What is self-discipline exactly, and why is it important? I think many people in our modern society struggle with self-control (I know I do). There are so many temptations staring us in the face each day. Advertising is purposely geared to appeal to our emotional desires of wanting to be attractive, admired, successful and content. We are always on the search for the next best thing that will make us feel better about ourselves or enhance our lives in some way.

There is nothing wrong or immoral about our desires, except for one thing: When we consistently allow the desires of the “flesh” (i.e. physical selves) to overtake our minds and spirits, we eventually become very weak, and it becomes harder and harder to resist further temptation. Before we know it, we are unable to resist even the smallest desire, and we lose control of ourselves and our lives.

We know smoking is unhealthy. We know junk food is no good for us. We know we should be exercising each day, and getting enough sleep each night. We know that excessive debt is dangerous and unnecessary. Do we apply this knowledge in our lives? For many of us, the answer would have to be “no.” Why? Because we live in a society of instant gratification. We can’t fathom having to wait and save money for something we want to buy. Instead we whip out the credit card and pay much more for that item once the interest is added in. We can’t imagine saying no to that plate of cookies on our co-worker’s desk. They call to us, we find ourselves drifting powerlessly toward them and end up eating more than we should.

Have you had experiences like this where your mind says “no” but you seem unable to resist? I have too. So what can we do about it?

The dictionary defines Discipline as:

1) training that develops self-control, efficiency, etc.

2) strict control to enforce obedience

3) orderly conduct

4) a system of rules, as for a monastic order

5) treatment that corrects or punishes

(Webster’s New World Dictionary © 1990, 1995 Simon & Schuster Inc.)

Self-Discipline is obviously applying these techniques to ourselves. Why would a person want to do this? What benefits are there in self-discipline? Who cares if we have horrible self-control? Who are we hurting? Ourselves, for one. In some cases, our family and friends. It depends on what we’re having trouble resisting, and how often. Alcohol and drug abuse, compulsive gambling or shopping, excessive eating – these things can greatly erode the quality of our lives.

Strengthening our self-control is a powerful thing to do because it frees us. We are no longer victims of our own desires. Imagine being able to say “no, thank you” to that extra dessert, and meaning it. Imagine paying down your debt and owing only your current living expenses. Imagine having a strong, healthy body and a clear mind, free of chemicals. Talk about freedom. This is possible for all of us, if we are willing to sacrifice and put forth the effort.

For some of us, there is a whole wagon load of emotional issues that come along with our cravings. Maybe we smoke in order to smother our anger, rather than speaking up. Maybe we eat in order to numb our dissatisfaction with our lives. Very often addictions are born as a coping tool for emotions that we are not willing to face. When we begin practicing self-control, these re-awakened emotions will need to be dealt with and worked through. They won’t go away on their own.

What it comes down to is asking ourselves this question: is it worth the effort? How much will our lives improve if we strengthen ourselves so we can resist temptation? If your worst habits are minor, such as having a few coffees in the morning, it might not matter to you very much if you strengthen your will or not. If you are a heavy smoker, drinker and compulsive eater, the matter becomes much more serious.

I think the most important thing to do is look honestly at our lives, and determine if we are out of control in any areas. For some of us, the answer will be no. For others, the answer will be a big, whopping YES. We also need to look at the level of desire for our activities. Just because a person chooses to drink several cups of coffee a day, does not mean they have an addiction. The key way to tell if we have a problem is to ask ourselves, “Could I live without it for a day?” Based on our answer, we can clearly see if that substance or activity is a problem or not.

Strengthening our will and resisting our desires is difficult. Many of us have become so weak that we can’t imagine saying “no” to something we really want. It takes immense strength and conviction to resist those impulses. It also takes a strong desire to improve ourselves and our lives. Without desire, we probably won’t be very successful in making lasting changes.

If the desire is there, however, even a tiny spark of desire, it is enough. Then we can begin the work that will change our lives in ways we never dreamed possible, and set ourselves free in the process.

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