For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. —Hebrews 12:11
When it comes to developing good habits, I often feel like the laziest person on the face of the planet. I want to read the Bible for my own personal study, not just as a part of researching for my ministry job. I want to exercise regularly, but I can't make myself get up an hour earlier than everyone else and use that time to do it. I want to write every day, but my brain cannot function in the morning, and by evening, I am too exhausted to string words into coherent sentences. How can a working mom with a house full of needy beings get anything beyond the survival essentials done?
Exercising self-discipline takes proper motivation and time and repetition and steadfastness, then wash, rinse, repeat. And having someone to cheer you on never hurts.
Okay, I'm not a complete failure when it comes to dedication to good habits. Since my kids started school, I have made it a stringent rule to finish my work by the time they get home so I can focus on them. For almost four years, I've hosted a weekly get together for a group of young people God has placed in my life. For six years, I participated in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, which added six new novels to my original works. For 365 consecutive days, I took a photo a day for Project 365
. Not terribly shabby really.
Thus, my frustration about developing good habits. I know I can
do it. Seems I'm just too lazy most of the time. I desperately want to have self-discipline in different areas, yet I must not want it badly enough to start. "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied" (Proverbs 13:4). Can you relate? How do we get out of this funk and start reaping the benefits of self-discipline? Let's start by asking some pointed questions.
What are your priorities?
One thing I have realized is that the only good habits that last are the ones I place the most importance on. As you can tell from my list above, people are a high priority to me — my kids, my friends. That doesn't mean personal Bible study, exercise, or writing are not valuable disciplines to develop. But I do need to figure out where they go on my priority list.
Scripture says we need to have our priorities straight if we are going to accomplish anything worthwhile (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:34; 1 Timothy 3:5). Jesus tells us exactly what our first two priorities should be in Matthew 22:37-39, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The J.O.Y. acronym my kids learned in Sunday school helps me properly prioritize: J
Prayer. Bible study. Worship. If my relationship with God is weak, then how can I possibly be a mentor to anyone else, much less accomplish things for my own good?
2. Serving others.
We need to use our gifts to help people with the purpose of glorifying God (1 Peter 4:10-11). Truly, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). There is nothing I enjoy more than lavishing love and hospitality on the people who walk through my front door.
3. Taking care of our own mental and physical health.
Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be well cared for so we can be ready to attend to our top two priorities when called (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God has great things planned for us to do, and the healthier we are overall, the better equipped we will be to do it (Psalm 139:14-16).
What's your motivation?
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of developing a new good discipline is discovering our true motivations. I'm not talking about the pretty, sugar-coated, politically-correct motivations we post in a status. No, I mean the real
motivation behind the desire.
If I am honest, one of the main reasons I want to exercise is because I am sick of my body. It doesn't always do what I want it to do, and it certainly doesn't look the way I want it to. But will this motivation drive me when I'm feeling tired or discouraged? Unlikely. It's too negative to start with and will only feed unhappiness with self-pity.
Years ago, a dear friend and I used to work out together three or four times a week, and we did great. But schedules and life situations changed, and we both fell back into old habits. In recent days, she has been growing into a 5K runner — something she never thought possible. Here's what she discovered about her motivations:
My goal is not what I used to think it was. Any time I would work out, my goal was to be thin, to then be considered beautiful. I know a lot of girls have this problem. I am still one of them. But that is not my goal. Now, that's just a perk that is slowly fading into the back of my mind.
I was stuck in a box of my own design earlier this year. [The box] told me that I couldn't run. That I was stupid for even trying. That I looked ridiculous. That I would never see change.
That box is gone now! I can run. I did 5+ miles in one day! I'm not stupid. I've gotten smarter about my body and my eating. It doesn't matter how I look. I know I look sweaty, dirty, and red-faced — that's because I am running a race!
This girl. I am so proud of her, and she positively inspires me.
2 Ingredients for Self-Discipline
Once we have our priorities straight and proper motivations in place, it's time to pull out two major tools: dedication and accountability.
If you personally do not want to do something, it's just not going to happen. You must have the willingness and resolve to follow through — at least enough to take the first steps. Until you have fully convinced yourself that you will go forward, you won't. And that is probably the hardest part to get down, and definitely the hardest part to maintain.
It's too easy to say "This is the last time" or "I'll start tomorrow." But then every time becomes the "last time" or tomorrow never comes. Sure, I want to get up and walk the dog before everyone wakes up, but I want another 45 minutes of sleep a lot more. Indeed it is true that while the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
Once you have become fully determined to do something, you need a trusted, reliable friend who will hold you accountable on those days when you forget your previously adamant resolutions. Those days will assuredly come, but an accountability partner can encourage you to remember your initial goals and help you persevere.
Better yet, find someone who desires the same goal as you for themselves, then you can be partners on the road to self-discipline. As long as you both
don't flake out on the same day, it could be an excellent way to challenge each other to stay the course. My running friend was a wonderful co-supporter when it was all I could do to drag myself to the gym day after day.
When it comes down to it, when the rubber hits the road, we've got to stick to our resolutions in those tiny moments of the day when we're faced with a choice: do it or don't. Don't say "I'll read my Bible later," just do it now. Don't say "I'll invite my hurting friend to dinner sometime," just make that commitment now. Don't say "I'll get up tomorrow to take a walk," just go for a walk right now. Just do it, and do it now
I feel like I'm preaching to myself even as I write this. Hmm... I'd better go take a stroll around the building. May God strengthen the resolve in all our hearts to change for the better, and may He do it now
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." —Philippians 4:13