Self control. I’m the worst at it.
No, really. I suck.
And it’s one of those things that’s tucked in the Bible in a not so obvious manner. It’s not really lumped in there with Don’t steal! Don’t kill! Don’t sleep with your friend’s (or, anyone’s) spouse! – those kind of commands.
So it’s easy to ignore, to disregard as “Meh. Right now I need to go the bank and deposit my check so I don’t overdraft my account, so I’ll think about that nice little Martha Stewart-type self control thought later.”
But really, lately, for the last several months of my life, it has occurred to me – between trips to the bank – that self control is probably where I could afford to focus a LOT of my energy.
I’m logged out of Facebook and Gmail for the moment, but I don’t necessarily expect that to last more than an hour or so. When I stop and think about it, I don’t know why it’s so hard or troublesome or worrisome to me to think about being logged out of these websites – I mean, they’ll be there later for crying out loud!
No joke, mid sentence in that last sentence there I had this inexplicable pang to log back in.
While faith and believing in this Guy called God and all kinds of other things can be really hard for me, I do try to believe and like the comfort of believing that these seemingly tiny commands, or life directions, from the Bible, are meant to help, not harm us.
And I don’t mean to sound preachy – if you’re not religious and you’ve made it to this paragraph I would ask you to keep reading, if you would. I don’t think that you have to be religious, or Christian specifically, or an officer of the law, to appreciate that subtle changes have big impact. I think that anyone can value and experience the effect of making a tiny change to your routine or your actions or what have you and then seeing how it affects something bigger, like your mood, or your energy, or your relationships with your friends.
Some of these tiny changes I really struggle to get on board with. For example, positive thinking. My friend Michelle tries, lovingly, to be my coach on positive thinking, but she also knows that it’s very hard for me to snap out of an emotional upset just by hoping for the best and focusing on what’s good in my life. I count my blessings pretty much every day, but I can’t help that I am wired to be a slave to my crazy and often merciless moods. I am hoping and thinking that prayer can help with this, and maybe even some pesky additional positive thinking, but for now that is not the conversation I want to have. I am just listing an example of a common practice in our culture that follows the [tiny-shift: big-life-overhaul] formula.
A tiny shift that I can relate to is the protein phenomenon. Apparently our bodies like that stuff. So when I haven’t eaten in a while (I usually haven’t, because I have self-diagnosed attention deficit disorder) I go for the Clif Bar. The glass of milk. The dollar menu hamburger. (My parents are fighting urges to move in next door to me right now and feed me dinner every night). Also, food in general. Our bodies like to eat fairly often. More often than I would care to prepare food for myself, always preparing for myself, by myself, me my own little self in myself’s tiny apartment, where the dishes always heap.
Anyway. I have learned over many years to respect this request from my body, to eat and to eat well.
But I’m still not great at it. Take for example the not-yet-finished ham and cheese square sitting next to me here at Starbucks. (It’s been there for a while).
And why is the ham and cheese square not yet finished? Well, for now it’s because I’m writing. But if you follow this blog at all then you know that my life activities don’t get neglected because I am always diligently writing. Ha.
Which brings me back to my point – whatever my point is, I haven’t really decided yet, so stay with me here.
I guess my mini-point here, which may be encompassed in some larger point, is that there’s always something keeping me from something. I have no direction. I am drifting.
For the first time in my life this is really, truly bothering me, which is why I brought it up with my latest therapist, to whom I finally decided to introduce myself recently. That was a good life move, I vote.
Some of this drifting is due to (very correctly self-diagnosed) ADD. (Hey, I have 27 college credits in Psych. If it’s enough for a BA, it’s enough to diagnose*).
*Self diagnosis is a terrible idea. Don’t do it.
Some of this is due to unbridled extroversion (which then makes my introversion have a panic attack when it can’t get any alone time, dammit. If that’s not happening, my extroversion is having a panic attack because I am isolated and don’t know where my friends are during another weekend that I didn’t put social things on the calendar. (This observation is sometimes self-deprecating shtick for my writing, other times it is terrifying and terrifyingly unfair, particularly when a) it is the middle of the night and/or b) it feels like no one, no one understands it, even God, who LOVES us)).
Some of this is thanks to my very many and very varied interests – running, cross stitching, reading, writing, TV, cooking, dancing, singing, petting cats, nature, Celine Dion.
I don’t really know what to do about this lack of self control in my life, but I think two good starting points – in addition to a solid routine – are to pray about it (and ask other, more diligent friends of mine to pray about it) and to start taking self control more seriously.
There’s another part of the Bible – not in the self control section – where one of the prophets (? OK, yes. Found it. It was Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13)) hears all these very loud things – a great wind, an earthquake, things like that. And at the end of the story there is just a simple whisper. And it is the whisper that is God. That is the part he’s supposed to listen to.
That self control thing is just hanging out in the list of fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I learned a song about the fruits in middle school, and I could sing it for you if you like. Several of them are easy, or at least on most days easy-ish. Love. I love a lot of people. Kindness. I was raised in the ultra-friendly Midwest by rather polite parents. Actually now that I’m thinking about it most of the other nine fruits are hard for me.
But that self control one, I guess I think of it as something that you learn as a young’n. They really emphasize that self control unit in the preschool arena, and personally I could use (an ongoing) refresher course.
I say that both to make you laugh but also because I’m dead serious about it. Sometimes things get taught formally to us only once, and they really ought to be discussed again and again. I mean, I think I’ve graduated from the “Don’t talk while Teacher’s talking” and “Please raise your hand if you have a question” lessons, but that doesn’t mean this conversation should have ended.
I tell people, therapist included, that I know I am capable of doing things, because I have more than one degree – or even a degree – and I think I’m a loyal friend and I moved across the country and stuck it out when I was unemployed and have agreed and managed to stay put in L.A. even though I don’t always or usually love my life here. (And this is where I am reminded that self control is real and important, because I know that leaving L.A. right now would not make me happy or more at peace. It would simply re-stir the chaos, repeat the restless-motion pattern in my heart and my mind).
But I tell those same people that I feel lost. What am I doing? I really, truly live moment to moment. One reason I like going to work is because while I’m there I can’t, to a certain extent, decide to do one thing and five seconds later change my mind. On the weekends my actions are a free-for-all. In a structured environment where I am depended upon and my paycheck is dependent upon my reliability, I can at least move forward and accomplish tasks.
Of course I do this in my personal life, but it isn’t hard and fast. And as a creative person, as an over thinker, more than 40 hours of structure a week can at times feel like my creativity and ability to output creative items is suffocated. That might sound dramatic, but to the creative over thinkers, believe me, it sounds accurate. But where there is no structure, or at least no self control, the creative output is limited, and that is suffocating in its own, more destructive way.
That’s all I got. Or, all I’m giving you now. Because it is 12:41 and I need to finish the ham and cheese square and do things, and if I write much more you will stop paying attention. Just a sharing of thoughts and another unsolicited invitation into my psyche. Blessings to you all.
And if you feel like no one understands and/or it’s the middle of the night, reach out. I’ve found that people at least understand pieces of what you think they don’t understand, and it’s way more people than you think. Way more. Like, all of us. We all understand a piece of what the rest of us are going through. So even if you feel angry and paralyzed by the fact that others don't perfectly understand, try try try your hardest to push past that and seek at least some understanding.