Mind: In Search of Self Discipline

   The term self control also refers to will power, self discipline, or staying power, and is the ability to defer or delay the urge to do something on impulse. In writing this article I attempted to undertake a search to see what was written on the subject, sadly, I found very little that I could share with you. Rather than give up on such an important subject, I have decided to exercise self control (excuse the pun!) and hold a discourse on the subject instead.

To answer this question, I would like to reverse it and ask why lack of self control is a challenge for society and then look at the importance of self control. We can describe lack of self control as impulsiveness or instant gratification, weak-willed, spontaneous or ill disciplined- none of these descriptions conjure up a positive picture.

Surely lack of self control isn’t completely disastrous? I do believe spontaneity has its place- who hasn’t enjoyed being surprised by an unexpected gift or gesture? If life was completely predictable how interesting, exciting or inspiring would it be? How many innovative ideas, discoveries and theories have emerged from chaos and necessity?

May I draw your attention to the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming; the invention of the pacemaker by engineer Wilson Greatbatch; the discovery of superglue by Dr Harry Coover; even post it notes were created by accident by Spencer Silver. All these accidental inventions have led to improvements in the quality of life for millions, ultimately leading to something more akin to altruism and the good of society.

The Role of Spontaneity in Society
How many artists, composers and musicians have created masterpieces for our pleasure and enjoyment by accident? These are all examples of how order can be created from chaos and perhaps suggest that there is a place for thinking outside of the box, breaking the rules and embracing fun and creativity. Perhaps there is a natural law at play which states that the only way that order and beauty can be created is out of chaos.

If we look at the story of creation- we find just that: God created a world that He declared to be very good from something that was without form, void and filled with darkness (Genesis 1:2). For those who are sceptical and believe in the scientific explanation for life on planet earth such as the big bang theory- we find we have nothingness which is mysteriously transformed by a series of chemical reactions and explosions into a complex and ordered diverse yet interdependent world of flora, fauna.

I believe that we get into trouble when we live lives that are completely impulse-led. Just as in the proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”- “all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy”. Living an impulse-driven life suggests one that is likely to be hedonistic and narcissistic – how can we consider others when we are preoccupied with ourselves?

When we are born we are completely impulse-led: when we cry- we want to be comforted, fed, changed, entertained and we are completely dependent upon our care-givers. Some theories in child development suggest that the purpose of this egotistical state in childhood is to ensure the survival of the infant and that they are not forgotten by their parents. However the intention of our formative years is to transform us from egocentric to altruistic. As the child develops and their understanding of themselves in relation to the world broadens, they realise that there are others who exist who are as important as they are.

Examples of those who lead impulsive lives surround us. Society through the media, reinforces messages of instant gratification: selling us instant popularity and attractiveness as a result of the food and alcohol we consume/the clothes, perfume we wear. In the real world, those who buy into the myth of getting what you want when you want it and take it to its extremes have a greater chance of becoming addicted to drugs, sex, alcohol, shopping, food; which can contribute to violence, depression, poverty and family breakdown. In this country our prisons are filled with the casualties of those who resorted to crime because they were unable to delay their impulses.

The Importance of Self Control
Why then is self control/discipline important? Perhaps it is a natural remedy to ravages of hedonism referred to above. It provides a way of controlling our impulses- thereby enabling us to use our head to validate the responses of the heart and the emotions. With self control we can apply common sense which although less exciting, may be safer and cheaper in the long run. How many things do we need rather than want?

We need a home- does it need to be a 10 bedded mansion if we are a family of 4? We may need a car but does it need to be the latest Mercedes, Lexus or 4x4 if it means that we end up in debt? What about having the latest clothes or shoes when as soon as we buy them they are out of fashion? We can only wear one pair of shoes at a time- what about the other 50 that we have stashed away in the closet?

In society these days everything is designed to be replaced- we are told ( and we believe) that the latest item is the very best, but in 2 months time it will be replaced by something better. The unfortunate thing about this brand of happiness or gratification is as transient as these products and not designed to last. It draws us into the next and the next and robs us of contentment and satisfaction with what we have or things that will really make us happy such as family, friendships, spiritual fulfilment and altruism. In other words instant gratification leads us to focus upon ourselves rather than others and fuels greed and self indulgence.

Although spontaneity and impulsiveness have their place in our lives, there is an underlying natural law that suggests that it is not an end in itself but its purpose is to trigger a creative process that will ultimately bring order out of chaos. Self discipline is important as it enables us to get things into context, defer, delay, count the cost and weigh up what is important in our lives. By being self disciplined we can look outwards rather than inwards and consider other’s needs rather than our own- that’s got to be a good thing for the wellbeing of society as well as ourselves.

(source: © hopecalls.org)

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