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This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of MOPS Magazine.

Saddled with an English–major mother, my kids couldn’t escape learning the three types of irony at an early age. On family movie nights, it wasn’t unusual to hear a small voice pipe up, “That’s dramatic irony!”

So everyone in my house understands the situational irony of a mom who hounds her kids to clean up their rooms while her own stands neglected, with clothes tumbling out of bins, and a closet floor that…well, there IS a floor there somewhere, isn’t there?

Although I could try to hedge here and say I’m a recovering “messy,” that would be disingenuous. Alas, I’m a current messy and have been since childhood, despite my mother’s best efforts to train me in the ways of neatness. As an adult, I’ve read organizing books galore. A few years ago, my husband gave me Marie Kondo’s book for Christmas, not realizing I had read it a year earlier. (The house didn’t look any different.) 

But there is hope. Although not disciplined by nature, as a mother of four and a daughter of Christ, I’ve learned the value of discipline and have gradually wrangled other parts of my life. Exercise, something I assiduously avoided for a couple of decades, has become a habit, one that began with pre-dawn trips to the gym when my kids were in diapers. Now I walk daily, and my day feels incomplete when I don’t break a sweat.

Another area in which I’ve seen growth is in my spiritual life. In my teens and twenties, I read the Bible sporadically. But then a spiritual revival came unexpectedly when I had the least free time—with a newborn, a toddler, and a preschooler. A desire for intimacy with the Lord, coupled with a reading plan and accountability, grew into a rich devotional life.

More recently, I’ve gained discipline in the area of writing, a lifelong pursuit I rarely made time for. To help me forge a new habit, I started an online group committed to writing 30 minutes a day. That slim accountability with a group of strangers was enough to put me in my desk chair daily for one month, then two months, then three. And behold, a new habit was born.

These victories have given me the courage to pursue other habits, even in the areas that plague me most. So, for all of us free spirits who struggle with discipline, here are some steps to success I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Name your problem and your desired outcome. Just put it out there. The Lord already knows it, and so do the people who live with you. But don’t stop with the problem: envision the new, more disciplined you. What benefits might result from better habits?
  2. Make a specific plan for accomplishing your goal. If it’s food-related, create a meal plan and go to the grocery store. If it’s an activity, set a daily alarm on your smartphone to remind you. I’ve set alarms for everything from drinking water to folding laundry to writing. If the goal is complex, break it into smaller chunks. Organizing my entire house is overwhelming; cleaning out a single drawer is manageable.
  3. Be vulnerable enough to ask for accountability. When I wanted to begin walking regularly last spring, I asked my daughter to walk with me. She is naturally disciplined and an extrovert who was craving people time during quarantine. I knew she would be a good influence on me, and I could lend the listening ear she needed.
  4. Celebrate your progress. Being rewarded for a goal met can help you stick with it. Incremental goals help me continue on to bigger goals. The reward can be as simple as the confetti my pedometer app gives me when I reach my goal each day, or something more soul-nurturing, like time with a friend or buying a book. (Chocolate works nicely too.)

Disciplined people speak of anchor habits that help us form other habits. Achieving discipline in one area can lead to discipline in others. Even something as simple as drinking eight glasses of water a day can lead to a desire for more healthy habits, which might motivate you to walk, which could lead to a healthier diet.

Anchor habits give me hope too. Being disciplined about writing and caring for my body might well spill over into caring for the home in which I work. Even my husband has commented on the growth he’s seen in my life, which reminds me that I’m a work in progress. My sanctification story is unfolding, and only God can see the beautiful result—the ultimate dramatic irony.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash