Authored by T.M.
Many boys love the story of Aladdin. What’s not to like? Adventure galore, good guys versus bad guys, magic ring and magic lamp, continual triumph of good over evil, and the ultimate success story of beggar boy transformed into prince by awesome genie. Aladdin and the Lamp is a story of wish fulfillment for boys, just as Cinderella is for girls. What is it that makes fairy tales like Aladdin so popular? My guess is that instead of having to discipline himself and work hard to succeed, Aladdin uses magic—courtesy of the ring genie and the lamp genie.
In real life, however, wish fulfillment takes on another form. Instead of a genie in a lamp, or fairy godmothers, you have something else that makes things happen for you; it’s not as glamorous, and it doesn’t happen overnight, and yes, it may seem like a poor replacement for a genie, or a few magic words and fairy dust. In real life, things like passing a test, acquiring an impressive skill, or achieving some worthy goal happen as the result of mastery of one object alone, and that object is you.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.” I only need to look at the past few days to be quite convinced of this. I like to think of myself as an independent being, completely in control of my emotions and desires, but looking at the past two times I skipped exercising as the temperature wasn’t right, or when I accidentally (on purpose) started watching the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance when I should have been studying or writing this article—I have to admit, I’m not always as “in control” of myself as I would like to be.
Why is control over oneself so important? Well, in my case, without “willpower” or “self-mastery” or “self-control,” this morning I would have slept in, due to the late-night movie watching done the night before. I might have awoken at around 3 PM, and then probably would have decided that I didn’t feel like working. I might then head to the store to treat myself to a newfound favorite potato chip. Upon coming home, I doubt I’d feel like working with so much of my day already gone, so I might decide that more relaxation was in order…
The thing is that even in the depths of a self-inflicted movie coma, and even when I’ve decided to forgo this day’s exercise routine, there exists in me an opposing desire to not be a couch potato or an exercise vegetable. I want to do more with my life than be a slave to my moods or impulses. I want to travel; I want to start my own business; I want to write a book; I want eventually to be a fit and healthy 90-year-old lady who can enjoy every day of life till her time is up. The difficulty lies in delaying my desire for immediate gratification to achieve long-term gain. In other words: I need to learn how to control myself in the present so that I can have the future I desire.
Have you thought of what you want your future to look like? What does it contain? What does it have you doing? How do you feel in this desired future of yours?
What are you doing today to get there? What do you need to give up today to get there? This is where learning how to master yourself comes in.
I read something the other day that has become known to many as the “10,000-hour rule.” Author Malcolm Gladwell articulates this rule in his book Outliers. Apparently, according to various studies, “the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it—20 hours a week for 10 years.”1
On one hand, this is great news! Who hasn’t wanted to be a broadsword champion? Or do some really cool synchronized swimming? On the other hand, 20 hours a week for 10 years is a challenging task. Twenty hours a week comes to 2.8 hours a day! What is something you do in your day for 2.8 hours? A movie is around two hours long; I’ve been known to play consecutive games of Spider Solitaire for over an hour. Ten years from now, you could be an expert movie watcher, or an expert Spider Solitaire master, or … something else? What more do you want for yourself?
(Now just to clarify, I am not knocking movie watching or game playing—I am a great fan of both. Often, I will do both simultaneously for maximum fun. But I’ve also learned that what I feed will grow. If I feed my desire for movie watching to excess, it will push out other important things that I want my life to contain. Simple rule of thumb that works for me: make sure the other things I have on my to-do list are done before sitting down with the extras.)
Moving away from this 10,000-hour rule, maybe broadsword champion of the world isn’t what you want, and that’s all right. The point is, are you in control? Mastery of yourself—your thoughts, emotions, and impulses—is worth more than acquiring mad skills. As you learn how to control your impulses, you are able to live a worthy life; you become the kind of person that others want to get to know.
People who can control themselves…
* Have better relationships with people, because they have learned to control their temper and feelings of annoyance over petty things.
* Are generally physically healthier as a result of good exercise and eating habits.
* Have disciplined their minds and are therefore good students; they have learned how to use knowledge to help them succeed.
* Are filled with a healthy sense of self-worth, because they value themselves too much to overindulge in negative or self-destructive habits.
* Are generally happier, because they’re getting what they want out of life.
Conversely, a person without self-mastery is compared in this way in Proverbs: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”2
Learning to control your impulses and desires is a skill that will help you succeed at whatever you want to succeed at in life. You can want something very much, but never do anything to achieve it. The “achieving it” part is what requires hard work, putting in the hours, gritting your teeth, saying no to other things that might try to distract you—in a word: self-mastery. So, may I leave you with a thought? Throughout your life the biggest key to achieving what you want—as well as the biggest hindrance—will be you.
1 Lev Grossman, “Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell’s Success Story,” TIME, Nov. 13, 2008.
2 Proverbs 25:28 NIV.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International