Self-Control: Want What You Want to Want

Austin Davis, Pitcher for the Boston Red Sox

Do you ever find yourself wanting something better for your life, yet keep making decisions that don’t lead you there? Why is that? Why don’t we have the self-control to want something for ourselves and immediately make the changes to make it happen?

Contrary to the cultural mantra of “Do what feels right,” personal freedom becomes alive with the ability to exercise self-control. If we want the freedom to make our lives however we envision it to be, we must understand the process behind it.

According to philosopher Harry Frankfurt, we can break our wants and desires into 3 sections:

  • First-Order Desires: Our innate, animalist desires for food, water, safety, security and survival. Example: driving by In-N-Out smelling french-fries and pulling into the drive through.
  • Second-Order Desires: Our desire “to want to want” something better for our lives. Example: wanting to eat healthier food because you know that you want to feel good the next day.
  • Second Order Volition: Our ability to overcome our first-order desires with second-order desires. Example: driving past In-N-Out to Whole Foods and getting a salad.

Seems easy enough, right? Then why do people constantly find themselves at In-N-Out instead of Whole Foods? Why do people binge watch a season on Netflix fully knowing that they have other things to do?

We only have a certain amount of Second Order Volition (aka – “will power”) per day. Will power is like a muscle. When it is constantly put to work, it will eventually tire out (which can leave us holding the last slice of a pizza watching our 14th episode of “The Office”).

To create personal freedom, we need to take small, seemingly insignificant steps towards changing our life in a radical way. What would happen to our lives if we chose a different route home from work instead of driving past In-N-Out everyday? Maybe less fast food will be consumed, or maybe not… but I know that we would save ourselves from having to make that decision everyday.

Here are some action steps we can take:

  • Want to be less addicted to your phone? Turn it off one Saturday and feel the freedom to be without it. The relationships we have with others will radically change when we can actually give them our full attention.
  • Want to get into better shape? Start with something as simple as drinking more water everyday, adding 1 serving of vegetables into every meal, or even just taking a walk after dinner.
  • Want to impact our community? Spend 1 hour a week volunteering with Teach One to Lead One! Investing in someone else will transform their life, but it also transforms our lives just as much. As we mentor the students on how to live with integrity, we begin to live with more integrity. When we ask them, “How do you respect a person you don’t like?”, we must look into the mirror and answer the question ourselves.

We have the capability to radically change our lives and the people around us. Do you have the courage to simply start?