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Self-Control is the Way to Go (Thoughts)

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (November 10, 2016)

Watch your thoughts for they become your emotions; Watch your emotions for they become your words, Watch your words for they become your actions, Watch your actions for they become your habits, Watch your habits for they become your character, Watch your character for it leads to your destiny.

I recently had a graduate of mine who is now in his teenage years show me a photo of the above poem. He had learnt it at my school about 4 years ago when we were teaching students the importance of having self-control in different aspects of our lives. 4 years on, he shared it with his boarding school class and got the praise of his teacher. What impressed me most was that he could remember the poem so many years on and to share it with others as being something that is important to him.

And in the next few installments of this column, I shall go through the areas that are highlighted in the poem about areas that we need to have self-control in.

And it all starts with thoughts. Our thoughts determine the way we feel and act so to have good emotions, actions and habits, we should first have good thoughts. Our thoughts are like the source from which the river of words and actions flows. And because our words and actions can affect others and ourselves positively or negatively, it’s important we have good thoughts.

So ‘watching our thoughts’ means to have self-control in the thoughts we have. I sometimes feel like my mind is a wild herd of sheep running around in different directions and having self-control means to have a shepherd with a crook gather the sheep so that they are all going in the one and correct direction. These thoughts have to go in the direction of optimism.

And in every situation, no matter how bad it is, it is possible to have self-control to lead our thoughts in a positive way. For example, imagine you wake up one morning and there is no hot water for your shower. One way to think about it is to think that it’s such an inconvenience and to get upset over it. But with self-control, thoughts could be reined to being positive and the thought could be to think of alternatives of where to get a hot shower and be thankful that someone can come and fix the shower. With negative thoughts, it will likely that you’d have negative emotions of frustration and end up having a bad day; but with positive thoughts, the rest of the day would be more enjoyable.

Teaching our children to have self-control in their thoughts is of utmost importance. They will, without a doubt, face adversities and challenges in life and the way they deal with them will depend on the way they handle their thoughts. Will they face an adversity and think that the situation is hopeless or will they face it with positivity and hope? Will they deal with a challenge by thinking that they are a victim of the challenge or think of it as a learning opportunity? The situation remains the same but it will be their thoughts that determine how they react. So in different situations are children face, let’s teach them how to rein their thoughts in, like how a good shepherd reins his sheep together, towards positive thoughts.

But it all starts with us as parents and adults around them. We first need to have self-control over our thoughts before we can tell our children to. And often, our self-control may be necessary in situations pertaining to our children. When they are acting up or behaving poorly, that we first need to have self-control in the way we think about them, to have positive thoughts still, so that we can help them constructively.

So let’s fill our minds with positive thoughts that uplift us and others. As in the book of Phillipians, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”


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