Self-Control, the forgotten virtue…


The individualism of American life, to our glory and despair, creates anger and encourages its release; for when everything is possible, limitations are irksome. When the desires of the self come first, the needs of others are annoying. When we think we deserve it all, reaping only a portion can enrage. – Carol Tavris; Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion

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We live in a time and a place like no other in history. Instant gratification has become so much the norm that the idea of waiting or even simply not getting what we want at all seems unfair and even arbitrary. Everything is getting faster and more powerful. This computer is magnitudes faster and more powerful than anything that came before it and excruciatingly slower than anything currently on sale at my local Best Buy up the street.

Faster, higher, stronger, is the motto of the modern Olympic Games. As a society we can add, richer, bigger and cooler to the list as well. Democracy and freedom have made it possible, at least in theory, for everyone to always get what they want out of life. It’s when that theory is proven wrong by experience that most people get angry. They feel cheated or lied to.

I’ve been meditating on the results and causes of this type of anger a lot lately. I recently took part in a biblical study of The Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, while at the same time reading two books on Anger and Willpower.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law.

The first book, quoted above, traces the cultural differences in how humans express anger and the ways in which it is used to further our self-interest and to help build or tear down relationships and societies as a whole. The second was by Stanford University Professor, Kelly McGonigal called “The Willpower Instinct; How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters and What you Can Do to Get More of It”.

McGonigal is renowned for her work in the area of psychology known as “science-help”, not to be confused with self-help. Science-help is the study of scientific research as it pertains to achieving personal goals in spite of inner conflict. In short, what happens when our personal goals for our future selves conflict with our immediate desires? It’s this conflict between immediate gratification and the future self that most interests me as a financial coach and author in the field of behavioral economics.

As McGonigal explains there are really three aspects of willpower. Once we set a goal for ourselves we must go through a process of planning and determining which behaviors will be most effective in achieving our goal. It’s a process of elimination as much as it is a process of inclusion. By setting a goal and working towards a certain future outcome we are limiting and eventually eliminating all other possible outcomes with each choice we make along the way. Some of those choices will get us closer to our goal while others will pull us away. As time passes our goal becomes more or less likely as a result of those choices. Through this process we must tap into the power of “I want” (goal), therefore “I won’t” (exclusion) and “I will” (inclusion).

In my line of work most people have a goal of future financial independence, or at least financial security. Contrary to a lot of what people might believe about the job of a financial coach, my job is not to help you set goals, most people are already pretty good at that, my job is to coach you in the thousands of decisions you will make along the way either moving you closer to or further away from your desired future self.

There is a lot of joy in achieving goals but along the way there can also be a lot of sadness, mourning and even occasionally a bit of anger as people wrestle through the choices they’ve made. Each choice we make today either strengthens or weakens the person we will be in the future. Some choices even have the potential to outright kill our future selves.

Willpower and Self-Control are virtues that allow us to function in society, aid in both setting and achieving goals and keep us from descending into unadulterated self-interest, gluttony, anarchy and hedonism. Without Self-Control the Fruits of the Spirit are a list of selfish and narcissistic pursuits that have the potential to explode in destructive anger if they are not satisfied and in the process kill our future selves in an orgy of self-gratification in the name of love, joy and peace, etc.

True love therefore has to include some form of self-control in order to remain other-centered otherwise it is nothing more than a selfish pursuit of more. And that leads eventually to some form of anger. I for one don’t want to live in a society without some form of self-control.

  • So what are your goals?
  • What have you given up to achieve them?
  • How are you exercising self-control today in order to achieve something better in the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Thine Own Emotions Be True


One noteworthy study suggests that people who suppress negative emotions tend to leak those emotions later in unexpected ways… Later, however, the people who hid their emotions suffered side effects. Their memory was impaired, and the negative emotions they’d suppressed seemed to color their outlook. – Susan Cain; Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Whether it be in business, or ministry or just everyday life people tend to be uncomfortable with excessive amounts of emotion. We are encouraged from an early age not to laugh too loud, cry or vocalize our anger in public. When we have an emotional outburst, we are too often told to “shake it off”, “suck it up” and “take a breath”.

While this may seem like good advice when emotions could damage relationships I believe in the long run it’s killing us. Well maybe not exactly. Stifling our emotions might not give us cancer but it certainly alters us in ways we cannot immediately see or understand until years later.

The truth is we, as a society, are not comfortable with our emotions. Sure, we collectively rejoice when our team wins the championship and we may shed a tear when the soldiers come home or the police officers are shot but even in those corporate moments of shared joy and grief we are encouraged to move on quickly. Nobody wants to spend time with Debbie Downer and we are equally uncomfortable around the perpetually “up”. It’s as if we have all agreed that our society functions best in a state of quiet, emotionless equilibrium. Whether we admit it or not we all what to be Mr. Spock, from StarTrek.

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I’ll admit I’m not an overly emotional guy. I’m not easily impressed, I don’t get excited about things, I don’t get angry and although I have admitted to crying quite a bit privately I hardly ever cry in public. This works for me. I never feel unsafe expressing my emotions. And because I tend to express them sparingly, on the rare occasions when I do I believe they carry more weight.

