From the Roadmap series
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Our lives are the result of the choices we make each day. Every day is a chance to make decisions that will guide our future. Every day is a chance to make decisions to perform the tasks before us with a commitment to excellence, or decisions to invest the minimal effort necessary and to settle for mediocrity.
We consciously make decisions each day whether to pursue life in a mediocre way, doing only the minimum necessary, or to rise to the occasion, work hard, and make our goals a reality. Every one of us can just sleepily live life half throttle, being content to drag ourselves through life, one lazy, uneventful day at a time. Or we can attain new levels of success by vigorously evaluating and improving our life, day by day, week by week, year by year.
Let’s explore how to deal mediocrity a lethal, below-the-belt blow, and in so doing, put ourselves in a better position for a life of fulfillment.
We each choose
We make many choices every day, one after the other after the other that ultimately set the course for our lives and future. The quality of our lives doesn’t just appear like magic. The magic lies in making good choices that will set us on the right course for the future. But not only that, it’s in realizing that our choices will ultimately shape what our lives become. Will they be full of passion, commitment, and determination, in spite of the bad stuff that comes our way? Will we take advantage of opportunities and progress, even if our resources and finances are limited?
Your choices will ultimately guide the path of your life. That’s a pretty amazing concept, but it’s true. We each determine how circumstances will affect us by the decisions we make in response to our circumstances.
This is sometimes a difficult concept to accept, as often we want the circumstances to change before we’re willing to make the right choices. Yet if we can embrace it, our lives can change regardless of our circumstances, if we choose to commit these to God and trust in His plan for our lives. We will begin to feel more empowered, less victimized, and that the Lord is in control of our lives.
When we feel trapped and as if we aren’t making our own choices, we feel like victims. From time to time, many of us fall into the trap of believing that our circumstances are entirely beyond our control, and that there is no use in attempting to change them. Taking responsibility for the choices that we can make, however, takes us out of the victim mentality and into an empowering “all things are possible with God” mindset.
Contrary to popular opinion, God does not usually choose for us. We have to choose for ourselves, find His will for ourselves, and seek Him diligently to know His will. This is why He put us here, this is what we’re here to learn, and the major part of our training: how to make the right decisions through our personal contact with Him, our knowledge of His Word and His will, and our love for Him and others. We must do what we know is right, and be willing to live and to die for what we know is the truth.
But as He says, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead and do what you know is right, no matter what anybody says, and not because anyone has said it, but because you yourself are personally convinced it’s God’s will.—David Brandt Berg
If we accept that we are responsible for our own choices, then we won’t blame others or our circumstances for any difficulties or hardships that arise from those choices. We’ll take responsibility for our lives—how we live, how we fulfill the Great Commission, and how we make a living—which will ultimately be a reflection of the decisions we make each day.
The role of discipline
It’s pretty easy to decide that we want to be successful at whatever we choose to pursue in life and to set lofty goals for where we want to be in a few years. But it’s much more difficult to actually get there. Accomplishment is not just about thinking, wishing, hoping, or even planning. It’s about doing! Planning is important, but a great plan and a tremendous destination is not much help if we never get started, persevere, and work to reach that destination. It takes self-discipline to get to where we want to go and achieve what we want to achieve. We have to evaluate our life, our priorities, our schedule, our off-hours, and take a good, hard look at what we are doing that is not productive, so we can change what needs to be changed, and then commit to the self-discipline needed to reach those goals.
We each need to kick our own butt! What a concept! This means that if we want to achieve success in life, in any endeavor, it’s going to require self-discipline. Achieving our goals is not necessarily synonymous with just taking life as it comes. If we want to mature and grow and reach our goals, if we want to pursue a profession or career or field of study, or devote ourselves to the mission; if we want to be responsible and make a difference, then self-discipline will be an important quality to cultivate.
If you never seem to be reaching your goals, or worse, if you don’t have any goals, there is something you can do about it. You can kick your own butt.
This takes developing self-discipline. Self-discipline—a bad word? No. It might be a painful or uncomfortable word, but really, it’s a powerful word when you consider that discipline is a key to achieving success. Self-discipline is not easy. It can be hard, even grueling. But if you want to be all you can be, if you want to be your best you, that’s the price.
Discipline derives from disciple—disciple to a philosophy, disciple to a set of principles, disciple to a set of values, disciple to an overriding purpose, to a goal or a person who represents that goal.
In other words, if you are an effective manager of yourself, your discipline comes from within; it is a function of your independent will. You are a follower of your own deep values and their source. And you have the will, the integrity, to subordinate your feelings, your impulses, and your moods to those values.
One of my favorite essays is “The Common Denominator of Success,” written by Albert E. N. Gray. He spent his life searching for the one denominator that all successful people share. He found it wasn’t hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, though those were all important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest [was] putting first things first.
“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do,” Mr. Gray observed. “[Successful people] don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”—Stephen R. Covey1
The good news is that the better you get at self-discipline, the easier it becomes.
