Saturday, January 14, 2012

Controling the Self

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs25:28 (NIV)
“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:13
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6
“But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:8
“Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 23:20-21
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

 Yeah…so self-control should be a big deal to Christians. 

I've always considered myself a pretty self-controlled person by nature. I'm not drawn to extremes, so I don't bump up against most of the usual culprits (anger, drugs, sloth and whatnot). My vice though, is food. I was an adult before I realized...really realized that I ate beyond the points of satiation or enjoyment. Throughout my 20s I learned how to pay attention to triggers and habits and change my behavior. At 21, I went through a bit of a personal overhaul...deciding that if I wanted to pursue a stint in culinary school, I needed to learn to control my eating and move more. Did it. Then, in an effort to not accumulate any more debt in grad school, decided I needed to control my spending and saving. Got better at that too. I'm very happy with how that decade in my life went. 

Now though, I look at my self control and I think I have a habit of deceiving myself. 

I've noticed a loop I can tend to get stuck in...I set out to eat less and better and start spending more on food. That loosening of the budget usually bleeds in to buying clothing. Then I see how much I'm overspending and tighten those purse strings...still eating ok and feeling like I deserve it, I begin to stay up to late at night (I loathe going to bed at night). I start getting tired at work and set alarms to get myself in bed on time. I then start to feel well behaved again and treat myself to a dessert here and there. I see myself eating more and decide I need to up the workout...that makes my day longer and the sleep slips again. It doesn't always happen in the same order and it's not always the same factors playing on the same habits, but in general, when I fall into that pattern, I think it may it's an exercise in that burns up a LOT of effort and resources. All that time I'm burning up will power trying to "be good" and resources when I'm "bad". Net result? Very little real improvement (which I tend to gauge by my "lows"), especially when contrasted to my previous decade of actual change. 

I think though, I've realized the difference between real improvement and me tricking myself through forced habits. 

I ran on that hamster wheel for about a year before I started training jiu jitsu. All of a sudden, just by making the choice to go to making the high level decision to let go of my current self and open myself up to being altered, I saw change. I didn't crave "fun" food. I wasn't as distracted by sparkly clothing or gourmet treats and I had a genuine desire to fuel my body for sheer performance. I had purpose. Something necessary for real, productive self control.

All that don't drink, don't smoke language in the Bible? Yes, it's pointless if we're not doing it to deny self and get closer to God, but I think it's pretty futile too. Will power is strange, fluid and entirely human. It can be forced for short periods of time, yes, but controlling self is much easier when doing so in an effort to spend time with God and not just "be good".

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