Archives For Life Experiences

Personal posts ’bout my life :)

“Self-control” is something that most folks admit to struggling with and most folks want more of. Why is it so elusive? Some folks blame the times we live in and the access we have to more “temptations” than ever before. Others say self-control doesn’t matter and that “if it feels good, do it”. Still others try and try to force themselves to make certain choices, then achieve success for a time, only to fall and become more discouraged and demotivated than ever.

As a web developer, I’ve found the concept of self-control particularly relevant. I’ve studied the topic and experimented for years with varying degrees of success. As my business has grown and the demands on my time have increased, I’ve found the lessons I’ve learned (and the importance of reminding myself of those lessons) particularly important.

Why Self Control-Matters

As freelancers and business owners in the web development industry we are able to enjoy quite a few benefits, including:

  • Flexible Hours – Outside of scheduled interactions with clients, we can work just about anytime we want.
  • Flexible Work Environment – Web development is increasingly a “remote” industry with many of us choosing to work from the comforts of our home.
  • High Income Potential – As web developers, our income potential is high, matching and even passing that of many other more established professional industries.

Each of those benefits, though, offer a big “downside” as it relates to self-control. Here’s how:

  • The fact that we can set our own hours means that we can also choose not to work or work a lot less than a project needs.
  • With more and more of us working remotely, the fact that we can work from home means that our work environment (especially with children) can be easily distraction prone.
  • With a high income there is the temptation to “take it easy”. While experiencing the benefits of a high income is a great thing, a lack of self-control can lead us to that income for granted and waste it.

In my own experience I’ve noticed a clear correlation to a strong sense of self-control and success in my work. I’ve also noticed the same correlation to when I’ve felt “out of control” and the times where my quality of service has suffered.

For me, I’ve decided that a strong sense of self-control matters – a lot. I suspect that many of you have already reached the same conclusion and have decided that, yes, having more self-control matters.

What Is Self-Control?

Self-control (sometimes called self-regulation or self-discipline) is the ability to control what you think, feel, and do.

Roy Baumeister in his book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength suggests that willpower, the fuel that feeds your sense of self-control, is actually a finite resource and can be both exhausted and replenished by the choices you make.

That is why your sense of self-control can feel stronger in the morning after making a few good decisions (e.g. getting up earlier, eating a healthy breakfast, etc) then at the end of a long, stressful day at work when all you want to do is “take it easy” (and eat ice cream, and watch movies).

How To Improve Self-Control

With the understanding that self-control matters, the next logical step is to say “Ok, what can we do to improve self-control?” Based on Roy Baumeister’s book and on a presentation I recently listened to by Dr. Magna Parks2 I’ve compiled a list six strategies for improving self-control. Let’s jump straight to them!

1. Develop A Long-Term Focus

In the Fall of 2011, my wife and I decided to get out of debt. We had been in debt for years and, though we had a vague hope that we’d get out someday, somehow, we had lost all sense of priority and were doing our best just to keep up. We decided that we were done with that and it was time to focus. In just 3 1/2 months, we worked together to pay off $26,000 worth of debt by working very hard and exercising a high level of intensity. The time management and focus required to perform at that level demanded self-control and that self-control was fueled by a sense of long-term focus that took me beyond the challenges of the day.

If you’d like to improve your own sense of self-control, develop a long-term focus. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make It Clear – The very nature of focus requires that you have a clear grasp on what exactly you are trying to accomplish. My wife and I knew the amount of our debt to the penny and we earned, nearly to the penny, what it took to pay it off within just a day of the deadline to do so.
  • Create a “Dream Board” – Put up a blank poster board on your wall and tape pictures of your dreams to it. Look at it and focus on it for a minute or two each day. My wife and I created a dream board that Fall and, looking back now, we’ve achieved nearly everything on that list.

2. Develop A Self-Forgetful Attitude

When it comes to maintaining self-control we are our own worst enemies. If you’re craving something that isn’t good for you it becomes harder to resist the more you think about it. At the same time, distracting yourself from that craving and “forgetting” it makes it easier to resist. During my teenage years I developed an addiction to computer/video gaming. I fueled that addiction, with little restraint, for several years until I realized that there were more important things in life to focus my time and efforts on. To this day, though, I have to work to control my past addiction. When the demands on my time are particularly stressful the desire to finish work and just go “game” suddenly pop-up and the more I think about that desire or imagine the games I could play the harder it becomes to resist the urge to play and the more the quality of the work I’m doing suffers. The answer? I push the thoughts aside and distract myself from those desires by focusing on something else.

