“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” -Galatians 5:22-23
For most people, the word discipline conjures up images of flavorless diet plans, 5am alarm clocks, and failed New Year’s resolutions. It can seem unattainable, like something only super athletes and CEO’s figure out, and it may even be associated with the shame of unsuccessful attempts at change.
Although it doesn’t seem very fun, we all know discipline is good for us. A 2013 study showed that people who are highly self-disciplined experience more happiness and satisfaction in their lives than those who aren’t. They are better able to make smart decisions that lead to life goals being met, and they avoid the conflict of impulsive but harmful decisions.
Here is some great news: you can build discipline and improve your life, and it’s not as complicated as you think! Discipline isn’t just for drill sergeants and valedictorians. In fact, all of us have a purpose here on earth, and developing will allow you to live in your fullest potential.
So what are you waiting for? Here are 10 practical ways to get started.
1. Find a partner
Improving your life takes hard work, but having a buddy can make the process easier.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
There is strength in numbers. A partner can keep you accountable on those days you feel like skipping your commitment; simply knowing that you will have to give a report can be an extra incentive to keep you on track.
2. Write your goals down
Experts agree having your goals on paper makes a difference! Write those goals out and put them somewhere you will see them. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
When you get to day 27 and you haven’t seen the results you want yet, you’ll be very tempted to throw in the towel. Eat that bowl of ice cream. Give up on the business idea. Skip that therapy session.
Remind yourself constantly what your goals are. Don’t forget what you’re aiming for.
The word “remember” is found in the Bible 240 times. God knows we are prone to forgetting! Constantly remember your goals and why you desire them, and you will stay on track.
3. Start with small things
Many of us get bogged down by massive goals. The size of our goals may be so overwhelming that we never even muster the courage to begin working on them. Breaking your goal into bite-sized chunks isn’t as glamorous, but it’s a lot more effective.
Say you want to run a marathon. That’s a big, glamorous goal. If you’ve never run further than a mile in your life but decide to sign up for a marathon next week, you’re going to be in trouble. The likelihood of accomplishing your goal is slim to none.
Instead, break it into small steps! For example, you could put a 2-mile run on the calendar three mornings a week. Do that for a month, then begin gradually increasing your distance.
Focusing on small, realistic changes will allow you to keep the promises you’ve kept to yourself. As you do this, your self-discipline will get stronger and stronger. Before you know it you’ll be ready for that marathon, both literally and metaphorically!
4. Pray and ask God
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)
The Bible says we have a father who desires to give us good gifts. If you are lacking in anything — including discipline — ask God!
Some of us believe that God roots against us. That He brings temptations into our lives to keep us from reaching goals, making our lives difficult just to spite us.
Or that we have to muster up our own discipline and finally prove to God that we have what it takes. That we’re worthy of His attention and help.
But Scripture tells us we have a kind and gracious Father who wants us to experience joy! If a lack of discipline is preventing you from living fully, ask God for it!
5. Get real about what you want.
Think about and write down your dreams. Write down exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish by being more disciplined. Then, imagine how it would feel to actually accomplish that dream. Visualize it. Stir up desire for it!
Many Christians are uncomfortable with that word: desire. We associate it with sinful desire. But the Bible actually speaks highly of the true desires in our hearts. Psalm 37:4 famously says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Think about it this way. You might desire that cupcake, but you know it isn’t good for you. Your true desire is to lose weight and be healthy. You know this true desire is good for you; you really want it!
Stir up those true desires. The ones you know are good.
God longs to fulfill your deepest desires! As you picture those desires and get excited
about them, you will be fueled to do the work necessary to make them a reality.
6. Get real about what you don’t want.
Now use the same method to imagine what your life will be like if you don’t implement that discipline. Visualize it. Feel how painful it will be if you don’t make any changes!
Let that motivate you anytime you feel like quitting.
7. Treat yourself
Humans aren’t robots; they aren’t designed for discipline 24/7. Giving yourself little rewards for all your efforts can make the process more enjoyable. It can also be an extra incentive to stay on track!
For example, if you’re trying to be disciplined by waking up at 6am every morning, give yourself a guilt-free sleep-in once a week. Or buy those expensive coffee beans you like.
8. Make temptation more difficult
When you set out to implement discipline and change a habit, inevitably moments will come when you feel tired, discouraged, and ultimately like giving up. If a temptation presents itself right then, you might not be strong enough to stick to the plan.
You can help prevent this from happening by removing easy temptation from your life.
If you’re on a diet, get rid of those sweets in the fridge. If you’re taking a break from social media, delete the app from your phone. If you’re budgeting, only bring cash when you shop for new clothes.
Make it more difficult for yourself to give in by removing temptation!
9. Rest regularly
To implement discipline, physical energy is important. When you are well-rested, you are less prone to mood swings or fatigue, both of which make discipline more difficult.
Genesis 2:1-3 tells us that God rested on the seventh day of creation. Rest is important to our Father! Just think: God designed humans to sleep for almost a third of their whole lives!
So stop feeling guilty about rest. Your productivity and willpower will thank you.
10. Forgive yourself quickly when you make a mistake
When you’re setting out to improve your life with discipline, you’re going to make mistakes. More than one. You’ll hit that snooze button too many times. You’ll watch a Netflix show instead of working on your business. You’re going to fail.
When you fail, don’t beat yourself up. It seems counterintuitive, but dwelling in guilt or shame often makes us more vulnerable to temptation, not less. When we believe we are a failure, we start acting like a failure.
We have a heavenly Father who is always merciful. He is patient and loving. Consider the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32:
A son leaves his family and squanders his inheritance, failing to practice discipline in any area of his life. When this lifestyle leads to poverty and dissatisfaction, he decides to return home and beg for a place among his father’s servants. But the father receives his son with joy, excitement, and forgiveness. He throws a party for him!
God is for you! If you fail, don’t give up. Don’t throw out the whole diet because you eat a cupcake one night. Just keep going. As your discipline is strengthened, backed by the unconditional love and support of your Father, the “cupcakes” in your life will become less and less tempting.