Question: How can I gain the ability to control myself and not make a mess of thing by just speaking and acting on impulse?
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength,” said Marcus Aurelius in Meditations.
“Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society,” advised Benjamin Franklin.
“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still,” according to Lao Tzu.
Self-control is the most important ability for any human being. Without it we cannot hope to succeed in any way or have any inner peace. To have self-control, we must increase the gap between something that happens, what we call a stimulus, and our reactions to that event. The smaller the size of that gap the less self-control, and the larger the size of that gap the greater the self-control.
So how do we increase the size of the gap between stimulus and reaction?
Learn to pray for wisdom before you speak or act. A silent prayer for God to guide you to the right words and actions can have great impact (James 1:1-12). Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to control yourself.
Recognize that speed kills. No one can live life well fast. Fast reactions are just us emotionally vomiting on the situation and do not reflect our best and most mature selves. Therefore, the old trick of counting to ten has some practical wisdom. Slow down and don’t simply do what you first want to do.
Stop and think
Stop yourself and take time to think about what you will say and do. Write out your response to a situation in at least an outline form before you do anything.
Create a lifestyle that includes self-nurture, rest and re-creation. Re-creation is time to reflect, read, and relate to positive people and things. Living our life with our mental and emotional gas tanks on empty is not a good plan. For those of you who don’t know how to fill your physical, emotional and spiritual tanks then you can check out the following sites: www.wingsfortheheart.com/25-ways-to-self-nurture.htm or www.examen.me.
Develop the habit
Make it a habit for 90 days when in a circumstance that would normally trigger from you an unhealthy emotional vomit to stop and not respond for thirty seconds. Just tell anyone else that is there to give you a moment to think. Take a deep breath and seek the part of you that is filled with the most wisdom to respond to this situation.
Take time to examine yourself and your life. The unexamined life cannot be lived well. Look for patterns in the past when you have reacted poorly. What were the triggers? Once we know that a circumstance or situation normally makes us respond in a poor way then we can better handle it.
Know your triggers. If you feel disrespected does this make you explode? Do you withdraw when you feel that people are making fun of you? Do you respond in anger when people don’t listen to you”?
Self-control is like a muscle. Use it to do little things. Determine to get up when your alarm goes off. Tell yourself what you will do in different circumstances that you can handle and do them. The more you prove to yourself that you can control yourself then the more you will control yourself.
One of the advantages of the spiritual discipline of fasting is that it allows us to exercise the “self-control” muscle. There are many other advantages to fasting, but one of them is that it can be a means by which the fruit of the Spirit which is self-control can be developed.
Dr. Bill Bright provides an in-depth examination of how to fast and all the benefits that it can bring. Check out what he teaches at www.cru.org/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/fasting/personal-guide-to-fasting.html
So, stop reacting to life and start planning a sane, stable, and spiritual response to life events. This path which is one of self-control and caution will provide for you a better path for inner peace, deeper spirituality and better relationships with others. Seek self-control and you will find it!
Dr. Norman Wise is the Executive Director of Living Water Christian Counseling and host of “Ask the Counselor” on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water can be reached at 954-726-2303.