If you’re struggling with an addiction or simply a lack of self-control with a particular desire, cultivate an attitude of self-forgetfulness and distract yourself from those cravings and desires by switching your thoughts to something else. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stand Up – Step away from that self-focused situation and move on to focus your attention on something else.
  • Help Someone Else – A good way to be “self-forgetful” is to focus your energy on being of help to someone else. Take a break from what you’re working on and help out around the house. Take your dog for a walk or volunteer to take your neighbor’s dog for a walk.

3. Create A Pre-Commitment Strategy

Keeping in mind that willpower is a finite resource one excellent strategy for improving self-control is to simply make decisions in advance. This why the concept of a schedule is so powerful. Make your decisions in advance when it’s easy to do so and then, when a difficult situation arises, there’s no need to exercise willpower and self-control to make the right choice – the choice was already made.

Here are a few examples of pre-commitment strategies:

  • For my current morning routine I set out my shoes the night before. When I wake up, I get out of bed, tired or not, put my clothes and shoes on, and head out for my morning walk. I made the decision the night before and, when the morning came, I didn’t have to lay in bed and figure out what to do next – I already knew.
  • When I create my schedule for the week I set aside blocks of time for each of my project commitments. When that time rolls around, whether I feel like working on that project or not, I don’t have to think about it – the decision was already made. It’s on the schedule, so I get to work.

If you want to improve your sense of self-control, make things easier for you by making decisions in advance.

4. Involve People You Care About

Accountability is a powerful strategy for strengthening and maintaining a sense of self-control. My brother and I noticed that we were sleeping in on the weekends (which tends to make it harder to keep getting up early during the rest of the week) so he took the initiative to plan early morning adventures (e.g. hiking a trail, climbing a mountain, kayaking, etc) that required getting up early. So, whereas I might have normally slept in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I knew that Joshua was expecting me to join him at 5 AM to climb a mountain and I didn’t want to let him down. Suddenly, an area that I struggled with (getting up early on weekends) wasn’t a problem because I involved people I cared about.

Here are a few ideas for involving people you care about:

  • Scheduled Reviews – Pick a consistent time, on a weekly or even daily basis to connect with someone you care about and give a progress report. When my brother and I were working to get on the habit of waking up by 5 AM we would text each other when we woke up, which would help to prompt and encourage each other to keep it up.
  • Stated Intentions – If you’re working to improve self-control in a particular area, let a spouse or family member know. Just the act of saying it out-loud, especially in the context of someone who wants to see you succeed, can go a long ways towards strengthening your ability to stick to your intention.

5. Establish Clear Personal Rules & Boundaries

Along with creating a pre-commitment strategy, setting up clear “If A then B” rules and boundaries for yourself can help eliminate the need to exercise extra willpower and make staying “in control” a lot easier. For instance, if you’re a smoker and trying to quit, pay for your gas at the pump rather than walking inside where you have the option to buy cigarettes. If you’re trying to cut back on junk food, set a clear limit (perhaps “nothing” or “only 1 piece”) rather than a fuzzy “oh, I’ll just eat a little bit.”

When it comes to running a web development business, most rules and boundaries that I setup involve how I prioritize and manage my time. For instance, I know that the early part of the day is the best time for more brain intensive activities (like writing or programming). Accordingly, I avoid scheduling calls and checking email until after I’ve accomplished my morning objectives. I am then able to spend time on communication with the satisfaction that I’ve already accomplished a major objective for the day.

Another example is creating rules for how I spend my time after work. In order to get up early the next day it’s important that I get to bed at a good time (my target is between 9 and 10 PM) – accordingly, I’ve created a personal rule to not use “media” (unless my wife and I are doing so together) after 8 PM. That ensures I don’t let myself get lost reading tech news or following my friends on Facebook.

