I recently interviewed Dan Akst, author of We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess about how we've let slip our handle on self-discipline...and how it may hurt us more than we realize. "A little self-mastery can improve the quality of your life as well as the quantity," Akst writes. "If you are a man, it can preserve your marriage...if you're a student, it can lead to higher lifelong earnings...Self control is associated with more education, less violence, lower alcohol and drug abuse, higher earnings, and an optimistic outlook."
The good news is that for most of us, survival is no longer the issue. Most of us workaday folks do not face a real serious mortal threat on a day-to-day basis as we go from home to work to wherever. But the bad news is that, in our democracy of excess, we have lost our self control. And the ability to control our impulses, to exercise self discipline, has far more to do with our health and life than just resisting that third cookie (although that is part of it).
For those of us following the Whole Living Action Plan 28-Day Challenge, self control has reared its stern head as we struggle to say no to all measure of baked goods and other tempting treats, reminding ourselves that it's worth it. Even though it can be much, much harder than we think.
The problem is that saying we're going to do something is often not enough. So he doesn't think it's a matter of pushing blame (on genetics, on cultural influences, on our mothers), but owning up to the choices we make. I know it's controversial. But he has a point.
Terri Trespicio is senior features editor at Whole Living magazine and the host of "Whole Living" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, which airs every day at 10a East / 7a West on Sirius 112 / XM 157. Follow her on twitter @TerriT.