For almost 25 years, I’ve participated in a 5:30 a. m. cycling class, three days a week at my fitness center. Some days, I can hardly motivate myself to roll out of bed when the alarm goes off, and sometimes I’m a little late getting there, but attending this class is so much a part of my life, and my routine, I feel strange for the rest of the day if I don’t go.
Discipline isn’t much of a priority for people in our world. Lack of discipline is evident in everything from what goes into mouths and what comes out of them to anger issues. But discipline extends to all areas of life, not just controlling the amount you eat, what you say, and violent expression of emotion.
Here are some key elements for establishing and maintaining discipline:
In order to be successful with discipline, you have to assign it a place of value. Most people do not expend time and energy on that which they don’t value, so discipline has to be a priority. Often value is given to things in life that really don’t deserve it. Do you value comfort or pleasure more than your health or spiritual growth? Think about what you value most and determine if, or where, discipline fits on your list.
It’s not unusual to encounter people who are all out with discipline in one area of their lives, but place no value on it in other areas. I know a person who walks on the treadmill over two hours every day, yet I wonder if this regime isn’t more about obsession or control than discipline.
The areas of importance in life go as far back as Messianic Law—heart, soul, strength, and mind—yet many leave spiritual discipline totally out of their lives. If you’re disciplined in only one area, you’re missing balance. When you exhaust yourself in one area, you have no energy for discipline in other areas.
Embrace the Dailyness of Discipline
Although it may not feel like it, discipline is your friend. Discipline provides structure for your life and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Discipline helps you set and accomplish goals. If you can realize the benefits of discipline, it’s easier to incorporate into your life.
Implement an Action Plan
What is the area in your life that is most lacking discipline? Have you given up on exercise because it requires time and effort? Are you overeating to soothe anxiety or as a form of reward? Have you stopped challenging your mind, opting instead for endless hours of television? Are you spiritually starved, failing to spend time daily in prayer and Bible study? Are you doing anything to foster creativity?
Take time to assess the areas where you need discipline. Make a list and assign priority. Then come up with an action plan and start it right away. Don’t prolong your assessment or drag out the creation of an plan. Starting is half the battle; implementing is the other half.
Cultivate the Habit
Discipline is not something that comes easily for most people. You have to stick with it until it becomes habit and most give up before that point. Often, it’s easy to cultivate a bad habit, but more challenging to establish a good one. It’s been said it takes 30 days to create a habit. Give it a try. Once you hit the 30 day mark, see if you can push on for another month. Then go from there.
Build in Wiggle Room
We all need a respite from time-to-time, but when you take a break from discipline, be careful it doesn’t extend indefinitely. I usually take Sundays off from the rigorous level of exercise I do the other six days of the week, but I still do something to get my heart rate up, burn some calories, and stimulate my mind. When you take advantage of built in wiggle room, make sure you have some form of accountability to get back on track. Don’t let wiggle turn into a wobble that wrecks your resolve.
Excuses come in a multi-purpose variety pack: I’m tired. It’s hard. I can’t. It won’t make any difference. I’m waiting until this or that. I’m too busy. I’m just not motivated.
Excuses thwart forward motion. Make a decision to move beyond complacency. Begin by challenging yourself to incorporate discipline into at least one area of your life. Commit to it. Look for and expect positive results and enjoy the rewards of discipline.
“At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God” (Hebrews 12:11 MSG).
What is your biggest challenge in maintaining discipline?