Authored by Chris Cedar (a guest contribution)
What do a record-breaking tightrope-walker, a martial arts expert, and a successful businessman have in common?
They have learned self-discipline. In each aspect of their profession, discipline is the key.—In allocating time to practice, honing their skills, and in some cases giving up things in their diet or personal life to achieve their goal.
Self-discipline, as manifested in such people, is more than “holding back” from some things or buckling down to do what is necessary out of duty. It is a means to an end—an end they reach for with every bit of their being. Reaching their goals means so much to them that the effort and sacrifice of leading a disciplined life is almost a non-issue. They are willing to push themselves to the limits of endurance to achieve success. And clearly, their discipline shows in their achievements.
Most of us can probably improve our level of self-discipline. True, you may not aspire to cross a chasm on a rope, but how about getting through that pile of homework on your desk, meeting your fitness goals, or learning how to manage your time? Self-discipline is not really about denying oneself; it is, in fact, liberating oneself. A friend once said to me, “Only when you’re truly disciplined can you be truly free.” A simple sentence of wholesome wisdom, and it changed my viewpoint completely. On another occasion I met with a manager of an international chain store, and he told me, “Success is not only about what you want to do. It’s about what you must do to achieve.” When you’re self-disciplined, you align your energies with your priorities, and thus you’re able to go beyond things that might have limited you or held you back before, and achieve your goals.
For me, one word has been a major foe to self-discipline in my own life. That word is “later.” In a world where we are bombarded with so many interesting things to do, read, or see—with a growing need to “take time for yourself” and “do what you want to do”—self-discipline can easily take a blow. I regularly find myself sitting in front of my computer, engaged in several interesting pastimes. What’s wrong with this is not the activities themselves, but the fact that none of them are what I originally sat down to work on. I have then become another casualty of the “later” mindset, having gotten sidetracked from my main goal in favor of an “insta-interest.”
Many of us complain of a lack of time. In reality, we all have the same amount of time each day—24 hours a day, no more, no less. So how is it that some people accomplish so much more in a day than others? You see, it’s not about how much time you have, but how you use the time you have. Believe me, if there is something I want to do, I make time for it, no problem. How do I find this time? Oh, easily enough; I just say “later” to a few things on my to-do list. Then I go back and bemoan how little time I have to reach my goals. How ridiculous, and yet, how common.
When I say “align our energy with our priorities,” I mean that we need to put clear, focused effort toward our goals, plans, hopes, and dreams. If we don’t have a clear vision of what we want and put in the effort to work toward it, then it doesn’t matter how much time, desire, or even talent we have; we won’t achieve our goals.
Jackson Brown, Jr., whose books have sold millions of copies worldwide, understood this problem and stated it in this striking way:
“Talent, without discipline, is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backward, or sideways.”
On the other hand, if we direct our energies in the right direction, toward the things that are important to us, then we will achieve powerful forward movement.
Of course, there is a fine line between seeing progress and expecting too much, too quickly. Part of self-discipline is to keep at whatever you’re doing, even when you don’t see speedy results. There is a time to keep pushing oneself to do more and be better, and there is a time to be content with how far you’ve come and carefully plan your next step. A self-disciplined man or woman knows how to walk the line between steady success and manic obsession to achieve. It takes discipline to make sure we use our time and energy wisely, and it takes discipline to hold ourselves back from pushing too hard.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Nothing that is worth something can be gained without putting in the effort, and often that takes significant time. In the end, what matters is not the size of our goal or how long it takes to get there, but how committed we are to reaching it. It’s largely our own choices that determine who we are and what we do.
Author and lecturer Wayne Dyer has this viewpoint: “Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”
If we choose to be motivated and disciplined, we will succeed and be fulfilled. However, if we choose to be apathetic about life, then sadly we’ll never see record-breaking results. Self-discipline is just that: discipline of oneself. Proverbs 15:32 says, “He who ignores discipline despises himself.”1 In other words, it shows that we value who we are and have self-respect when we’re self-disciplined.
Like any other skill or character trait, self-discipline is best achieved through practice. We cannot hope to go from enthusiastic amateurs to pros in one day. However, one day of willing work is worth years of evasive action. If we can commit to being a little more disciplined and a little less preoccupied day by day, we’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished! Paul wrote that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit2; it’s something that we can pray for and claim God’s help with.
Jesse Owens, the first athlete to win four track-and-field gold medals at the same Olympic Games, perhaps gave a hint at his success when he said, “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”
Jesus was the ultimate example of discipline. He did what had to be done, even when it was not just hard but resulted in His death. The discipline and commitment He manifested for His cause had world-changing results.
Who knows, but if we’re willing to discipline ourselves, we can change our part of the world, too?
I have quite a few dreams of my own, and I’m working through them one at a time—such as participating in various organized runs and half-marathons, filming and editing video productions (even if it takes time to get it right), and building a website from scratch through study and the “try, try again” principle. Self-discipline has given me the chance to live a few of my dreams thus far and to dream bigger ones, much like some of those disciplined individuals I admire. If there’s one thing I’m growing to understand, it’s that my friend was right: When you are truly disciplined, you are truly free.
1 New International Version.
2 Galatians 5:22–23.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International