self controlitude
Friday, April 12, 2013 at 7:54AM
j. kevin tumlinson in Christian LIfestyle Design, Intended Life, budget, diet, discipline, exercise, faith, habit, health, self control

In my reading and studying over the past couple of days, one of the topics that has bubbled to the top is "self control."

Oy.

I have not been the most reserved, self-controlled person in the past. I like to "reward" myself for a job well done or for being "diligent" about something. You know what I'm talking about here? "I've done pretty well on this diet, so it's OK if I eat this entire carton of ice cream in one sitting." Or maybe "I've been pretty good about sticking to my budget, so it's OK if I over-spend on this pair of shoes." Guys ... this isn't just a woman thing. I've been known to drop some chunky cash on a pair of Chucks. Ladies ... I'm not going to let guys pick on you for your shoes. Feet have to look and feel good. Solidarity.

Self control is one of those things that we know ... we KNOW ... we have to develop, and yet we can't seem to get past stage one. We can't seem to make self control a dominating habit in our lives.

I have this theory that it's because we are looking at it from too far out.

"You mean I can NEVER HAVE ICE CREAM AGAIN?!?"

"I can NEVER BUY ANOTHER PAIR OF SHOES?!?"

"I have to exercise MORE THAN TEN MINUTES PER WEEK?!?" Ok, that one is probably more of a Kevin thing.

And no, none of that is true. It's not even the goal. It's the thing our brain screams when we start projecting outward, looking into the future that we can't know, extrapolating from the present moment that "this is how life is now." 

Developing good habits takes time and effort, but we tend to get bogged down by the sheer volume and weight of it. It's too much! It's too overwhelming! No one can bear up under that kind of burden!

True.

What, you were expecting a pep talk? Words of encouragement? "Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep doing!" Nah, that's for suckers. Everyone knows that you can't overcome obesity or debt or potty mouth or lack of education. Impossible!

Right?

But we do know that these things can be done. We see examples every day of people who have accomplished the very thing we want to accomplish. We see folks who have dropped all the extra weight, who have paid off the debt, who have cleaned up their language, who have gone back to school and earned an advanced degree. Did they do that over a weekend?

No. They did it one bite, one dollar, one swear jar, one class at a time. 

The key to developing self control is repetition. Do the small things, the smallest chunk, over and over, and eventually that becomes your habit.

The usual analogy is eating an elephant.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at at time!"

I don't eat a lot of elephants. What I understand easier is books.

How do you write a book? One page at a time!

Maybe you're better with LEGO. 

How do you build the LEGO Death Star? One brick at a time!

Big stuff is made of small stuff.

Let that soak in for a second. Big stuff, no matter how big it is, will always, always, always be made of lots of small stuff. Your car is made of thousands of small parts. Your house is made of small bricks and bits of plaster and wood and tile. The whole UNIVERSE is made of teensy, tiny little atomssuckers are everywhere.

And habits, like self control? They're made of small stuff too.

You decide to take a bag lunch every day instead of buying lunch at a restaurant. That's self control, and it helps you control your calories and your budget.

You decide to take a course on household accounting at your local junior college. One class, once per week, for nine weeks, and suddenly you have more knowledge, more friends, and a firmer grasp on how to manage your household budget.

You decide to lose weight. You change one small thing at a time, take it day by day and week by week, and suddenly this massive goal turns into a whole bunch of tiny little goals that you can manage.

Losing 100 pounds sound daunting? How about doing 10 sit ups today? Now, maybe 10 more tomorrow? 

Paying off $50K in debt got you worried? Can you put ten bucks into a savings account? Can you do that once per week?

Eating an elephant looking a little tough to swallow? Don't eat an elephant. What are you thinking? That's not good for either of you.

Take a look at the big, scary thing you're facing, and ask yourself, "What is the smallest action I can take, right this minute, that could start chipping away at this?"

I remember hearing a story about someone asking Michelangelo how he carved his David out of marble. He replied, "I looked the marble, then chipped away all the parts that were not David." Chip, chip, chip. One chip at a time, until the huge block of formless marble becomes one of the most recognizable pieces of artwork in the world. Can you handle a chip at a time?

Self control is about repeating good habits. It's about committing to asking God and yourself what is right, and then doing that. Chances are, if you're questioning whether or not a choice you're making is the right choice, it isn't. So ask yourself, "What's the right thing to do?"

Tempted by chocolate? Me too. That's why I let myself eat a small piece of dark chocolate every evening, after dinner. It's also why I eat as much chocolate as I want during the weekends. Hey, don't give me that look. I have to wait all week for that chocolate! And frankly, by the time the weekend gets here I'm so stuck on the idea of skipping chocolate I tend not to even think about it. It helps, too, that I don't keep much of it in the house any more. Easy to avoid temptation when there isn't anything to be tempted about!

Set up some kind of automated process to help keep you honest. It's not cheating! It's winning! It's OK to park at the very end of the parking lot to force yourself to get in a little extra exercise. It's OK to set up an automatic draft on your paycheck to put money into savings each month. It's OK to give someone else your shopping list and money to do your shopping, to keep you from grabbing stuff that isn't on the list. It's OK to build some backup into your plan. That's self control, too.

Self control is a tough habit to develop. It only comes when you start using it. Kind of like faith, huh? It's there, waiting for you to start before it really kicks in. So the only real self control you need is just enough to make that first decision, to take that first step. Then you just need enough to take the next step. And then enough to take the next step. And enough to take the next step.

So really, on the whole, all you need is enough self control to do one small thing right. And repeat.

 

Article originally appeared on wordslinger (http://kevintumlinson.squarespace.com/).
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