Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Religion, Spirituality, and Self Control

There is much to be said about religion, spirituality, and their affects on a person's level of self control - I will attempt to highlight a few of those things here. Firstly, what does research have to say? A study conducted out of Queens University in Ontario found that ties to religion positively affects one's self control. The study, however, does not measure those practicing any particular religion; instead, the study involved having participants unscramble words and then answer a question or perform a task. The control group had a series of random words while the experimental group unscrambled words like Bible, divine, and holy. After unscrambling the words the participants were then asked some questions or asked to perform a task. Those that unscrambled the religious words used higher levels of self control performing their task, and characterized higher levels of self control with the answer they supplied to their question. But, how does one's religious beliefs play into self control? Here are some examples: Followers of Judaism follow a Kosher diet, Muslims are called to pray 5 times a day (as well as follow four other pillars of their faith), Buddhists meditate (and through this meditation and inner peace, attempt to reach a destination of self-control and delayed gratification), and Christians are called to love God and love people (Luke 10:27).

Since this blog post is being written from a Christian perspective the focus will now shift to one that is congruent with the Christian faith. Neil Anderson, in his book The Bondage Breaker, outlines various cases where an individual (mostly Christians) gets caught in sin and in a habitual cycle of doing things they do not wish to do or should not do. These patterns highlight instances of very low self control. In order to break free from these strongholds, these Christians needed to call out to God and shun the things that were influencing their heart and motivation. It is not enough to just say no and struggle with whether or not to do something, Christians should be replacing these instances of low self control with positive control over their actions in performing spiritual activities (prayer, Bible reading, and the like). A popular example of this change is Josh Hamilton, who is an outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Early in his career Hamilton fell into the traps of drug use. Through his faith he has been able to overcome those dark days and even went on to win the American League MVP award in 2010 after not being able to play for 3 seasons. He still has his occasional struggles, and he is quick to admit this, but his continued pursuit to maintain self control and reliance on God is founded on Hebrews 12:4-5 and John 3:30.

Through this brief study, and my own thoughts on self control, I have come to the determination that not doing bad (evil) is not good enough. Within the profession of Counseling there are various ethics codes written by various organizations that counselors look to as staples of the profession. Many of these codes cite non-malficence (doing the client no harm) as an important principle. But, if counselors were to stop there they would still have a problem. It is often said that idle hands are the devils playground; practicing non-malficence on it's own opens up the counselor to idle activity which could lead to negative behavior and a lack of control. Is not doing harm really a positive attribute of counseling on it's own? No, counseling is about instilling positive change. Ethics codes also include beneficence (doing good for the client). These two characteristics together help to ensure that counselors can maintain control while helping the clients to the best of their ability and causing the client no harm. In Jeremiah 29:11, God makes it clear that He has a plan for us. A plan that is good and that will not lead to disaster. It is a plan from Him that is dependent upon our reliance on Him. Christianity can be turned to as a baseline for positive action and self control. Instead of asking yourself, "Is this action a sin?" ask "Is this action good and pleasing to God?"

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