Look for ways to setup clear personal rules and boundaries in your own life to make exercising self-control easier. Here are a few ideas:

  • Setup Reminders – If you’re creating a new habit or trying to break an old, setup reminders. The glass of water on my desk reminds me to keep drinking throughout the day. The chart on my desk reminds me to make sure that I eat my fruits and vegetables for the day and that I get outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. Setup reminders, using objects, or time-reminders on your phone or computer, to help you stick to your personal rules.
  • Setup Schedules – If you’re dealing with a lot of interruptions or you’re just having a hard time focus, put a schedule to work and pre-determine what you’re going to work on. Then, ignore the interruptions till after the scheduled block of time is completed. If you’re struggling with procrastination, setup a block of time where you will either do the task or do nothing until the time is passed (most folks find it hard to sit or stand and do nothing).

6. Become More Consistent With Religious Activities

Roy Baumeister found that actively religious people, on average, have a higher amount of willpower than those who did not partake in religious activities. When I get out of bed and go for a morning walk I pray during my walk. On my return, I spend time reading the Bible and other material of a religious or devotional nature. The Bible, and the focus and emphasis of the other materials I engage, encourage my sense of self-control and provide a deeper motivation to keep at it. The name of my business, Strive For Mastery, is taken from 1 Corinthians 9:25, which reminds me that “Everyone who strives for the mastery is temperate in all things” – being temperate means exercising self-control in good things and avoiding entirely those things that do me harm.

Much of what I’ve achieved in life has drawn motivation from my religious convictions. Getting out of debt was sparked by a simple reminder that the Bible says to “Owe no man anything except love”. My sense of personal responsibility and integrity is also drawn from the examples and instructions I find in the Bible.

Make time to engage in religious activities and encourage and motivate your sense of self-control. As a Christian, and particularly as a Seventh-day Adventist (I don’t work on Saturdays and I work to cultivate good health), I personally recommend that you take time to pray throughout your day and that you spend time, even just a few minutes, reading the Bible (the Gospels, Proverbs, and Psalms are great books to start). You’ll find encouragement and motivation that maintains and strengthens your sense of self-control.

Conclusion

Improving self-control is a difficult task, but it is worth the effort. As a freelancer or business owner in the web development industry, a strong sense of self-control is particularly valuable and even essential to achieving success. Putting some or all of these strategies to work will help make improving and maintaining a sense of self-control easier and, based on my own experience and the experience of many others, I can assure you with confidence that success will follow.

And that’s a wrap! What do you think? What lessons have you learned about self-control or what are some of the aspects of self-control that you’ve struggled with? What questions do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I look forward to hearing from you!

I am a businessman. Many of you are too, though you may not all realize it. If you hold a job, whether you own the business or not, you are in business. The business you work for is your “customer”.

I have grown up with the concept of business. At 10-years-old, my younger brother and I baked (with some of mom’s help) and sold banana breads (as well as blueberry, pumpkin, and zucchini) door-to-door. We also had a “distributor”, Grandma, who worked at a large office building with many of our subsequently happy customers.

At 16, I began an active pursuit in a growing area of interest, web development. By 18, I had written an article for a local newspaper and landed one of my first web development projects – I barely knew what I was doing and $600 seemed like a lot of money.

I continued my “career” in web development, constantly adding new skillsets and stretching myself from project to project. My maturing talent for writing and my desire to communicate as effectively as possible played a critical role in my success.

Today, at age 24, I have continued in the web development industry – and I am greatly enjoying it. My abilities have increased exponentially, as has my realization that there is so much more to know. The scale of the projects I work on has also increased greatly in size and complexity as well as in influence and impact.

I share all that for a reason. I have been in the business I am now, working with three of my closest friends, for almost four years. We have enjoyed a lot of success, especially by the standards of those on the outside looking in – yet we are keenly aware that its not yet what it could be.

Something hasn’t been what it could be. A lot of the “pieces” have been in place – the talent, the passion, the determination, the sticktoitiveness (its a word) – the components were in place, yet the success seemed to be more of occasional bursts than the desirable (and essential) steady stream.

I’ve had time for reflection these past few weeks. I’ve also taken the time (though I haven’t “had it”) to read. The reflection and reading, combined with a host of leading circumstances, have drawn me to a conclusion that my lack of success to the degree that I know God has given me the capability of has been through no fault but that of my own.

