Children—and many adults, including this one—love the story of Aladdin. Adventure, magical artifacts, good versus evil, and the ultimate success story of a beggar boy being transformed into a prince by an awesome genie. There’s something appealing about that easy success. Instead of having to discipline himself and work hard to succeed, Aladdin uses magic.
In real life, however, wish fulfillment takes on another form. We may not be blessed with Aladdin’s genie in a lamp, or Cinderella’s fairy godmother, but each of us has the means to make many things that we want and need happen. In the real world, things like passing a test, acquiring a skill, or achieving some worthy goal happen as the result of mastering one object alone—ourselves. It’s not as glamorous, and success doesn’t happen overnight; and yes, it may seem like a poor replacement for a genie, or a few magic words and fairy dust, but it’s much more likely to have a lasting effect on your life.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, writes, “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 because the temperature wasn’t right, or when I “accidentally” started watching the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance when I had a writing deadline to meet—I have to admit I’m not always as “in control” of myself as I would like to be.
If I were living today according to my “moods, appetites, and passions,” I would begin by sleeping in, due to last night’s late movie watching. I might wake up at around 3 PM, and then would probably decide that I don’t feel like working right away. If I were hungry, I’d head to the store to treat myself to a pack of my new favorite flavor of potato chips. Upon coming home, I’m pretty sure I’d decide that with so much of my day already gone, there would be no point in starting anything, and instead that more relaxation was in order. …
The thing is that even in the depths of a self-inflicted movie-viewing coma, and even when I decide to forgo this day’s exercise routine, there exists in me an opposing desire to not be a couch potato. 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 books; I want to eventually be a fit and healthy 90-year-old lady who still enjoys every day. 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.
Through learning how to control our impulses, we become the kind of person that others want to get to know. People who can control themselves usually:
- have better relationships with others, 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 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 indulge in negative or self-destructive habits.
- are often happier, because they’re getting what they want out of life.
Conversely, the Bible tells us “a person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.”1
Learning to control your impulses and desires is a skill that can help you succeed in life. You may 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. After all is said and done, the biggest key to achieving what you want—as well as the biggest hindrance—will likely be you.
The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours—it is an amazing journey—and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.—Bob Moawad (1941–2007)
It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.—Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BC–c. 483 BC)
- Proverbs 25:28 NLT ↩