Too many people see life as a waiting room. People sit and wait for their names to be called. But progress in life – moving forward to maturity and effectiveness in what we do and achieve – does not come looking for us. We won’t achieve great things accidentally. Never forget, as one of my mentors taught me, “Everything worthwhile is uphill.” Achieving what you want in life takes time, effort, consistency, energy, and commitment. A word for all of this is “self-discipline.”
Self-discipline is what allows us to grow up, mature, develop, learn new skills, hone our present abilities and talents, accomplish, succeed, impact and influence those around us. If you are my age self-discipline is still needed as you work towards leaving a legacy behind when it is time to head home and meet the Master, Jesus. Self-discipline is what makes those things possible and puts success within reach – whatever your goals are and however you determine success.
Here’s the good news. Self-discipline is something you can develop. You don’t need to be born with it. In fact, few are. It is a choice you make and then keep on making. So, let spend a few minutes looking at how to develop self-discipline…
1> KNOW WHAT IS IMPORTANT
If you are having an issue with self-disciple it may be that you have not thought through what matters the most to you. You have not taken the time to sort through what is really important to you as a person. Once you have a burning “yes” inside you about what’s truly important to you, it’s very easy to say no to the unimportant. Thus you can stay focused and self-disciplined.
Most people (statistics say as many as 97% of adults) are trying to live their lives without clear, specific, written goals. This is like setting off across an unknown country without a road map. It you want to get somewhere worthwhile, we need to identify where you are going. This means knowing what is important right now in your life and then choosing to stay focused on what will help you to accomplish it.
Do you know what’;s important to you? If you have not thought it through and written it out, it’s very likely that any lack of self-discipline you’re experiencing is coming from that. The single greatest way to increase your discipline capacity is to know what’s important at this stage of your life and then aim for it with your whole heart.
2> GET RID OF EXCUSES
If discipline is the highway that takes us where we want to go in life, then excuses are exits off that highway. And there are lots of exits. I have taken many of them personally over the last five decades of ministry. Take a look at this partial list of excuses and see if you have ever found yourself saying any of them:
- I’ll start after the new year
- I don’t want to do it alone
- My spouse won’t do it with me
- I’ll do it when I finish school
- I’ll do it after the kids get out of school
- I’ll do it after the kids go back to school
- I’ll do it when I have more energy
- I’ll start it when the weather gets better!
- I’ll do it when I’m not as busy
- I’ll do it after my birthday
- I’ll do it tomorrow
- I’ll do it when I retire
- I’m too heavy – I’ll do it after I lose some weight
- I’m too old (Are you planning to get younger?)
- I’m too inexperienced
- I’m too afraid
- I’m too tired
- I don’t know how to start
How do you know something is an excuse? Ask yourself, “Would it stop me from doing something I love to do?” If it wouldn’t, it’s an excuse. Get rid of it.
Most people are not naturally disciplined in the various aspects of their life – at home, at work, or even at play. Becoming disciplined is, however, something we can learn. The first two aspects of building a daily discipline into our lives are:
1> Know what is important in your life
2> Get rid of excuses that we all make for not being disciplined
3> TAKE ACTION BEFORE YOU FEEL LIKE IT
Our culture does not help us with this. Looking around at how others are living does not motivate us to act in spite of not feeling like it. The message we hear over and over is that we should do what we feel. But what if we don’t feel like doing something? Should we wait for inspiration? In the case of writing, every experienced writer will tell you that you have to write when you don’t feel like it. Otherwise, you’ll never get much done. That has been very true in my life. So, every day I sit down in front of the computer screen and write regardless of how I am feeling.
Every person has a weak area that is especially hard to discipline. So what should you do to implement more discipline in that area and in your life in general?
A> THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT ACTING
If you don’t make the right decisions and choices and then act upon them, there will be consequences. We need to understand that truth and remind ourselves of it on a daily basis.
B> FOCUS ON DOING THE RIGHT THING JUST FOR TODAY
If you think about having to do something you don’t want to do every day for the rest of your life, it will most likely discourage you. So simply focus on today. One day at a time (a good Alcoholic’s Anonymous slogan) has worked for me for the last 40+ years. I can handle the ‘today’. So I live one day at a time.
C> MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE ELSE IN YOUR WEAK AREA
Few things are more effective in the area of self-discipline than accountability. Why? Because we all need help with our weaknesses! You need to answer to someone besides yourself. When you have only yourself to answer to, you don’t do nearly as well as you do when someone else is holding you accountable.
So, my question is: What systems do you have in place to prompt you to take the right action when you don’t feel like it? Who have you enlisted to hold you accountable? No matter how much self-discipline you have, you could benefit from ways to help you take action when it counts.
4> DON’T LET DISTRACTIONS DISTRACT YOU
People who accomplish things in life that benefit and impact others are careful what they focus on and thus what they allow or don’t allow to distract them from their primary purpose. In other words, know your priorities and stick to them. This may require learning some basic time management skills. This will require that you set boundaries and know what you should and can say “yes” to and what you must say “no” to.
Each week (and, as a result, each day) I have goals set that I want to (often need to) reach and accomplish during that specific day. That means there are many things I need to be disciplined enough to not become involved in — a number of things that I simply need to say “no” to; things that take my focus away from what really needs to be accomplished.
- I get almost daily requests to prophecy over people who are “friends” on Facebook or who connect through my ministry’s web site. The answer is always no!
- I don’t answer any phone call directly when the phone rings. I let it go to the message manager and then listen to my messages near the end of the work day and return those that need my attention.
- I don’t listen for or look at messages that come in on the various message apps. They can wait because what I have determined needs to be accomplished today is more important than what might be in those messages. They are, most often, simply a distraction.
- I run all messages for family and for ministry during one two hour period on Monday mornings when the stores are least busy.
- I schedule daily reading and research time which is a non-negotiable and cannot be replaced by anything else no matter how important.
Stephen Covey called this doing first things first. It could also be called the Crowding Out Principle. It goes like this:
If you spend all your time on highly productive tasks, by the end of the day, you will have ‘crowded out’ all the unproductive activities that might have distracted you from your real work. On the other hand, if you spend your time on low value activities, those low value activities will crowd out the time that you needed to complete the tasks that can make all the difference in your life. And the key to this attitude toward time and personal management is always self-discipline.”
Ask yourself: “What am I crowding out of my life these days?” Are you doing the unimportant or the convenient at the expense of the essential? I hope not, because, if you are, you are going to be in trouble. You aren’t expending your energy on what really matters,
So ask yourself that question daily as a reminder to feed your focus and diminish your distraction: What am I crowding out today? When you’re thinking about and doing those things that bring a high return every day, you won’t have time to do the things that have low return. And that will move you forward in your life so that you fulfill God’s plan for your life.
5> BE AWARE OF TIME
I have never known a person who lacked awareness of time who was self-disciplined. Successful people, people who accomplish things in life, are time conscious; they know how they spend the time they have, and they understand that every minute matters.
“If you become aware of the importance of time, you’ll have a different concept of time, valuing of time, and how you must exercise control over your use and others’ consumption of your time in order to have a reasonable chance of achieving your goals and tapping your full potential. You’ll have new awareness of how your time is used or abused, invested or squandered, organized and controlled or let flow about at random”
(a quote from my files – author no longer known)
So, a self-disciplined person is aways conscious of time and what they must do to maximize their efforts. As I get older I have become more aware that time is slipping past me, my days are numbered, and my time is limited. I think we become more aware of this as we age, but it is true no matter if you are seventeen or in your mid-seventies as I am.
If you want to maximize the time you have, then I recommend that you do two things that I do continually (learned from a former mentor)….
A> Set upfront expectations
Have you ever noticed that the completion of tasks often fills whatever time we allot to it? If you have to get an article written and you give yourself a week to do it, the writing takes a week. If you give yourself a day, it takes a day. If you say to yourself, “I have to get this done in two hours,” it will take the entire two hours. The same kind of thing happens in meetings — unless you set expectations up front.
