The Art of Will-Power and Self-Discipline

The alarm trills loudly next to my left ear, emitting from the cell phone clutched in my hand, half buried under the pillow. My fingers automatically twitch against the buttons, silencing my wake-up call and continuing the snooze cycle for the sixth time. Five more minutes…

 

Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

I actually am a morning person. Once I’m up, I’m cheerful and alert, ready to tackle the day. It’s just that getting-out-of-bed detail that proves to be a problem. Getting up in the morning has recently become even more difficult for two reasons: First, an early Christmas present from my parents – a memory foam mattress topper – has proven to be a blessing and a curse. It is incredibly comfortable, but also dangerously seductive, whispering sweet temptations about staying in bed all day.

 

The second issue is another blessing-curse paradox. I am blessed to have a job where I am able to choose my own work schedule, but this freedom means I do not have to be at work at a specific time, allowing the “five more minutes” refrain to sing in my head unrestrained. For a while my husband and I were carpooling, so my exit from bed in the morning was dictated by his work schedule. But now that he is self-employed and works from home, this is no longer a factor. And I really like my sleep.

 

So I confess, I have become a snooze-hitting, oversleeping, foot-dragging greeter of the morning. My self-discipline in this regard has hit a record low. And down there with it is my self-restraint in regards to chocolate consumption (give me a jar of Nutella and a spoon and I’ll return the clean spoon within a day).

I could also mention my house cleaning, gym attendance, and Christmas newsletter writing – but I don’t want to get depressed.

 

So, the point is, I struggle with will-power and self-discipline. While I pride myself in being dependable, meeting or exceeding expectations, and reliably fulfilling my responsibilities to others, when it comes to fulfilling my promises to myself, I tend to come up short.

 

I have had “bouts of success.” In the past I’ve accomplished noteworthy personal goals that required significant self-discipline, like going an entire year without drinking soda, spending money on nothing but bills and necessities for a month, abstaining from sweets for forty days, or losing thirty pounds. But more often than not, my best intentions get lost in distractions, excuses, procrastination, or momentary personal gratification.

 

As the end of the year approaches, New Year’s resolutions begin to bounce around in my head. But I don’t want to just make some half-hearted New Year’s resolutions yet again; I want to take steps toward building lasting habits of self-discipline. So, in next week’s blog post, I will share with you my personal plan for becoming a person of discipline.

 

In the meantime: What tips do you have for overcoming procrastination, excuses, and the various other traps that tend to sabotage your own self-discipline?

 

In The Head-Over-Heels, Forever-And-Always, Till-Death-Do-Us-Part Kind of Way…

Copyright Bethany Crosby

For those of you who know my husband and I personally, you know that we’re corny. You’ve heard our cheesy lines, seen the t-shirts, and witnessed our unabashed public displays of affection. And if you don’t know us, well, believe me – we’re corny.

 

 

Copyright Bethany Crosby

 

Yes, Geoff frequently whistles when I walk into the room. Yes, he has been known to say things like, “My wife’s so good looking, I buy her presents for my birthday.”

 

Yes, I have a t-shirt and a sweatshirt that both say, “I love my husband.” Yes, Geoff has a wardrobe to match.

 

Yes, we miss each other if we haven’t seen or talked to each other for a few hours. Yes, we hug for a solid thirty-seconds every day when I get home from work.

 

Yes, we sit on the same side of the booth when eating out on date night. Yes, we hold hands while walking through the parking lot – or anywhere – together.

 

Yes, we leave “I love you!” post-it-notes on the bathroom mirror. Yes, we exchange “You’re my favorite!” text messages on a regular basis.

 

Yes, we’ve been married for more than four years, and yes, we still act like newlyweds.

 

On occasion we do make our friends blush – like when Geoff grabs me for one of those iconic Times Square sailor kisses in the middle of work (sorry about that, Bethany…) or when a friend inadvertently intercepts what we’re saying to each other with our eyes.

 

The point is, we love each other. In the head-over-heels, forever-and-always, till-death-do-us-part kind of way. And we have realized the huge importance of finding ways to show that every day.

 

In this crazy, chaotic, demanding business we call life, it’s far too easy to get overwhelmed, worn down and burnt out. Geoff and I are each other’s best friend. We’re each other’s strongest supporter and biggest encourager. We’re each other’s first line of defense against discouragement, pessimism, melancholy, apathy, despair, and every other trap the enemy lays for us.

 

We know that God specially prepared us to be each other’s partner in life. There’s no one else in the world better equipped to love me than Geoff Sirkel, and vice versa. And we’re not taking that for granted.

 

We strive to make the most out of every moment God has given us together. Our little corny acts of love are our way of expressing the incomparable joy of being made for each other.

 

No, our marriage isn’t “perfect,” and it’s not always easy. It takes a lot of work. It takes daily sacrifices and daily decisions to put each other first. But it’s so worth it.

