A friend of mine passed along a great bible study from Renner Ministries this week that got me thinking about the value of leading a disciplined life. The specific session was focused on the importance of helping your children develop responsibility and self-discipline. It encouraged parents to “Do everything you can to help prepare your children for a successful, disciplined life. When they grow up and begin to work in the real world, they will thank you for investing your time and love into preparing them for life!”
I tend to think this is something that my parents did really well, and I’m very grateful. It’s not that I have perfect self-discipline, but by giving me chores and responsibilities from a young age, my parents made it easier for me to develop the kind of skills to lead a generally disciplined life.
Author and pastor John MacArthur describes self-discipline like this:
Self-discipline is important in any endeavor of life. It’s best defined as the ability to regulate one’s conduct by principle and sound judgment, rather than by impulse, desire, or social custom. Biblically, self-discipline may be summarized in one word: obedience. To exercise self-discipline is to avoid evil by staying within the bounds of God’s law.
I like that definition because it connects self-discipline directly to obedience to God. It highlights how you must make a conscious choice to act in a way that may contravene your instincts or the expectations of others. It involves exercising control over your mind, your emotions, and your physical body. And self discipline is so, so valuable. In “Work, Love, Pray,” I devote a whole chapter to how a disciplined approach can help grow and sustain your faith. It’s also been proven to help children (and adults!) succeed in school and at work. It will help keep your body and mind healthy. It will help you build successful relationships and to be more empathetic to others.
In short, self-discipline is good stuff. And it’s a skill you can improve.
Self discipline starts with choice. A single choice, that’s all it takes. You don’t have to suddenly start doing everything right. Don’t start with an overwhelming (and impossible) goal. Instead, start small. Maybe even really, really small. Research shows that willpower is a lot like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the more it grows. Studies conducted by Florida State University psychologists show that overall self-control can be improved by practicing any small form of self-control. Even something as small as brushing your teeth with the opposite hand will, over time, actually help you make more disciplined decisions overall.
I’ve certainly seen this borne out in my own life. Running is a physical release, and one I generally enjoy. But it’s also an exercise in discipline, especially when I’m feeling tired, or sore, or the weather is bad. When I’m disciplined about running regularly, I tend to find it easier to do things like eating well and focus on my prayer or bible study time without becoming distracted. In that way, running is kind of a self-discipline trigger for me.
Do you have a self-discipline trigger? What could you do to bring more discipline to your life?