When I meet with people, I always tell them the time frame that we will be together. I also mention that if they are going to be late they need to let me know. And, I wait only ten minutes and then if they are not there I leave and don’t rebook the appointment. If they don’t value my time enough to arrive on time, I do. If I set the appointment then I express what I would like to accomplish during our time together. If they have asked for the appointment and time together then I ask what they wish to accomplish and set the time frame accordingly. This helps them and me be time conscious, causes us to set priorities, and allows us to accomplish what is needed in the time allotted. We enter our time together knowing the agenda and the time frame it must all fit in.
When you practice the disciplined use of time, you have an edge. Start setting expectations for yourself and others up front. Once you make this a regular practice, you can begin compressing the time you allot and keep compressing it until you figure out how efficient you truly can be with your time. Then you will know how quickly you can get things done and set aggressive yet realistic time frames for meetings and tasks.
B> Set external deadlines
So much of what we do in life has no deadline. As a result, many things get put off and float from day to day on our to-do lists. That’s why I give myself eternal deadlines for nearly everything I want to get done. These visible deadlines create an awareness of time for me.
On Sundays I look at the coming week’s schedule of events and ministry appointments and opportunities. I look at the things that need to be accomplished. Then I schedule everything that needs to be accomplished into the days that I have available (the week minus my sabbath, family time, and personal time needed for the week). I make sure everything has a spot but that each day is not too crowded and has some breathing room in case things take longer, meetings go longer, or emergencies pop up.
Then the last thing I do each night is make a list of the things, meetings, and people I have scheduled for the next day. I adjust the schedule if needed. Then this becomes my schedule for the following day. The deadlines and calendar work keeps me moving mentally and helps avoid any waste of time doing non-productive work (weeded out in the scheduling stages) or unnecessarily taking longer to do what needs to be done.
Remember: discipline is like a muscle. The more we train it, the better we become in developing it.
Remember: Every moment you stay in dreamland is a moment you lose in working for that dream.
Expectations and deadlines are great friends for any disciplined person. Try using them. I am sure you will be amazed at how they increase your discipline capacity and your use of time.
The final step in being self-disciplined is #6 …
6> FOLLOW THROUGH, EVEN WHEN IT HURTS
People usually don’t quit striving for their future, their dream, their destiny because it suddenly is no longer worth the effort. They quit because they are not willing to pay the price of being self-discipled. They are not willing to follow through with the daily disciplines needed to achieve the dream or the goal. To be successful and thus fulfilled, we need to do what we should, even when it hurts.
Self-disciple is the fuel that keeps you going. The willingness to hold on in spite of problems, the power to endure — this is the quality of someone who achieves their goals and crosses their personal finish line in the race of life.
Tony Robbins – speaker and author – states, “I believe that life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve.”
The bottom line is that you cannot manage your life if you do not manage yourself. You cannot maximize your capacity for achieving if you cannot increase your discipline. Life continually gets busier and more complicated. It doesn’t go the other way. If you are older, as I am, you recognize that. Even now with my six children grown up and with 15 grandchildren and one great grandchild, I don’t have time for all the things I want to do. And if I live yo be a hundred it won’t be enough time to accomplish all the dreams I have.
I can’t have any more hours in a day. So what can I do? Two things. First, I can focus on my self-discipline so that I make the most of the time I do have. Second, I can guard my time and not let others waste it. There are only three things you can do with the time you have – waste it, spend it, or invest it. The latter is what you should always be aiming for. And, so don’t let people waste your time or simply use up what limited time you do have called life.
To increase your discipline, you don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to be a genius. You don’t need to come from a great family. You don’t need extraordinary talent. You just need to focus and follow through.
You need self-discipline.
So, in review…
1> Know what is important (prioritize)
2>Get rid of excuses
3> Take action before you feel like it
A> Think about the consequences of not acting
B> Focus on doing the right thing just for today
C> Make yourself accountable to someone else in your weak area
4> Don’t let distractions distract you
5> Be aware of time
A> Set upfront expectations
B> Set external deadlines
6> Follow through, even when it hurts.