"Lead Us Not"—2 Simple Ways to Develop Self-Control

Photo by Melissa Maples at Snapwire Snaps

Photo by Melissa Maples at Snapwire Snaps

In a recent study by Dikla Shmueli and Judith J. Prochaska, smokers trying to stop smoking were asked to actively resist eating a treat set in front of them for fifteen minutes. Every fifteen seconds, they had to pick up the plate, smell the treat, and put it back down without eating it. For some, that treat came in the form of freshly baked brownies, while the other group of smokers had radishes.

After fifteen minutes, the participants were given a ten-minute break. The results? Participants who resisted sweets were more likely to smoke during the break (53.2%) than those who resisted vegetables (34.0%).[1] It was too difficult to resist the two temptations of sweets and smoking at the same time.

Similarly, giving up sugar and Netflix while taking up running all in the same week might just pull your self-control muscle, making it too sore to defeat any bad habit you would like to conquer.

1. Eliminate Everyday Temptations

When Jesus instructed his disciples (and us) on how to pray in Matthew 6, He didn’t say, “help us to resist temptation” but rather “lead us not into temptation.” Focus on one goal, and eliminate everyday temptations.

If we’re constantly slapping our own wrists while reaching for the forbidden chocolate that is right in front of us in the pantry, we are in the process of slowing destroying our own defenses. It’s far easier to snap at our spouses, respond in anger to our bosses, or lose patience with the kids when our self-control has been worn down by resisting small temptations all day long.

We can’t evade the temptation to sin entirely, but fortunately we have a God who has promised to give us the strength we need to resist the temptations we inevitably will face (1 Cor. 10:13). That said, avoiding daily temptations instead of continually fighting them will help us build up our self-control reserves for the harder trials.

2. Build Self-Control One Step at a Time

The good news? Just as there are exercises for our biceps, there are also simple ways to strengthen our self-control and increase endurance in order to be better prepared when life hands us marathons of temptation. Eliminating any small daily trials is the first step; doing so reserves our willpower for the things that really matter.

After that, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, suggests, “practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and exerting deliberate control over your actions. Over time, that practice improves self-control.” The key here is consistency, not intensity. Make a conscience effort to do little things. You can start building up your willpower by using your left hand to brush your teeth, or saving an extra $5 a week!

As we strive to become more like Christ, eliminating the small temptations throughout our days and working out our self-control muscle can help us grow in the virtues of patience, kindness, and selflessness.

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[1] Study cited: Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). "Resisting tempting foods and smoking behavior: Implications from a self-control theory perspective." Health Psychology, 28(3), 300-306.

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