I’ll never forget the last time I had a major emotional outburst at work, there was no mistaking that I was angry about the circumstances, my coworkers and the one client involved talked about it for years afterwards, and the situation never repeated itself. In that case I was able to use my emotions to great effect but I also believe that deep down I damaged relationships and hurt myself and my reputation in the process. You see, in that case my anger and frustration had actually been mounting for weeks, had I let it out more slowly over time, like air out of a balloon, I don’t think the situation would have ever escalated to the point in did. And why did I allow my emotions to mount for that long? Because I had been listening to the voices of our society tell me to “shake it off”, “suck it up” and “take a breath.”

Why are we so uncomfortable with emotions? I think it’s partly due to jealousy. When we see an emotional outburst our first response is to join in, misery loves company and so does euphoria, but then we remember we’re not supposed to feel this way for long so we “suck it up” and then look down on the people who don’t or can’t as somehow less evolved that we are.

There’s a bit of neuroscience involve here too. The more we suck it up the more we train our brains how to react and build neuro-pathways that make it easier to react that way the next time. But sooner or later our emotions always find a way out and the balloon pops.

We can’t all be Mr. Spock as much as certain parts of our society lionize his emotionless demeanor. But do you remember the back story of the Vulcan Empire? It seems that the Vulcan people trained themselves to think only in terms of logic because their history was plagued with violence. They had made a conscious effort to evolve and viewed emotions as primitive. Sound familiar?

The fact is, emotions are not primitive. They are what make us who we are and stifling them only makes us less than who we are meant to be. Yes we need to learn appropriate behaviours but that doesn’t mean we need to deny the way we feel about things. It is only by being true to your emotions can you be true to yourself.

 

 

Anger, Compassion and Meekonomics


I think that revolutionary anger, like all anger, hides a deeper, slower sadness about the essential human condition, and it is through contemplation, not action, that we can come to terms with it.

Combat, territoriality, conflict, sickness, aging, dying: these are not foreign to human life, they are inescapable parts of it.  We are capable of evil as well as good; greed is in our nature along with altruism.

We cannot run from tragic aspects of ourselves; we can only conquer them by facing them squarely and incorporating them into our knowledge of ourselves as whole.

We must slow down.  We must move from our heads to an examination of our hearts.

The true revolution is an honest respect for the differences of others; forgiveness of their sins because their sins are ours.  We must, above all else learn compassion.

How can we learn compassion from anger?

Only through time.  Stephen Rechtschaffen, “Timeshifting; Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life”

I apologize for the long quote that opens this post.  I don’t often incorporate such large chunks of other people’s work within my own but Rechtschaffen’s comments on anger, violence and the root of conflict hold such profound truth that to edit them further would have been doing a grave injustice to both you the read and Mr. Rechtschaffen himself.

I also apologize for taking so much time in this space lately to pull things out of Rechtshaffen’s 1996 book on the spirituality of time.  This book obviously moved me in unexpected ways, this is the last post on it though, I promise.

The quote above comes toward the end of the work.  Rechtschaffen is beginning to sum up his theory on reclaiming time and he hits on what I think is a profound truth about conflict and anger that we all experience.  Anger, according the Rechtschaffen “hides a deeper, slower sadness”

How many times have you met an angry person and thought to yourself, “how sad?”

How sad that someone is harboring such negative emotions?  In many cases in my experience it has been obvious to everyone around that the angry person is really just masking and avoiding a deeper, more personal emotion.  It comes out as anger when they don’t want to appear weak or afraid but some form of pain or sadness is usually at the root of it.

I haven’t talked much about the core concepts of Meekonomics lately.  Mainly because I’ve been focusing on the latest round of edits in preparation for the release of the second edition coming this spring, but this latest reading has helped me refine another aspect of Meekonomics, namely; compassion and understanding.

To be truly meek you cannot be sad or angry.  As I have defined it many times meekness is a willing submission of power in order to achieve a greater good.  To be meek you must set aside your own agenda and work with people of various backgrounds and opinions.  In order to do that you must come to terms with your own anger, inner sadness and conflicts.  In my book I call it the Love Mentality which is only achieved when we understand and conquer our innate Ruler and Caretaker Mentalities.

Rechtschaffen rightly states that in order to integrate our internal conflicts into a functioning whole we must slow down.  We must be willing to experience our emotions in order to work through our internal conflicts.  Don’t fight them, don’t rush past them – meditate on them.

Meditation is not to be confused with dwelling on your emotions however.  Dwelling on your emotions is to simply repeat over and over that you feel a certain way until it wells up in you and you explode in a burst of violence or collapse into a deep depression.  Mediating on your emotions on the other hand tends to be a much deeper experience.  Mediation goes beyond the mere feeling and asks the question, Why?.

It is not until we stare into the why of a feeling that we can move from our heads to our hearts and are truly able to learn from the experience.  Meekonomics theorizes that when we learn that on an international, macro-economic scale, we can change the world!

For more information on the general theory of Meekonomics write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or buy the book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality” here or from Amazon.