Self-Discipline Is Possible and Required For Undesired Changes

Jan 25, 2024, Written by Sue Miley

how to develop self discipline

I had a headache this morning that I carried to my 6 am HIIT workout. I thought about it before I left the house but assumed the pain would dissipate when the caffeine from my cup of coffee made it to my brain. 

It didn’t. 

My hands and joints hurt, too. That means inflammation.  

What have I eaten this week that I shouldn’t? Strictly following my anti-inflammatory diet makes all of the difference in the world. Really. It does.

Do I like eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy from my diet? Of course not. Who would?

Does it make a difference? Yes, a huge one.

That’s the only reason I can keep it up.

But I would have laughed if you had asked me 2 ½ years ago if I could give up artisan bread, stinky cheese, and Whole Foods Chantilly Cake. Why would anyone even try?

Changing my diet was one of the times when I employed true self-discipline.

Is It Self-Discipline If You Are Passionate or Drawn To A Change?

I appear disciplined because I work hard, am super productive at work, and generally meet deadlines. But to me, that doesn’t count.

If you like to do something, and your interest borders on obsession, it doesn’t require a ton of self-discipline. Sometimes, we confuse consistency with habits, discipline, and willpower.  

I paint in my barn every weekend. It is a consistent practice, but it is because I want to do that more than anything else all weekend long. It doesn’t take willpower.

Consistently doing something you don’t want to do takes willpower. It takes the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-discipline. Creating a habit makes these unpleasant activities easier to keep up with.

So how do we do that? How do we consistently do something we don’t want to or that isn’t our instinct or habit?

How To Access Willpower and Self-Discipline

The first two decades of my life were more about following my passion and obsessions. My career was the key focal point, and when I found something I liked to do or believed passionately in, I could add on, like Jesus and cooking.

However, in the last two decades, it has been different. I began to recognize that there are negative consequences to only following your heart and ignoring or procrastinating other necessary or healthy things in your life.

I am approaching 60 and have changed my lifestyle dramatically in the last two decades. And it has indeed been a combination of the Holy Spirit, creating healthy habits, and calling on all of my willpower and self-discipline.

Here are several approaches to making changes, creating healthy habits, and how to develop better self-discipline when needed to produce beneficial outcomes.

How to Develop Self-Discipline – Sustaining Healthy Habits and Willpower

Prayer and The Fruits of the Spirit – Self-Control   

I didn’t follow Jesus until my mid to late 30’s. I remember struggling to grasp the concept of the Holy Spirit and that the fruits of the Spirit were gifts from the Holy Spirit. I had a potty mouth in my young adulthood. In my mid-thirties, my kids were young but had started to understand what I said. 

Simultaneously with my conversion, I began to pray for the Holy Spirit to take away my habit of cussing. It was an unattractive quality period, but I didn’t want my children to pick it up.

You may not believe this was a true modern-day miracle, but I knew it was. I stopped cussing almost 100% overnight. 

From the outside, people probably just thought I was focusing hard on cleaning up my act, but it wasn’t even hard. I just stopped. I didn’t even think about it.

True story. True miracle.

Many Habits Require Self-Discipline

I wouldn’t say I like to maintain things. It’s boring. I want to try new things. As a horrible maintainer, I never worked out on any regular basis. The stupid thing is I did maintain a gym membership for decades with barely a visit a year. 

I didn’t want to be in that situation when I started getting older and found my parents slowing down and being extremely immobile. Nor did I want to be a burden to my kids. Plus, I couldn’t carry a backpack or vacuum without pulling out my back or shoulder. It was ridiculous.

To start working out wasn’t an issue. It was new. But to keep it going and maintain it consistently was impossible until I did two key things:

  1.  I hired a trainer for accountability.
  2.  I set a schedule and always stayed consistent.

I don’t like to let people down. So if I tell a trainer I will be at a class or a session, I will go. That makes it easier for me. I am fine with keeping commitments to people. So, I commit to others to gain healthy habits and trick myself into maintaining them.

Secondly, I set a strict schedule that stays the same so that it has become a habit. I don’t decide whether I will work out each day I wake up. I know for sure I will work out on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. 

I am going at 6:30 am every Monday and Friday for weight training, and I go on Wednesday at 6 am and Saturday at 9 am to HIIT. Thus, I headed to the gym with a headache this Wednesday a.m. If I decided if I was going to go each day, the headache would have definitely deterred me.

Creating habits is different for everyone. The two that work for me are creating accountability for yourself and not giving yourself a choice once you decide to make a habit. What has worked for you?

Tracking Inspires Habits and Self-Discipline

There are all kinds of ways to track our self-discipline subjectively and objectively. I like to track things, so that helps. The specifics of the tracking process help me to stay motivated to maintain my discipline.

Here are a few ways to track:

  • Quantitative frequency by day, week, month
  • Yes/No by day, week, month
  • Subjective report on a consistent period
  • Quantitative goal by day, week, month

To measure and inspire self-discipline, you can track lead measures, the things you control, lag measures, and the outcomes you achieve. If our efforts are on track, however, we aren’t achieving the benefits or outcomes we are hoping for, we may need to adjust.

However, when we achieve the outcomes or benefits we hoped for, it inspires continued discipline. Yes, sometimes we must trick ourselves into consistently displaying willpower by focusing on the benefits.

Start Slow and Build – Self-Discipline Takes Practice

We want to start exercising and know we should exercise at least 30 minutes daily. If we go from not working out to a goal of 7 days a week, we may miss a day or two at first. If we have an all-or-nothing attitude, we will abandon the effort soon.

However, if you start working out two days a week for a month or two and then elevate to 3 to 4 days for a couple of months, you accomplish a couple of things:

  • Higher odds that frequent workouts become a habit and are sustainable.
  • Learning on two days a week you can create consistency, which gives you the confidence to add another day or two.

Lean on God for Help

Overall, self-discipline is accessed by different people in different ways. Usually, to make positive changes in your life or work, you must access your willpower and discipline yourself to do or not do things that you want or don’t want to do.

I believe that we all have self-discipline, but I also think that it is magnified when we turn to God and depend on Him for that, as well as everything else in our life. The Lord can undoubtedly work through our weaknesses. Whether you start or finish with the Lord, He is faithful to help us work on positive things in our lives.

We have to do our part, but we aren’t alone.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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