometimes we simply don’t think at all, we react, ignoring our need for self-control. And where has it gotten us? Three-fourths of Americans live in debt. More than a third of the population is overweight and out of shape. And almost half of all women in America have lived or are living with a man to whom they’re not married. Clearly, we struggle to say no to ourselves.
Self-control, according to D. G. Kehl, is “the ability to avoid excess, to stay within reasonable bounds.” Charles Bridges describes a person without self-control: “He yields himself to the first assault of his ungoverned passions, offering no resistance. . . . Having no discipline over himself, temptation becomes the occasion of sin, and hurries him on to fearful lengths that he had not contemplated. . . . Anger tends to murder. Unwatchfulness over lust plunges into adultery.”
Self-control begins with our thoughts and attitudes. Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions. People seldom fall suddenly into gluttony or immorality. These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.
Once the life is under control a liberating freedom ensues. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was right when he said, “No man is truly free until he masters himself.” Retailer J.C. Penny often said, “Only the disciplined are free.” Often, freedom is defined as living as one pleases. In reality, freedom is behaving as one should. Self-control liberates by enabling us to perform those activities that are essential and mandatory. Self-control is one of the best friends we can have. It will enable us to become the persons we want to be and to perform the activities we want to do. We should cherish this friend always.
Self-control is impossible to develop without knowing one’s objective. For example, if you want to lose weight you must know what size you want to be. To break a bad habit you must know what good habit you want to develop. People without direction are purposeless. They waste their energy on less important things because of a lack of self-control.
Self-control is always a matter of choice. Choosing what is right mandates an ability to say no to many cravings and urges. But when we say no to the inappropriate concerns we can say yes to what matters most.
The principle of delayed gratification, perform the hard part first, must be employed. M. Scott Peck described delayed gratification as “a process of scheduling the pain and the pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.” He adds, “It is the only decent way to live.” Often, at first, we cannot see the fruits of delayed gratification, but if we live believing in and practicing self-control it will become visible.
The payoff is worth the wait and it beats caddying any day.
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