No one who achieves greatness does so without discipline. [But] … when you discipline yourself to do the things you need to do, when you need to do them, the day’s going to come when you can do the things you want to do, when you want to do them. It’s also true that life is tough, but when you are tough on yourself, life will be infinitely easier on you.
Discipline yourself today so you can have a better life tomorrow.—Zig Ziglar2
Success is rarely luck. Sure, there is the rare case when someone just happens to be at the right place at the right time and stumbles onto a gold mine. But for most of us, success in whatever goals we set for ourselves comes as a result of self-discipline and methodical plodding, so that when an opportunity presents itself, we are in the position to reach out and grab hold of it.
In his book, The Life God Blesses, Gordon MacDonald tells a story about his experiences on the track team at the University of Colorado in the late fifties. In particular, he remembers the difficult workouts he did with a teammate named Bill. “To this day I have anguished memories of our workouts each Monday afternoon,” says Gordon. “When those Monday workouts ended, I would stagger in exhaustion to the locker room.” But Bill was different. When he was finished, he would rest on the grass near the track. But after about 20 minutes, while Gordon showered, Bill repeated the entire workout!
Bill didn’t consider himself to be an exceptional athlete in college. “I was not a great athlete,” observed Bill. “But I had a ‘bag of tricks theory,’ that is, there is no one big move you can make in your training or in competition, but there are thousands of little things you can do.”
Bill might not have made a great impact during his college years, but his discipline and desire paid off over time. Through disciplined effort and continual improvement, the unspectacular college athlete who had worked out with Gordon MacDonald became the world-famous athlete, Bill Toomey, the decathlete inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984.
What elevated Bill to such high accomplishments was his discipline. Gordon MacDonald’s insight says it all: “The difference between the two of us began on Monday afternoons during workout. He was unafraid of discipline and did the maximum; I was afraid of discipline and did the minimum.”—John C. Maxwell3
“I don’t have time…”
One of our most common excuses is “I don’t have time.” We’ve all said that on numerous occasions. And at first glance, this might seem like a solid excuse. It’s true we are busy.
But how are we spending our time? Let’s look at an everyday example: watching TV. According to a recent survey, Americans now watch an average of five hours of television every day, 35 hours a week. The average American television viewer is watching more than 151 hours of television per month. If someone works 40 hours a week—the average American work week—that means they spend almost as much time watching television as working.
Okay, let’s say we don’t watch that much television. But what about computer games? Blogging and chatting online? Surfing the internet? If we add up those hours, how do we fare?
You’ve probably heard the concept that if you devote one hour a day to studying a topic, after about 10,000 hours, or in about five years, you’ll be a master or expert. What do each of us want to be an expert at? Does how we spend our time prove that?
Do we read and study to become the professional that we want to become? If we’re not reading and studying on our particular field of interest or what we’re hoping to excel in, then it’s likely we’re not reaching our full potential.
Consider this example:
Before becoming a full-time writer, John Grisham was a lawyer. Like most successful lawyers, he put in long hours at the office, often 60 hours a week, sometimes 80! Despite his grueling schedule, Grisham wanted more than anything to write a novel.
However, Grisham had countless ready-made excuses as to why he could NOT write a book, excuses like the fact he had no “creative” writing experience, that he had obligations to his wife and two kids, that he didn’t have time because he was working 10-hour days, six days a week, that he was under incredible stress at work.
But Grisham knew that he had a choice. He could either find reasons TO write a novel or he could find reasons NOT TO write a novel and then justify to himself why he couldn’t do it. Fortunately, Grisham chose to find reasons TO write his first novel.
He wrote his first book, A Time to Kill, by making one simple adjustment in his life. He started getting up at 5:00 a.m. and working on his novel. In effect, he didn’t have time to write. So he made the time by getting up a couple of hours earlier each day. Less than one year later, Grisham had a completed manuscript to send to publishers.
Only one problem. The first publisher said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” So did the second, and the third, and the fourth, and so on. But Grisham was determined, so he kept submitting his book until, finally, publisher number 26 said, “yes!”
The publisher had so little faith in the book that only 5,000 copies were printed. At the time it seemed like 4,000 too many! The book was a flop.
So Grisham made another choice. He bought 1,000 copies and decided to market the book himself. It took months before his habit of giving talks and signing books on weekends began to pay off.
Word of mouth kept building and building until, finally, after nearly a year’s worth of weekend personal appearances, John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, exploded onto the best-seller list, where it stayed for 100 weeks! To date there are more than 10 million copies of Grisham’s first novel in print.
Grisham was able to accomplish what he did because he changed his habits. … Grisham’s new habit of getting up at 5:00 a.m. allowed him to accomplish a lifelong dream. The habit of adding two productive hours a day can make a world of difference; over the span of a year, you could add 15 work weeks of productive time to each and every year of your life.—Burke Hedges, adapted4
Having self-discipline pays off over time. This can happen in our lives as well.
With self-discipline most anything is possible.—Theodore Roosevelt
With God all things are possible.—Jesus, Matthew 19:265
Roadmap was a video series created by TFI for young adults. Originally published in 2010. Adapted and republished on Anchor July 2017. Read by Simon Peterson.