Self-control is the ninth fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22–23. Though it’s listed last, it’s clearly an important one. It takes a lot of self-control to manifest the other eight fruits.
I recently read about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, conducted by Stanford University psychologists in 1972. During the experiment, a marshmallow was offered to each of the participating children, with the promise that if they didn’t eat it for 15 minutes, they’d be given a second one. The researchers analyzed how long each child resisted eating the marshmallow, and after follow-up studies in 1988 and 1990, suggested that waiting longer—exercising delayed gratification—was correlated with future success. The findings are not considered conclusive, but it makes sense that having self-control is a positive factor in our lives.
My daughter Audrey is not yet two, but I can already see the struggle that takes place daily in her young mind with whether to yield to her anger and frustration or not. I take seriously the responsibility of helping her cultivate positive traits—patience, courtesy, consideration, respect, kindness, honesty—that all require self-discipline but will shape her character and prove valuable throughout her life.
Some of us have easier circumstances than others. For instance, Audrey currently finds chocolate and cake revolting—and if that continues into adulthood, it might fool some people into thinking she must be really self-disciplined (at least as far as sticking to a healthy diet). Unfortunately, being able to resist something we don’t care for is not the same thing as self-control.
Each of us is unique and has a personal path for growth, so there are no obvious secrets to gaining self-control. However, if we commit our lives into God’s hands, He will help us know what to do and not do, and the voice of our conscience will safeguard us in our weak areas.