Authored by Dia
Most people want to be successful in life, yet not all of us achieve success. Why? What is it that makes some people more successful than others? Albert Gray, who authored The Common Denominator of Success, wrote, “The secret of success of every man who has ever been successful lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” Another word for “forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do” is self-discipline. Successful people have learned the value of self-discipline, and use it in order to actualize their dreams.
Self-discipline is the ability to take action regardless of how you feel. It’s making a conscious decision to do something and then following through on it. With self-discipline you can beat procrastination, addiction, or any other negatives that decrease the quality of your life and hold you back from achieving what you dream of. But without self-discipline and perseverance, your best intentions will never be realized.
So how do you get it?
It’s simple, really; much like a muscle, it increases the more you use it. The more you employ self-discipline, the more self-discipline you will have to work with.
Exercise and fitness analogies work well when thinking of self-discipline. Just as each individual has a different level of fitness, so there are different levels of self-discipline. Almost everybody has at least a little bit of self-discipline, and you can always develop more. If you’re lacking discipline right now, you can use what discipline you have to create more. For example, back to the exercise analogy: if my goal were to be able to do 50 guy push-ups without a break, I would first need to build my muscle strength by doing fewer sets of push-ups. Maybe I would start by doing five push-ups each day for one week. Once I’d mastered that, I’d up it to ten push-ups, then 15, then 20. You see where I’m going?
To build self-discipline, we just have to tackle things near the limit of what we can accomplish, and once we successfully reach that limit, set a new limit for ourselves. Maybe you want to have more self-discipline when it comes to your personal schedule—going to bed at a decent time or waking up at a certain time. Let’s say that right now you’re waking up at 7:30, just a half hour before your school starts, and you really want to wake up earlier—at 6 a.m.—so that you can fit in exercise and a shower before school. Rather than going cold turkey and setting your alarm clock for six tomorrow morning, try setting the alarm for just 20 or 30 minutes earlier. Once you’re able to consistently get up at 7:00, then set your alarm for 6:30, until you eventually reach your goal of 6:00. If you start with a challenge within your reach and ability right now and then progress and work up from there, you’ll probably find that you are able to reach goals that previously felt impossible or much too hard to attain.
Often you’ll find that the things you need self-discipline for are things that you don’t want to do. I love running, but it wasn’t always a “love” for me. I first decided to start running because I wanted to get into a regular exercise routine, and running seemed up my alley. At the beginning, though, I had more bad days than good days.—Bad days being days when I just plain old didn’t want to run, or days when I felt too tired to run, or days when there was something else that I would rather have been doing than beating the pavement. But I forced myself to keep with it, and today I’m still at it and love it! So I do believe that you can grow to enjoy something that you know is good for you, if you keep with it.
As a runner I’ve also found that when I’m training for a marathon, I can run faster, farther, and for longer than during times when I’m not training. If I take a few months off my regular running routine, my fitness level decreases and I lose some ground I previously gained. And it’s the same with self-discipline. When you apply self-discipline consistently to any area of life, it gets easier the more you do it.
Gaining self-discipline is not ever going to happen overnight; it’s a long-term process. Don’t push yourself too hard or expect overnight transformation. Every January gyms are full of people trying to achieve their fitness goals for the new year, but self-discipline is still showing up at the gym in September.
If you can only run two miles right now, you can only run two miles. If you can only cut out one unnecessary snack from your day, or get to bed only 15 minutes earlier, or study only 10 minutes longer, or whatever it is that you’re striving for, then that’s all you can do and there’s no shame in it. Start where you are at and keep with it, and you’ll find that where you are at will improve until you are getting closer and closer to your personal goals.
Don’t compare yourself to others, either; you have your own race to run. I’ve found that running a marathon is a humbling experience. It’s sometimes surprising to see the people who pass me up. Once, while training for a trail run, I was gingerly climbing down some steep rocks, and a man who I guessed to have been on the other side of 50 literally skipped down the rocks like a mountain goat! He was obviously many years ahead of me in practice and hard work, and his ability was far superior to mine. I thought, “Wow, compared to him I’m really awful at this! But if I keep doing it, one day I’ll be there.” As author Jon Acuff said, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
Now I know that self-discipline can sound like a lot of hard work, and who wants to work when there’s so much fun to be had! Believe it or not, when you’re self-disciplined there is also time for fun. But more importantly, this is a decision you have to make as far as what you want from life. What do you want your life experience to be? If you have great goals and ideas for your life and you’re eager to accomplish those, then you’ll find that self-discipline is a can’t-live-without buddy that helps to make even tough things doable. Alex and Brett Harris, the teenage authors of Do Hard Things, wrote:
When we fail to do hard things, we set ourselves up to fall short of our true, God-given potential. Even worse, we act as if God is not worthy of our effort—or as if He is unable to accomplish through us what He has called us to do. These are strong words, but we say them because there is something we want you to avoid.
We want you to avoid being like the lazy servant in the Parable of the Talents, who failed to invest his Master’s gifts and was thrown out into the street.
We say this because we want you to glorify God. And God isn’t glorified when His children limit themselves to what comes easily for them. He isn’t glorified when His children aren’t willing to do hard things.
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ.”1 And that includes the tough stuff that we’d rather not do!
You have been given talents and abilities by God, and you are going to need self-discipline to hone and then use them; as you do, you will find fulfillment and satisfaction.
Maybe you’d want to take some time today to identify the areas in your life where you wish you could have more self-discipline. Maybe it’s a scheduling thing, where you wish you could keep to a good schedule. Or maybe it’s a health thing—you wish you would exercise regularly, or eat more healthfully. Maybe it’s a school thing—you wish you could study more effectively or for a longer period without getting distracted. Or maybe it’s a hobby thing—you wish you could make time for practicing that instrument, or studying up on that skill that interests you, etc. Identify that area in your life, and then write down exactly what holds you back from reaching the goal you have for yourself. Write down the excuses you give yourself, things like “I don’t have time for it,” or “healthy food tastes yucky,” or “the evenings are the only times when I can chat my friends.” You have to know what’s holding you back before you can counter it and change things.
Now that you can see exactly what your excuses are for not reaching your goal, write down something you can do that challenges each excuse and finds a way around it. For the excuse “I don’t have time,” maybe you would write something like “I’ll make the time in the first 20 minutes after I’m home from school.” Or for the excuse “healthy food tastes yucky,” you might write, “I’ll start with healthy food that I enjoy, like my favorite fruits and yummy vegetables.” And so on. It’ll take self-discipline to make this list and it’ll take self-discipline to stick with your commitments. But the kind of satisfaction you get from investing time, work, and discipline in achieving something that is important to you is long-lasting.
Remember, if it’s important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you will find an excuse.
I’ll end with something the apostle Paul wrote, which I think can apply quite well to self-discipline:
Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”2
1 King James Version.
2 New International Version.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International