The Journey of Self-Discipline

When I taught high school English (& PE, Communications, Personal Finance, & Spanish…), I had something called Life Skills. This was the usual Friday activity where I would accept any and all questions and give the best counsel I (with Google) could give. Those were some wonderful Fridays.

I told my students that they could always reach out even after I left and I love when they actually do.

A dear student reached out two days ago:

I wanted to ask how you practice self-discipline because I find it hard to make myself do anything I don’t want to do, like waking up thirty minutes early to have more time to get ready for school…
I’m assuming you practice self-discipline because you had so much to do while being a teacher…so you must have had some way to get yourself to do things.

a succulent next to a sign that reads "difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations"

Here was my response:
Ah, self-discipline. Yes. Let’s do this Life Skills slide off the top of my head… 🙂

  • Self-discipline comes down to focus. You can’t do all the things, so you have to have discipline in doing what you want the most. Often it’s less than what we want to do but enough. 
  • For example, as a teacher, my priority was: my personal connection with God, my physical health, my mental health, and being the best teacher I could be. That meant I went to bed between 8 and 9PM every night so that I could get up between 4 and 6 AM to have meaningful and un-rushed worship time and still get to school early enough to feel prepared for every day. It also meant going to the gym everyday for an hour even when that meant saying no to dinner/hang out invitations on weekdays. It would have been nice to do all of the above, but it’s not possible for me. 
  • I’d suggest writing out your top 3-5 priorities. Don’t try to stretch it to 5. It might have to stay at 3. And they can also switch depending on the day. For example, my weekend focus had nothing to do with teaching; instead my weekend focus was on meaningful connection with friends, all the sleep I wanted, and exercising. Then that would carry me over throughout the week. 
  • Things like waking up earlier than normal need to come down to why: why do you want to get up earlier? Because you have homework? Want to have worship? Want to be a cool morning person? 🙂 The “why” is what motivates us
  • Furthermore, in getting up early, you have to do something else: go to bed earlier. And I mean really go to bed earlier. Brush your teeth, get in bed, put your phone across the room, etc. One discipline often requires another. And that can be harder, but it also makes it easier: it’s a whole lot easier to get up earlier when you went to bed earlier. 
  • I also have learned to love the feeling of being productive. Maybe even too much, hah. So when I’m avoiding something I try to visualize how I’ll feel when I just get it done (great idea when forcing yourself to grade 60 essays, hah!)
  • But also, the journey of self-discipline is just that: a journey. Even two days ago I had to force myself to respond to emails I had been avoiding for over a year. Yeah. And I haven’t exercised in over a week because of a crazy schedule. So learn to focus on your highest priorities, make provision for them, and also be gentle with yourself as you learn and grow along the way. 

Hope that helps 🙂 Happy to discuss more specifics if it’s helpful. And keep the good questions coming 😉