 

 

Married friends: What’s the silliest thing you and your spouse do? How do you both express the joy you find in loving each other? Single friends: What’s something you see some married couples do that always brings a smile to your face?

Yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no… aww man.

If you are at all familiar with Christian music from the last decade, then you’ve likely heard the popular worship song written by Darrell Evans called “Trading My Sorrows.” It’s been around for close to fifteen years now, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve probably heard and sang along to it at least a hundred times.

 

If you haven’t heard it or it’s been awhile, check it out via the YouTube video below.

 

 

Because of its familiarity and overuse, it’s easy to dismiss this song as outdated and to no longer pay much attention to the lyrics. But for whatever reason, the other day the refrain popped into my head: “Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord… yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord… yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes Lord, Amen!” This cry of surrender, this declaration of giving up our burdens in exchange for the boundless joy of the Lord truly is beautiful. But then I started thinking…

 

In reality, our declaration of surrender to the Lord often sounds more like: “Yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no… yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no… yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no… aww man.”

 

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had those moments in worship and in prayer where you’ve let go of your burdens – the pain, the sorrows, the mistakes, the disappointments – and you’ve accepted in exchange the healing, the peace and the joy that can only come from the Lord.  But then, sometime after that, perhaps hours or days, or maybe months or years later, you realize in frustration that you’re carrying those exact same burdens again.

 

As human beings, we tend to cling to our baggage. We may come to that point where we finally pry our fingers off of it – or even fling it away from us – but somehow, for some reason, we so often snatch it back soon after. Our surrender to the Lord ends up not being just a one-time done-deal, it becomes an exhausting scenario we repeat over and over and over.

 

It’s not that God has stopped carrying our burdens for us. It’s not that he suddenly realized that it wasn’t a fair exchange and so he snatched back his free gift of grace and dumped our ugly baggage back into our arms. It’s not him. It’s us. God is fully faithful to take our burdens from us and bestow upon us completely beautiful and undeserved grace. The problem is us.

 

I’ve come to realize that our flawed nature doesn’t allow us to fully surrender to the Lord once and for all – at least not in this world. We’re not good at letting go. We like to be in control, and even as Christ followers, we so easily forget that we’re not the ones in control. We so quickly forget that we don’t have to carry our burdens.

 

If you find yourself struggling with heavy burdens that you thought you’d already surrendered, maybe you need to surrender them again. Take encouragement from a fellow blunderer who keeps snatching those same burdens back – you’re not alone. And the best news: God will never get tired of taking them away from you when you surrender them to him again and again.

 

Be reminded of the promise of Christ and accept the rest for your soul that only he can give:

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

Question: Can you relate? What has your experience been with this scenario of repeated surrender?

Why Being in Control is Not the Same as Being a Leader

© Emily Sirkel Photography

I very clearly remember my initial gut reaction to being offered my first promotion to a senior leadership position. It was a mixture of emotions, and while pride and excitement were present, I was a little surprised to realize that equally intense was a feeling of fear.

 

 

The idea of a sudden jump up the totem pole was flattering, exciting and alluring, but at the same time, it was scary. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. I knew the senior position offered some cool perks, like a higher salary and greater authority, but it also came with much greater responsibility and higher expectations. As “the boss,” I would no longer be able to simply pass difficult decisions up the chain of command.

 

And even more significantly, the buck would stop here.

 

When things went wrong or if someone on my team made a mistake, I would be the one to accept responsibility and take the blame. If there was more work to be done than employees to go around, I would be the one to pick up the slack. If a task needed to be completed after hours, I would be the first to volunteer. Disgruntled customers would be funneled to me. Broken equipment would be my responsibility to get repaired. I would be the one to resolve employee conflict, address misconduct and determine disciplinary measures.

 

Just thinking about it all was enough to make my knees quake.

 

I seriously considered declining the promotion. While I’m not afraid of hard work and I learned from my very solid parents to never shirk my responsibilities, I just didn’t feel like I was ready for the job. But after much prayer and discussion with my husband, (and after considering the rather unpleasant alternatives), I said yes. And guess what. The position was even tougher than I had imagined.

 

Yes, it was rewarding. Yes, it was good for me. Yes, it was an invaluable learning experience. But boy was it hard.

 

I have always liked being in control. It’s nice to have people defer to my leadership, and I definitely like getting to have the final say and make the decisions. But I discovered back then when I spent those years as the boss that there is a difference between being in control and being a leader.

