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Voice & Vision Blog

Partial Eclipse (of Self-Control!)

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I wanted to see the solar eclipse earlier this week, but the whole thing snuck up on me, so I didn’t think to get the special protective glasses until it was too late to find a pair. I remembered making one of those pinhole contraptions out of a shoebox and aluminum foil to watch an eclipse when I was in elementary school, but I somehow knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with viewing the event in such a primitive way now.

On Monday, the day of the eclipse, I finished a project I was working on and I wanted to get out of the house. I had a few errands to run and then I planned to go to the gym. (I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of going at least twice a week, and I find that if I go on Monday, I’m more likely to go again later in the week.) But I was afraid that when the eclipse occurred, I wouldn’t be able to resist looking at it—especially if I happened to be near other people who were looking. So I stayed at home.

I texted with my daughters, joking with them about my self-control worries. One suggested I watch the coverage on TV. The other suggested I use my cellphone camera, in selfie mode, to watch the event; that way I could position myself with my back to the sun, looking down at the screen without worrying my eyes would accidentally veer to the sun’s rays (which I imagined were eagerly waiting to scorch my retinas!).   

I took my cellphone outside and waited for the big moment, but as it turned out, it was too cloudy here to see anything anyway. Crisis averted. I was a little disappointed, but my vision was intact.

And the whole thing got me thinking . . .

I knew the eclipse was coming. I had plenty of time to make a plan to avoid hurting my eyes. Wouldn’t it be great if every time I was in danger of making an unhealthy decision, I’d receive advance warning? If every time my neighbor was on the prowl—that neighbor who sees all and knows all and can’t wait to gossip about it all—a red light appeared over my front door, instructing me to stay inside until she was safely out of range? Or if, as I prepared to turn the key in my car ignition, a dashboard bell chimed, indicating that I should wait for five minutes before pulling out, so as to avoid interacting with a bad driver who would “make” me lose my temper? Or if a loud, authoritative voice blared, “Step away from the snack aisle” as I approached the grocery store danger zone where that delicious, puffy corn snack lives—the one I can’t seem to keep myself from devouring?

Yes. That would be great.

Unfortunately, I have no such warning systems.

But I do have self-control. I just have to decide to use it.

Because I have self-control, I don’t have to avoid my gossipy neighbor. I can chat with her and when she begins veering into territory I’m uncomfortable with, I can steer her to a better topic; asking about her grandchildren usually does the trick.

Because I have self-control, when a crummy driver makes a dangerous or discourteous maneuver, I don’t have to react badly by laying on the horn or yelling at him. I can cluck my tongue and roll my eyes and maybe say a little prayer that he won’t cause an accident down the road.

And because I have self-control, I don’t have to avoid the snack aisle at the grocery store. I can choose to either forgo buying my favorite puffy corn snack, or I can buy it and divide it out into single-serving bags so I’m better able to limit how much I eat.

I’m realizing that self-control is like a muscle: the more I use it, the stronger it gets. 

And the stronger it gets, the easier it is to use.

Exercising self-control makes me like and respect myself more.

And when I feel good about myself, self-control seems to happen naturally.

So I’ll make an effort to nurture this Self-Control/Self-Respect cycle.

I’ll let you know how it goes.
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