In an episode of Grace to You called Fundamental Christian Attitudes: Self-Discipline (click here to get the text), Dr. MacArthur lists these principles about how to cultivate self-discipline:
1. Begin with the small things because it is the little things of life that make for the big successes.For example, I am trying to wear my retainers more often, so that all the beautiful work my orthodontist did doesn't go to waste. And I am going to return my library books on time from now on. Small changes often lead to big changes, either because they all add up, or because our success in a small area encourages us to make a change in a bigger area.
2. Get organized: Learn how to get rid of the excess, learn how to trim down, learn how to keep your environment clean and clear so that you can function without a myriad of distractions and so that you've made decisions and selections about what matters, what doesn't.This advice is tough to hear for most Americans because we accumulate stuff. Even if we try to be disciplined about how much stuff we buy, things can pile up. Junk mail ends up strewn all over your kitchen table, and we are afraid to throw anything out because one day we might need it, one day we might use it...my advice to you: If you haven't used it or worn it in the past year, get rid of it. You won't even know it's gone.
I have also made a rule about my books, because that is the one thing that I seem to accumulate the fastest of all: if I buy a new one, an old one has to go. And if I want something new to read, I try to pull something off my bookshelf first, or else go to the library, instead of spending money on a new book.
3. Make a schedule and learn to conform to it.This doesn't have to be a hard-and-fast outline where you block out your day in fifteen minute increments (unless you want it to be. Sometimes that is the only way I can keep track of what's going on in my life). You just need to be able to know what is going on in your day, what to expect, and what you need to accomplish. A good, old-fashioned to do list is also good. I am one of the world's worst at making a schedule and then throwing it out the window, either because I just don't feel like sticking to it, or some insignificant little thing throws it off. I have to learn to stick with it anyway.
4. Wean yourself off of being entertained.There are many more productive things you can be doing with your free time than being entertained. I have now been six months without a television or an internet connection at my apartment. While the internet would be nice to have access to for a number of reasons, I have no regrets about not having a TV. There is no bigger time-waster in the world.
5. Be on time! This is important because that means you can order your little universe so you can get where you need to get when you're supposed to be there, clothed and in your right mind.It also demonstrates your respect for whatever job, meeting, or appointment you are attending, and your respect for all the people who would otherwise be waiting on you. This is an area where I struggle a lot, because I have been perpetually 10 minutes late my entire life, and have a lot of ingrained bad habits. But I have learned that it is much less stressful when I leave home in plenty of time to get where I need to be, plus I get a lot less road rage. And I think it has changed the way people think of me, especially my co-workers.
6. Keep your word even in the littlest things. Don't make promises you don't keep. Make commitments and see them through.This is a hard one, especially if we make a promise when we didn't know what we were getting into. But it is important that our word means something, and that we follow through.
7. Do the hardest task first...save the easiest thing for last.That way you get whatever is the most important, the highest on the priority list (which usually means it is the hardest) out of the way, and don't waste your energy on doing a hundred little things first.
8. Finish what you start.I even have a hard time not finishing books or series once I have begun reading them, which may not be exactly what Dr. MacArthur is talking about. I think he means that we shouldn't wimp out halfway through something just because it is hard, or we get tired, or our shoes got wet. Tough it out and follow through.
9. Practice self-denial just for the sake of self-denial. Just say no so you can say to yourself, "Self, you can say no when you want to."Don't let yourself eat that second brownie (or even that first brownie!) just for the sake of it. One of my best friends once gave up sugar completely, and when I asked her why, she said, "To see if I can." (It also made her feel much healthier.)
10. Volunteer for tasks. That means you've got to leave a little space in your life.In order to volunteer for something, you to have your life well-ordered enough that you can help with something that needs to be done, even though it isn't part of your own agenda. You have to know that you have the time, energy, and the resources to do something before you can volunteer to do it.
I have found all ten of these tips to be convicting and at the same time extremely practical and helpful. They are a good gauge for me, to let me know how I am doing and what I still need to work on. Thank you again, Dr. MacArthur.