The Irony of Self-Discipline


Running the race

Running the race

The very word sends heartbeats to a higher rate, instantly raising blood pressure. No one really likes discipline; we seldom ask for it. So the thought of invoking discipline upon myself rarely sends me into spurts of rapture. Yet, maturity demands my ability to control my own behaviors, attitudes, even thoughts. Why then, do I struggle with this concept?

As a child, my sister and I played outside every day. On occasion, my mother’s voice ripped through the neighborhood. First and middle names—oh uh. We’re in trouble. Too often we made the mistake of thinking she’d be working later and we’d have plenty of time to fold clothes and wash dishes. But sometimes she surprised us. Home early—two girls outside having fun—clothes still in the dryer and dishes in the sink. Mom believed in corporal punishment, and she almost always had a floppy kind of house-slipper nearby to administer it swiftly.

Even though my sister ran faster than me, she learned to push me ahead, slowing down so I entered the door first. Discipline hit my little derrière as she scooted past on the far side away from Mom. By the time my mother drew back the slipper, my big sister stood at the kitchen sink squeezing detergent and running water over the dishes. I still question whether we got disciplined at that point or merely punished for disobedience. Over time, I learned to do chores before going outside to play. Pain is a good motivator, although I’m not sure it produces real self-discipline.

By nature, I am a procrastinator. Through the years, I’ve lost many hours of sleep due to this weakness. In an effort to overcome the tendency to put things off until later, I turned to self-discipline. I still struggle with making myself do the things I need to accomplish over what I want. Writing for NOW Magazines helped with my weakness. When I want to watch TV but have an article due, I make myself not pick up the remote control. Controlling myself without a deadline isn’t as easy. I’m learning. I have twenty-four hours in a day. I discipline myself by choosing how I spend my time.

Discipline stems from making choices.

Many times, we see discipline as a negative thing, probably because of punishment we received as kids. The purpose of discipline is to learn. As children, we learn from the discipline evoked by our parents, teachers, and others in our lives. As adults, we apply those lessons and mature enough not to have someone else constantly telling us the right things to do. Self-control is a positive thing and actually when I practice self-discipline, I walk in much more freedom. By implementing this practice I control my life instead of it controlling me. This holds true in every area of life.

As children, we aren’t capable of self-discipline. We haven’t mastered the art. But as we grow up, we put away childish things. We learn to take responsibility, disciplining ourselves instead of expecting someone else to lead us in every choice.

The second step of self-discipline means I follow through with the choices made. When I decide yet don’t take action, my level of maturity has a way to go. When I consistently finish what I start, my self-discipline takes me to success.

Third, take responsibility. Whether I make right or wrong decisions, follow through completely or not, I must own the results. I can no longer blame someone or circumstances when I fail. In the fullness of discipline, I learn from mistakes, adjust and move forward with the next action. When all else fails, ask a trusted friend to hold me accountable. Sometimes I need one person to say, did you…?

At first look, self-discipline seems binding. Ironically, perfecting it sets me free to become all God intended. Where do you struggle with self-discipline?

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