Book Review: Your Future Self Will Thank You
Nobody—not even Christians—perfectly exercise self-control. That is why Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible & Brain Science is so helpful. In this book, Drew Dyck presents research and reflection on self-control, not only from a Christian perspective but from the vantage point of his own struggle to maintain self-control.
The underlying argument of the book is that self-control is foundational to living a virtuous life. He explains, “Self-control isn’t just one good character trait, a nice addition to the pantheon of virtues. It’s foundational. Not because it’s more important than the other virtues, but because the others rely upon it” (15). He contrasts self-control as the foundation to the good life with other alternatives, especially intelligence and self-esteem. The latter are not inherently virtuous or spiritual; the former is because it finds a place among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).
This is where Dyck’s explanation of self-control veers from the mainstream: rather than being a product of mere self-empowered exertion, self-control is “something that grows when your life is rooted in divine reality” (19). He readily admits that our understanding of self-control can be aided by scientific and phycological studies (16), but he also argues that we cannot truly understand self-control outside of a biblical explanation. In this explanation, self-control goes beyond simply resisting urges. He writes, “when the Bible mentions self-control, it usually has something bigger in mind. Yes, it involves the ability to resist doing something you shouldn’t. But it also has a proactive element. It refers to the ability to do something you should” (26). More specifically, he defines self-control as “the ability to do the right thing, even when you don’t feel like it” (33).
I agree with Dyck throughout that self-control is foundational to living a virtuous life. However, he almost approaches the topic as if self-control is everything needed to live a virtuous life because everything grows out of self-control. For example: “Self-control, then, is about listening and obeying. It’s not self-determined. It means submitting every decision we make to God. It’s about surrendering. When we do this consistently, it’s called self-control” (33). In this way, self-control becomes a catch-all category for everything that is involved in the Christian life with the addition of consistency. He does, then, effectively present the importance of self-control and accurately distinguish between right and wrong motivations in seeking self-control. But he also elevates self-control higher than the Bible’s own descriptions of self-control, making it out to be everything all at once.
We could, of course, do this for any number of virtues. We could say that love is the foundation of living a virtuous, successful life. Everything else grows out of love. Or, perhaps, patience. If we temper everything we do with patience we will be able to more effectively live out our Christian discipleship. The reality is that the Holy Spirit is foundational to all of the virtues—including self-control. Each virtue, in turn, complements, reinforces, and propels the development of all of the other virtues. In this book, Dyck does a superb job of demonstrating how this one virtue, self-control, stimulates the others. The problem, then, is not so much with Dyck’s application of self-control to every area of life, but with his elevation of self-control as the silver bullet to the Christian life.
Nevertheless, in this book Dyck provides an accessible and practical aid for cultivating the virtue of self-control. I would happily recommend this book, above most others in its category, to fellow Christians and friends seeking to grow in the virtuous life. For those who don't have the self-control to read the book (humor intended), a Drew Dyck and co-host Jeremy Slager walk though the basic contents of the book in the aptly named podcast, Your Future Self Will Thank You.
See below for some of the most thought-provoking and memorable quotes from the book:
- We tend to think of self-control as a strictly human enterprise, but Scripture describes self-control as a product of being connected to God. It’s something that grows when your life is rooted in divine reality. In fact, if it’s missing, your faith may be a ruse. No fruit, no root (19).
- The Bible portrays self-control not as restrictive but rather as the path to freedom. It enables us to do what’s right—and ultimately what’s best for us (20).
- Ultimately, mastering yourself is only accomplished by being mastered by God (32).
- Being self-controlled enables us to suspend our interests enough to truly love others (41).
- Gradual beginnings might not be as exciting, but they are more effective (70).
- If habits are truly that powerful, the key to living a holy life isn’t simply to out-battle temptation at every turn. It’s to build righteous patterns into your life (98–99).
- Ultimately, it’s the habits that are built into our lives that shape (for better or worse) who we end up becoming . . . Habits start small. They begin with little actions. But over time they snowball. Eventually they change the landscape of our lives (111).
- So we need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth (146).
- Once you’ve conditioned your brain to require constant entertainment, quieting your soul to commune with God becomes nearly impossible (181).
- We tend to think of self-control as a solitary virtue; it’s just me squaring off against temptation. But the people we spend time with dramatically affect our ability to regular our behavior (203).
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