How to Develop Self-Discipline (From the Valedictorian of I Don’t Want To)

Self-discipline has always been my forte.

(They say you should open with a joke.)

Actually, I am as self-disciplined as a newborn. And we all know how ridiculous they are… cute, but entirely self-centered.

How to develop self-discipline (from the valedictorian of I don't want to)
image via David Castillo Dominici @freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t know that you much care why I lack the ability to make myself do things I don’t want to do. So I won’t dwell on that much beyond the following guesses: I am the baby of my family, most things came easily to me as a kid (read: I never had to work hard), and selfishness is my spiritual gift.

(Ok, not really, but if selfishness were a spiritual gift, I’d ace that section on the test.)

Basically, if something doesn’t have an immediate pay off for me, I usually don’t do it. Similarly, if not doing something will have an immediate negative consequence, I can’t do it fast enough.

I’ve never put forth any real effort in training myself to learn how to do things I don’t want to do – i.e. – to develop self-discipline – because I’d have to be self-disciplined in order to discipline myself to become more self-disciplined.

(The words and the logic – I’m good at using them to my advantage, aren’t I?)

It is not lost on me that the words “disciple” and “discipline” seem to share a root. Without getting into a language lesson, I would not be surprised if the two words are related because being a disciple requires discipline.

Ah.

Fantastic.

The other day Oswald Chambers had a devotion on the idea of self-discipline that nailed me to the wall.

(Go read it. I’ll wait.)

The part that resonated most with me is this:

“We go wrong because we stubbornly refuse to discipline ourselves physically, morally, or mentally. We excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, I wasn’t taught to be disciplined when I was a child.” Then discipline yourself now! If you don’t, you will ruin your entire personal life for God.”

I really ought to stop following Oswald on the Twitter.

But I can’t.

Because he says things I need to hear.

Maybe you need to hear them too?

In regards to self-discipline, I think about another guy who will tell you like it is. Dave Ramsey says a budget is telling your money what to do.

I don’t struggle with finances because I am inherently cheap. (Seriously, I think it is a gene I inherited from my grandma on my dad’s side.) I struggle to be disciplined in a lot of other areas in my life, but the one I’d say that takes precedence is my feelings.

(And I have a hunch you can relate to me on this one, so allow me to start talking to us.)

I don’t need to rehash the Bible’s take on feelings, but I’ll summarize it with this: feelings ought not be trusted. 

That is so contrary to what we modern Americans have heard all our lives that it’s hard to swallow. But swallow we must if we’re going to become disciplined disciples.

Oswald basically tells us to grow up, and take responsibility. It doesn’t matter if we have never “learned” to discipline our feelings, we ought to just do it now. Taking a page out of Dave’s book (not literally, because haven’t we learned anything from Mark Driscoll this week?!), we must tell our feelings what to do. 

And when we’re being honest, that doesn’t actually take much learning. If we say we’re going to spend some time learning how to be self-disciplined in an area, we’re really just saying we’re going to see how long God will let us stall.

Yesterday my four year old was in her booster seat in the car. I told her to buckle her seat belt. She half-heartedly pulled it and whined, “It’s too haaaaaaard…” And I don’t even know how she got inside me, but Jillian Michaels came spilling out. As I looked at my child through my rear view mirror, I calmly but firmly said, “I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it.”

And right then and there in that parking lot, I felt the conviction. How long have I been telling God (and a whole host of people) how hard it is to discipline my heart? If I put half the energy into just doing it that I put into talking about how hard it is…

“I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it,” I imagine God saying, with a touch more compassion than Ms. Michaels and I usually exhibit…

In what area are you struggling most to discipline yourself? Can I gently challenge you to stop talking about it, and just do it? Our feelings need to be told what to do. Or they will be our ruin. 

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3 thoughts on “How to Develop Self-Discipline (From the Valedictorian of I Don’t Want To)

  1. This is a very difficult subject especially for me. Is it a part of our fallen human nature? We tend to discipline those areas of our life that we enjoy and not the others. Or is it the opposite or not at all. See how mixed up I am. Seems the things we should be doing we don’t want to do or just do not do but the things we don’t want to do we do. Didn’t Paul talk extensively about that? Reason is our fallen human nature.

    Rick Levatino

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