Excercising the Self-Control Muscle

Duke Divinity’s Faith & Leadership blog gives a link today about self-control. It focuses on a problem that I have known about, but have not known what to do about it. Douglas McKenna (in Exercising Your Self-Control Muscle) compares the ability to remain self-controlled to exercising any muscle.

Here’s a secret about self-control: It works like a muscle. With each use, that muscle temporarily loses some strength, leaving you with reduced capacity to handle yourself if the next self-control challenge pops up too soon.

Going from situation to situation without reflection leaves little time to reset. Then, the chance of losing self-control increases with the frequency of stressful situations. This effect explains why it’s not good to have a whole bag of chocolate in the house after church councils. McKenna then offers 4 things to help:

  1. Plan your time with depletion in mind. Don’t go from one pastoral visit straight to another, in particular if one is particularly difficult.
  2. Standardize recurring tasks. Spend little time on the problems you can easily solve (McKenna gives the illustration of Einstein always wearing a grey jumpsuit – much the same reason why I generally wear a clerical collar!).
  3. Rest and refuel. Not only days off, but breaks between tough activities.
  4. Work out your self-control muscle. This was interesting. McKenna says that if we practice breathing, then that is the same ‘muscle’ for other self-control situations. The comparisons to prayer shouldn’t be overlooked.

So self-discipline is something I am terrible at, or at least getting back into the habit once I have broken it. I think this could be taken further than personal work life. How might we integrate some of these into church council agendas? Are there other areas of the church that it could affect?

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3 thoughts on “Excercising the Self-Control Muscle

  1. Was that what happened to our Church Council this week, I wonder? It was the first one for our new Minister. We finished at 9.30am quite happily without having had any altercation! She asked, incredulously, ‘Are you always so quiet?’

  2. I welcome the advice given by the blog.

    It runs counter to advice like “Plan 5 pastoral visits of 20 minutes each in 2 hours” and it’s much more realistic and human. Some pastoral visits CAN be really difficult and sometimes we have an inkling of which ones they will be (although sometimes not). And, I’m sorry, but I think we all know when we are being “genuinely visited” and when we are simply an item to tick off a “visiting to-do list”.

    I also welcome the advice about resting during the day, although I can imagine cries about the laziness of ministers!

  3. Olive: You never can tell! Though sometimes first church councils can be quiet when people are getting to know each other. You might be on to something if the next one is quiet.

    Pam: It’s particularly interesting that this article is a from the secular business world. This article would have been anathema to my boss at the bank. I agree with you about visits and knowing when one has been visited – especially the people who get out very little want to know that someone has spent time with them and not checked them off a list.

    I think you’re right about feeling the minister is lazy. Also, if I may say so, I think everyone believes they are wonderful and don’t think a visit to them is ‘work’!

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