For me the word discipline brings up many unsavory images. Coming from a family that believed in spanking growing up, I think the word takes me back to two main roots: receiving treatment for behavior that I undoubtedly incurred punishment for, and cartoons of Calvin (from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”) of having to do things he hated because it built “discipline” and “character”.
Discipline through college remained in the punishment status in my mind, but the punishment of youth slowly has been replaced in many ways with the punishment of what aging millennials call “adulting”: taxes, bills, committee meetings, writing blog articles on time.
But somewhere in the last two and a half years, discipline has been redeemed for me. One example of how this has occurred is that I am a part of a book club that is made up of our staff and the Worldview Academy Leadership Camp staff. “Book Club”, as we call it, meets every Friday to work through and discuss a few chapters from classic texts. Super nerdy, I know.
I had never read any of the classics growing up, and the idea of diving into Plato, John Milton, or Hayek was intimidating to say the least. But the commitment to participate and the community to encourage consistency meant that even when I failed some weeks, the overall trend was toward completion and growth. With our book club, the largest motivating factor is social pressure – even if the reading was difficult for the week, one never wants to show up and not have even tried. After all, if no effort was even put forth for “Paradise Lost”, then no right can be given to wail about how difficult it was!
I’ve found that pursuing hobbies like the above form habits that carry over to other areas of life. Consistency and commitment in reading have taught a deeper subconscious habit of working towards a goal, valuing a commitment, and prioritizing a deadline. I have found that other activities that we deem important such as Bible reading, paying bills, and intentionally meeting with mentors and friends have found more stability and ease of execution through the same habits formed by the commitment of our book club.
To be sure, it isn’t just a mental switch that then fixes everything in the habits and discipline areas of life. Discipline is still hard. It isn’t comfortable. It requires change, prioritizing, self-assessment, and ultimately the hard work of improving: bit by bit, moment by moment, morning by morning. It hasn’t been something in my story that has come from a grand view of the end-goal, but merely a commitment to the day – completing the task and spotlighting growth for that moment.
But a funny thing happens at the end of those days. I wasn’t able to see much, if any, growth in the monotonous task. But when I finished up and was able to look back, I had become something else from when I started out and I had benefitted in ways I could not have planned for at the beginning.
In my life, that has been the secret to discipline and continuous growth. Overhauling life in a day and making tons of changes at once becomes overwhelming and discouraging when the new vision falters. But changing one thing and committing to it - whether it is a chapter for book club, a certain time every day for scripture, or a person to meet with every week - is mentally achievable and produces far more results than overcommitting and despairing in failure.
When it is one small thing to do to improve every day, results come. And I have been inspired into thinking that this is the process of lifelong sanctifying in the Christian: slow growth of the time that each of us has been given. Lifetime growth occurs by the drip – one day at a time, one commitment at a time, one task at a time.