Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time
There are some things I feel like I can’t choose to do. I just can’t seem to will myself, to discipline myself, to do and/or not do various things. And all you optimists are saying, “Well, that’s obviously a lie. We are in total control of our own choices.”
And you’re mostly right, but we realists don’t feel like you’re right, so it doesn’t matter.
The only time the statement, “I can’t make myself _____,” is true is when the statement is actually, “I can’t make myself feel ______.”
I can’t make myself feel like cooking.
I can’t make myself feel excited about cleaning.
I can’t make myself feel like not sinning in my favorite way.
And you know what I’m learning? That’s okay.
It’s okay to have the feelings we have. It’s okay to feel what we feel, and we can’t change our feelings.
Where the lie creeps in, though, is when we start to believe we must act a certain way in relation to our feelings. If I feel _____, I must do _____. If I don’t feel ____, I can’t do _____. As if we are powerless over our emotions and hopelessly enslaved to them.
Lies. Lazy lies.
For years my out has been, if I do something I don’t feel like doing, I’ll be a fake. And, honestly, I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend like I enjoy something when I don’t. Nor do I respect people who are phony.
So I took those thoughts and came to two false conclusions: if I can’t get excited about something, I shouldn’t do it, and, if I am excited about something, I have a right to do it.
Turns out that’s quite a problematic approach to being an adult. But there is a solution for those of us that operate this way. And it’s not what you think.
The answer is not to learn to get more excited about things we dislike. Hell can freeze over, thaw, and refreeze again, and I will never get excited about cleaning my house. Or eating quinoa. Or not eating pizza daily. Or resisting the pull of my favorite sins.
The answer is not to develop an affection for things we just don’t have an affection for or to somehow rid ourselves of the affections we have for things that are bad for us. The answer has nothing to do with how we feel or don’t feel about the areas in which we lack self-discipline. The answer lies in re-framing our situations.
For example, I can’t wait until I feel like exercising to exercise. That day will never come. But I also can’t force myself to exercise while cursing the whole time and expect myself to develop a lifelong routine of exercising. When I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. When I force myself to exercise, I hate exercise. And thinking about how much I hate exercise all the time isn’t productive.
But you know what I do like? Playing soccer. Well, that’s not true. I like playing soccer when I’m fit. If I’m not fit, I can’t physically do what I know I would be capable of if I were in shape, and then I hate playing soccer.
So I can take this idea that I want to be fit so I can enjoy playing soccer again, and I can attach it to exercise, which I still hate, mind you. And I can tell myself, it’s okay to hate exercise. But I’m going to exercise anyway so I will be in shape (and, therefore, enjoy) playing ball next month.
See what I did there? I re-framed exercise. It’s still an annoying piece of my daily routine I feel negative about, but I choose to do it anyway because it’s a necessary means to an end I do get really excited about. I’m not getting tripped up in my feelings anymore. I’m choosing to act independently of my feelings.
And we can do that – you and I, resident pessimists – we can learn to re-frame any number of situations in order to develop some much needed self-discipline.
Ann Voskamp in her book, The Greatest Gift, says, “You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see."
It’s true. What situation do you need to re-frame today? Ask Him to help you.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)