Tonight, that came to a head as I realized that somewhere along the line, I’m not sure where, I had lost sight of the nobility of business. I always knew that business was a part of who I am – yet I often wrestled with it. Being in web development means that I am often working with “intangibles”. You can’t “touch” a website. You can’t pick it up and turn it over in your hand. Consequently, for a time, I had allowed myself to put less of a value on the work that I do and that, in turn, consciously and subconsciously, impacted my ability to sell and deliver on my work.

No longer. Business is a noble profession that, I am realizing increasingly, is under heavy attack. When was the last time you watched a movie where the business man was the good guy? When you think of large, highly successful businesses – do you think of them as honest, full of integrity, and fully deserving of their success? I didn’t, and most people don’t. It wasn’t a conscious idea in my mind – yet it was an idea. That idea, the concept that business is something less than noble is a major inhibitor to success in business.

Think of it. We consider the hard-working American and the labor that he or she produces with his or her own two hands as “noble” – and rightly so! When, though, did that hard-working American become limited to the factories, fields, and mechanic shops? What about the men and women who build the businesses that employ many of these hard-working noblemen? Are the owners any less noble? Without a conscious consideration, I found myself thinking those thoughts and, subsequently, thinking less about the importance and nobility of my own work as a businessman.

That is changing, though. I am realizing that I have not valued the opportunities of business as I should. God has given me two eyes to see, hands to work, ears to listen, a mouth to speak, and a mind to think. He has given me the ability to work with those hands, to work hard and to do work that will bless others and be a blessing to me and my family in return.

The past 3 1/2 years of business have been the best and most challenging years of my life. I’ve undergone a lot of character development and as I have experienced those fires of growth and made choices for good, I have noticed and am continuing to notice a corollary increase in business success.

Business is noble. If you are working, you are in business, and I applaud and encourage you for that decision you made. Now, take a sanctified pride in your work. God has given you the ability to work – Do it with all your might. Put your heart into everything you do and focus on blessing those you work with – be they your drive-through customers, your lawn owners, your consulting clients, your large businesses, your government, your church, whomever – focus on blessing your customers.

I am excited to be in business. I am looking forward to what this year brings as I continue to grow, by God’s grace, in favor with God and man.

Jonathan Wold

P.S. The thrust of these thoughts came after reading the first chapter of Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Thanks to Joshua for pointing me in the book’s direction.

Taken this morning by the hospital photographer.

Taken this morning by the hospital photographer.

I’m writing as I look across the hospital room at my beautiful wife. She’s fallen asleep for a few moments, our son Jaiden, cradled in her arms. Jaiden Andrew Wold was born yesterday morning at 3:20 AM, weighing 7 pounds, 3 ounces. He is amazing.

My wife and I began our married life in a lovely home, a duplex just over 1000 square feet, with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a good sized living room, kitchen, and a garage. We lived in a nice neighborhood with plenty of good places to walk our small dog.

I earn a good income as the Marketing Director and partner in a web development company in Jasper, Indiana. On the side, my wife and I have several successful niche projects that bring in regular income as well.

I have debt, though.

You see, in the years proceeding married life I had failed to develop positive habits of money management. I was convicted on it, somewhat, but the conviction rarely led to action. I was making more money than a lot of young people my age and, unfortunately, I wasn’t taking good care of it. For a long time, my sense of budgeting was, “Oh, I’ll just make more money..”. Friends and family tried to encourage me in a better direction but I wouldn’t let it all sink in.

And so, as a young unmarried man with good income, I began acquiring credit card debt like there was no tomorrow. After all, I reasoned, I’d be paying it right off. 3 years later, I am still paying it off and I’ve spent thousands in interest. Not a very wise use of funds.

As a married man, though, I’ve been humbled and, thankfully, begun to realize the great responsibility I have to wisely manage the income I’m blessed with. I’ve also been convicted that I should not be carrying around this high load of debt and have begun working extra hard to remove it from our lives. My dear wife has been very loving and supportive through it all and, bringing no debt to the marriage, has accepted my debt as her own and is working with me to take it off our shoulders.

Early in 2008, thanks to the support of a dear friend, I stopped using credit cards entirely and even gave them into my friend’s safe keeping to ensure that I wouldn’t yield in a moment of weakness.

It was hard..

At one point, in a crisis with no savings in the bank and a wedding in just a few short weeks, I took my car to the bank to apply for a loan. Providence opened the doors shortly thereafter that I didn’t need the loan, but “wow” was that a wake up call. Credit cards had given me so much “safety” and, because of that safety, I’d never really had to feel what it was like to experience financial difficulty.

