A question from my radio program, Ask the Counselor:
Q: How can I gain the ability to control myself and not make a mess of things by just speaking and acting on impulse?
A: 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 reaction to that event. The smaller the size of that gap, the less self-control; the larger the size of that gap, the greater the self-control.
How to increase the gap:
1. 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.
2. Recognize that speed kills. No one can live life well if they’re living too quickly. Quick 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.
3. 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.
4. Create a lifestyle that includes self-nurture, rest and recreation. Recreation is time to reflect, read, and relate to positive people and things. Living 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: wingsfortheheart.com/25-ways-to-self-nurture.htm and examen.me.
5. Make this a habit for 90 days: When in a circumstance that would normally trigger an unhealthy emotional vomit from you, stop and do not respond for thirty seconds. Just tell anyone else with you 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 the situation.
6. 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 particular circumstance or situation normally makes us respond in a poor way then we can better handle it. Know your triggers. For example, 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?
7. 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.
So, stop reacting to life and start planning a sane, stable and spiritual response to life events. This sane, stable and spiritual path is one of self-control and caution. This path will provide you with inner peace, deeper spirituality and better relationships with others.
Seek self-control and you will find it!
Dr. Wise is the Executive Director of Living Water Christian Counseling, Senior Pastor of First Church West, and Host of Ask the Counselor Tuesdays at Noon on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water Christian Counseling can be reached at 954-452-4407.