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Pursuing a Self-Disciplined Life for the New Year

Some time ago (before COVID), I was enjoying some soup at Olive Garden with some friends, and the waiter briskly walked up and daringly put that nice hot basket of breadsticks in front of me. I tried to avoid looking at it, but the alluring temptation seemed to abound.  I noticed that my friends were quite content (or at least seemed content) as they are enjoyed their nice green, healthy salad. I thought, “But how can this be?” “How can they be so disciplined?” And so, I made the comment, “Wow- very impressive…you are quite disciplined in not eating the breadsticks.” In my mind, I thought this would surely get a response that may justify my desire to devour the entire basket. As my lust for the breadstick seemed to increase with every moment, I finally gave into my temptation to eat just half of one…thinking, “It’s okay to splurge every once in a while, right?”

As the new year approaches, many of us are trying to develop new goals. Often, our goals require discipline, and yet discipline can seem so hard to develop and maintain.

Our culture dictates a “me first” mentality. Media seems to give message that we should give in to our passions and desires. Sprite says, “Obey your thirst”. Just watch the media and see how much communicates the message to follow your cravings. It is becoming harder and harder to live a self-disciplined life with the rise of consumerism.

 I have much room to grow in my pursuit of a self-disciplined life, but I have learned some things in my attempt to live a disciplined life and hope the following tips will be helpful for you as well.

What is self-discipline? Many definitions seem to point to self-discipline as having some type of internal strength. However, I like to think that individuals who are disciplined have simply learned how to better manage their environment. In other words, it really is reflected by a set of choices that is reflected by changed behaviors.

A disciplined person is going to have certain behaviors to avoid and certain behaviors to engage in. There may be financial disciplines of saving and investing money rather than spending it. Physical disciplines such as exercise, dieting and healthy eating are desperately needed. Disciplines such as prayer, meditation, and reading of Scripture are paramount to spiritual growth. Other spiritual and emotional disciplines involve rejecting those things that are detrimental to our well-being such as sexual promiscuity, excessive alcohol, video and media addictions, etc. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (Titus 2:11-12).

There are many benefits of living a disciplined life, so I will highlight just a few of the benefits of self-control. First, research shows that people who live a disciplined lifestyle are more content (not only in the long term but also in the moment). Ultimately, you will live a more satisfied life when you live a disciplined life. Secondly, disciplined individuals will likely be healthier. Another benefit of discipline is that it can lead to greater productivity and efficiency in life, as well as reduce stress. Fourthly, it will help to increase your self-esteem.

I like to think of self-control as an investment; you save now for a later payoff! A disciplined person is really a person who has learned to forego their freedom to enjoy a temporary satisfaction for some longer or lasting benefit. Self-control is not just about deprivation; it really is about managing conflicting goals and outcomes. So, the key is to understand that if you only live “in the moment”, you will never live a truly disciplined life. I want to challenge you to SUSPEND your craving for the moment for the long-term benefit! This long-term benefit may be an extended, healthy lifestyle.

It is also important to realize that everything worthwhile takes effort.  In your pursuit for a disciplined life, expect bumps along the road. This journey called life comes with hardships, but these hardships produce character. “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Rearrange your environment, so self-control is not as much about resisting temptation. It may simply be finding specific ways to avoid it.

  1. Understand it’s importance and remind yourself of the consequences and pitfalls of a lack of discipline.
  2. Start changing your behaviors now! Take a small step. It will only be harder if you wait until tomorrow.
  3. Expect challenges to come your way. Self-discipline is not easy. It takes work. However, you cannot expect to grow while living inside your own comfort zone.
  4. Self-monitoring- the simple aspect of self-monitoring your disciplined behaviors can help you reduce certain behaviors (Record the duration of your internet/tv usage, calorie intake, etc.)
  5. Set a goal for the disciplined behavior (I will exercise 30 minutes a day; I will only have 1700 calories a day, etc.).
  6. Don’t lose sight of your progress. Be okay with baby steps.
  7. Get accountability- share your goals with a friend and ask your friend to check up on you
  8. Add contingencies in your environment to increase your motivation to engage in certain disciplined behaviors.
    • Go Shopping when you are not hungry. You are more likely to purchase things that are not needed when you are hungry.
    • Write your goals down all over your house. For example, if you are trying to lose weight. Put a note on your refrigerator that says, “I will lose 10 pounds”.
    • Put your Bible by your bed as a reminder to read your Bible.

Cheers to your pursuit for a disciplined life in 2021!