That brings us to today.

With a family of 5 (2 adults, 1 dog, 1 bird, and a fish) to provide for, my wife and I have decided to turn up the heat on our finances and practice an even tighter level of economy. We’re working hard to cut out all the “extras” in our life and, as a big part of that, we’ve made the difficult decision to “downsize” our home.

Now, we’re looking at a much smaller home (Single bedroom, 1 bath, no garage). We’ve yet to see how it will all work out, but the principles are in place. Dave Ramsey has a quote from his book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness (highly recommended), which goes as follows:

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

So, we’re learning our lessons.

We moved to cash spending and started an envelope budgeting system and, though there have been some challenges, we’ve found it to be a solid step in the right direction for us.

Look forward to more posts on the subject, especially relating to “fighting debt”.

Have a wonderful rest of the day,

Jonathan Wold

Something clicked. On a brief walk in the early morning open-air, I ran through the possible topics for this morning’s entry and settled strongly on “scheduling”. On my return, I sat down with God for a few moments and, for the first time in a long time, broke down the remainder of my morning into a schedule.

I’ve been following some of the principles of more efficient time management for awhile now, but until this morning, they just hadn’t been brought together.

Last weekend I joined several of my close friends and family on the last Sabbath of Indiana family camp. While my wife and I had only been able to make it for one day, several of our friends and family members had been there for the days prior. During those days, they’d each been inspired on the topic of time management and scheduling. As a result, upon their return home, they began putting the principles into practice and working to set themselves and their homes on schedule. Their enthusiasm planted seeds of inspiration in my heart also.

A few months ago, my dear wife had put a lot of thought and energy into a schedule for our family which we then proceeded to follow faithfully for about 2-3 days. A busy school life and the slant towards unpredictability that newlyweds are often prone too was set against us and, though we recognized the definite importance, we let our schedule slide.

How many of you have experienced that before? Why is it that time management seems so difficult?

Several years ago (and a few of you faithful readers may recall this) I put a lot of energy into a “mastery of time management”. I had good intentions and did make apparent progress, but I was lacking a few critical ingredients.

As a Christian I now understand it my God-given responsibility to be a good steward of the time and energy He’s given me. To experience continual success, as a husband and as a businessman, I must be a master of the time God has allotted me and not a servant to it.

It’s quite a challenge. It can and must be done, though.

Here’s an outline of the schedule that I’ve set this morning.

4:00 AM – Arise and shine. Get up and begin my morning prayer and study time.

5:00 AM – Prayer and study ends. Go for a short walk. Return and plan the remainder of the morning.

5:30 AM – For the next 2 hours, my time is spent between answering emails, blogging, and working on side projects. Over the next few weeks, I will continue to focus on improving how this particular block of time is spent.

7:30 AM – Walk with my wife.

8:00 AM – Breakfast and preparation for work. Leave around 8:40.

9:00 AM – After prayer, work begins at our office in Jasper, Indiana.

Getting up at 4 AM can be a challenge my friends. Some of you have tried it and, like me, after a good night’s rest, wouldn’t ever think of starting your day another way. Even with good intentions, though, and a recognition of the potential that the early morning offers, it’s not an easy thing.

Each night before going to bed, I pray that God would wake me up the next day and, very importantly, that He would give me the desire to get up. The warmth of bed is inviting when your eyes first open, especially on these cold fall and winter mornings. If I don’t get up immediately, my eyes will close and I will sleep.

God has never let me down. He always seems to know exactly how much sleep I need. Since I began the habit 2 years ago, even on days when I had early morning appointments, I have never had to use an alarm clock. There’s something jarring and unhealthy about the alarm clock suddenly pulling us out of restful sleep into a state of unhappy alertness. In my study of the Scriptures I found testimonies of others that relied on God to wake them up morning by morning (Isaiah 50:4) and I decided to exercise that same faith and rely on God to wake me up. Alarm clock free for all this time, I get much better sleep and no longer dread the early morning hours. Try it and see for yourself.

And with that, I’m off to start on my next morning project. I’ll continue to keep you posted on my progress with scheduling and I look forward to hearing your personal reports as well.

Have a wonderful new day,

Jonathan Wold