Building the ‘Impulse Control’ Muscle

"The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light..."

Every Wednesday we’ll post something about doctrine and recovery. Hope it helps.

Building the ‘Impulse Control’ Muscle

Giving in to sexual lust is largely about impulse control, and whether or not we’re willing to exercise it. Some men make the mistake of waiting for God to give them impulse control when, in fact, He already has.  Like an underused muscle, it may be weak, but you can strengthen it, starting today.  So I’m going to propose two simple resistance techniques you can incorporate and use daily. It will take practice, moderate effort and consistent application –that’s your part of the cooperative effort between you and God. So let’s get to it.

Distraction: Resisting Visual Triggers

Men are visual creatures, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We are constantly assessing (or “checking out”) our surroundings. So when we walk into a room, we assess the size of the room, the number of people inside, and so forth.

When you assess the environment, you’ll sometimes spot what I call a “candidate.” That’s someone who’s your type. She attracts you, and you’re drawn in by the desire to go on looking at her, enjoying both her beauty and the high that comes from lusting after her. At that moment you need something that will help you disconnect ASAP.

So you shift visual gears, by refocusing your eyes immediately to anything safe. (An object, or a person you’re not at all attracted to.) When you do that, you’re “changing channels” mentally. (Or “shifting gears,” if you prefer.) Jesus alluded to this, by the way, when He taught about the power of the eye:

“The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good,  your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body is also full of darkness.” (Luke 11: 14)

So when you refocus, you shift to something safe. Then you breathe, deeply and quietly. The value of deep breathing is that, in tough situations, it helps you regain control.  If you’re very angry and ready to pop someone, for example, a few deep breaths can calm you down. Or when you’re panicking, it’s amazing what deep breathing does to stabilize you.

Or, in this case, to cool you down and prevent stimulation from going any further. Then, as you breathe, you count.

Try it now as you read this. Put the work book down, then look at an object, inhale deeply, then count “One’ as you exhale.  Inhale again, then count “Two” as you exhale.  Do this till the count reaches five, concentrating visually on the object as you do. The entire exercise shouldn’t take more than fifteen seconds.

Simple enough?  It’s meant to be.  The Distraction Technique works for visual triggers, because it gives you a window in which you can cool down, mentally and physically, when someone (or something) stimulates you. And during that “cool down” period, you give yourself enough control to decide NOT to entertain the stimulation.

Reality Check

When you use the reality Check, you verbalize your name, the name of the people closest to you, and your primary responsibilities. You say each of these out loud, concentrating on what you’re saying. And in doing so, you throw some pretty cold water on your sexual temptation, and here’s why:

The Reality Check Diffuses Compartmentalization

When you “act out” – use porn, commit adultery, fornicate – you have to mentally block out the most important aspects of your life.  If you don’t, you’ll be hard pressed to enjoy the sin! It’s tough, you know, to masturbate to Internet pornography while thinking about God, or your wife and children.

I’ll bet you were a little repulsed by my even saying that. See? The two worlds of sexual sin and your life’s priorities (God, family, calling) can’t co-exist, so one has to be blocked out when you’re engaging the other.

I use this one frequently when I travel, since hotels can be lonely places, and I’m easily depressed when I’ve been away from my family for more than a day. So when the temptation to masturbate or mentally compromise hits, I find it very helpful to say out loud:

“My name is Joe Dallas. My wife’s name is Renee; my sons are Jody and Jeremy.  I’m a Pastoral Counselor, and I run a ministry called Genesis Counseling.”

Just saying this out loud diffuses temptation, because the people I love and the things that matter to me can’t co-exist, even in my mind, with sexual sin.

When you use the Reality Check, then, you say three things out loud:

  1. Your Name
  2. The Name of the People Most Important to You
  3. Your Life Responsibilities (Job, Ministry, Calling)

Remember, the resistance of sin is an act of worship. When you resist, you refuse to yield your body parts to an activity that you might, in fact, take some real pleasure in. But rather than conform your body to unrighteousness, you conform it to Him. And so it becomes a worship instrument.

Every time you say “no” to lust; every time you tear your eyes away from the sexy magazine cover; every time you refuse to entertain the dirty thought that just passed through your unruly brain, it’s an act of worship. It’s your own unique, meaningful hymn:

In this moment of resistance, I love you.

Here’s how I love you – by not indulging.

My body is Yours, so I say ‘no’ to whatever You hate.

And by saying ‘no’ to it, I’m saying a loving, wholehearted ‘yes’

To You.

Receive my worship.

He does, and He will. So don’t resist sexual sin just for the sake of purity, important as that is. Make training an act of worship, and see for yourself how deep and meaningful daily love through resistance can really be.


Clay | Jul 14, 2011

What great tools Joe! I've been feeling vournable lately and reading this was the golden ticket I've been praying for! God continues to use you in my life every day! Thank you for saying YES to God's calling upon your life!

Joe Dallas | Jul 14, 2011

Great hearing from you, Clay. Thanks for the feedback and encouragement - very muich appreciated. God bless.

Candrmoore | Jul 19, 2011

Excellent for women, too, not just for men.

Brent | Aug 22, 2011

Lust is a form of idolatry, by turning the table and instead offering ourselves in worship to Christ (who is the only one worthy of our worship) we change the game from resisting sin to worshiping. Resisting sin has the possibility of failure, but worshiping Christ will never result in failure. Scripture reinforces this by stating that resisting sin involves turning to Christ.

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