As we journey along the road of developing healthy rhythms, it is imperative that we exhibit self-discipline and exert self-control. The difference between these two concepts can seem subtle but I believe it is significant. Allow me to provide context here by giving you my working definition of these two terms. Perhaps not textbook, but bear with me.
Self-Discipline: the ability to make oneself do the right thing.
Self-Control: the ability to keep oneself from doing the wrong thing.
To exhibit self-discipline is in essence the building up of a good habit. I know this is the right thing to do so I am going to make myself do it until it just becomes what I do. Maybe you put a reminder on your calendar or add a routine to your daily task list. You probably have implemented these or other ideas of your own. Self-discipline is easy by comparison, though admittedly not always easy. We discipline ourselves because what we are striving for is good for us.
To exert self-control is much more difficult but of equal (or even greater) importance if we are to live healthy lives. I know this is the wrong thing to do, but why do I seem to be drawn to it anyway (over and over, even)? You’ve tried and tried, you’ve gritted your teeth, but you cannot kick this bad habit. We struggle with self-control because the things we are trying not to do are enticing to us.
It might be helpful to talk about some practical examples to illustrate the difference in these two concepts and why it is important to understand.
- From a physical health perspective, we can exhibit self-discipline by making ourselves exercise 5 days a week, but we must exert self-control to keep from over-eating or eating the wrong things.
- From a relational health perspective, we can exhibit self-discipline by reaching out to family members or a friend in need on a regular basis, but we must exert self-control to keep from engaging in gossip about these same people when confronted with the opportunity.
- In the area of spiritual health, we can exhibit self-discipline by reading the Bible every day, but we must exert self-control to keep from viewing pornography.
Why is this important? I contend that self-discipline is something that you can exhibit if only you will. Not always easy and sometimes an up and down journey, but you can develop good habits with repetition. But self-control is an oxymoron, because we actually need help to cultivate it. Self-control is listed among the attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. For believers, this outside influence is now within us to tap into. For all of us, this outside influence can also come in the form of accountability from a trusted friend or partner.
The point: no matter who you are, we all need help to live a life of healthy rhythms.