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:
- Plan your time with depletion in mind. Don’t go from one pastoral visit straight to another, in particular if one is particularly difficult.
- 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!).
- Rest and refuel. Not only days off, but breaks between tough activities.
- 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?