 

Being in control is easy. And it can even be fun. I understand why people become power-hungry, because I understand the allure of being in charge. Being a controller is easy, but being a leader is very difficult:

 

  • Controllers make decisions because they get to. Leaders make decisions because they need to.
  • Controllers give commands in order to get their own way. Leaders provide direction in order to accomplish the task by the best means possible.
  • Controllers resentfully take responsibility for their employee’s mistakes only because they have to. Leaders humbly accept the blame because they sincerely feel responsible for their team’s actions.
  • Controllers exact punishment because they enjoy putting people in their place. Leaders employ discipline because they want to see people improve.
  • Controllers look forward to firing bad eggs because they’re getting what they deserve. Leaders regret having to fire anyone because that means they were unable to help them.

 

Question: Can you tell the difference between the controllers and the leaders in your life? What other distinctions do you see between the two? Add to the list in the comments below!

 

 

Hard to Build, Easy to Break

© Emily Sirkel Photography

My stomach still twists in knots when I think about the moment I broke one of my most treasured possessions. It has been years since it happened, but I still find myself drawn back to that haunting memory, filled with regret and “if only” and “what was I thinking?”

 

To be honest, I have broken it more than once. If you look closely, you can still see the cracks that serve as evidence of each break and subsequent repair. Some are faint, hairline fractures that are barely noticeable, while others are wider gaps with small chunks lost forever. With each break I have carefully, painstakingly pieced it back together.

 

It’s never been a quick fix or easy repair.

 

This cherished treasure of mine was given to me by people I care for deeply. I have had it a long time, but I used to take it for granted. I didn’t treat it with special care or concern for a long time, and I rarely even thought about it. It wasn’t until that first time I broke it that I realized how desperately I needed it. It wasn’t until it was in pieces that I understood how important it was to me.

 

© Emily Sirkel Photography

 

I’m talking about trust.

 

Trust is something I take very seriously now. As a reckless teenager I very nearly destroyed it, but now, I protect it. I strive to keep it whole and I carefully cultivate it so it will grow. It is a cherished gift given to me by my parents, my husband, my boss, and my close friends. I shudder to imagine breaking it or losing it completely.

 

The dictionary defines trustworthiness as: “deserving of trust or confidence; dependable; reliable.” This is something I daily strive to be.

 

The Bible has a lot to say about being a person who is deserving of trust or confidence and who is dependable and reliable:

 

In Leviticus 19:35-36 the Lord commands that we do not cheat or deceive anyone in what is owed to them or in what they owe to us. Likewise, in Deuteronomy 25:15-16 he exhorts us to be fair in all our dealings with others and not to cheat anyone, warning, “…all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.”

In Zechariah 8:16-17 the Lord commands that we speak no lies and make no false promises, plainly stating that he hates such things.

Titus 2:7-8 exhorts us to, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

 

It is clear from Scripture that we are to be trustworthy. We are to walk in integrity, being honest and fair, and not deceiving or cheating anyone. The Lord sees all we do, even the hidden intent of our heart, and he rewards integrity. In 1 Chronicles 29:17 David declares to the Lord, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness.”

 

It’s tempting to think of yourself as trustworthy simply because you don’t intentionally deceive people or act dishonestly. However, while honesty is a very critical element of trustworthiness, it’s not all there is to it. Being deserving of someone’s trust or confidence isn’t merely about being honest. I believe it’s just as much about being dependable and reliable.

 

My parents have dealt for years with a businessman who time after time fails to follow through on his word. For various reasons it is a business relationship that they remain committed to, despite the extreme frustration that plagues it. But what could have been a positive and gratifying arrangement has instead become a source of wariness and contention. Through their experience, to my parents this man’s word has become worthless.

 

I too have been on the receiving end of many broken promises. Like the boy who cried “wolf,” once or twice usually can be forgiven and forgotten, but when it becomes a pattern, trust quickly deteriorates. And it doesn’t have to be anything big. There are people I no longer trust to be somewhere or do something at the time they said they would. I have friends who I don’t expect to call or to show up even though they promised. There are those who I know will inevitably forget to do that favor they so eagerly offered to do, or due to one excuse or another will fail to fulfill a responsibility upon which they agreed.

 

Being trustworthy is as much about being a person of your word as it is about being honest. Follow up on everything you say you will do, and take it seriously, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. Also, take time to identify areas where you can make an intentional effort to be more dependable.

 

Here are a few examples of what being fully trustworthy may look like in your life:

  • Consistently being on time to work or other commitments
  • Promptly responding to emails and voicemails rather than letting them stew in your inbox for days
  • Being faithful to project deadlines or other time commitments, no matter how inconsequential a delay may seem to you
  • Following through on favors in the way and time frame you originally promised
  • If changing your mind about how or when you should do something, double checking with those whom the decision affects
  • Most importantly: taking responsibility for unfulfilled promises or commitments instead of shifting the blame or making excuses

 

Prove to friends, family and coworkers that you are a person on whom they can depend. When you say you will do something, do it – when and how you said you would – no matter how small or insignificant that promise may seem. And when you do mess up, own up.

 

When given someone’s trust, do everything you can to not break it or lose it. I promise, the rewards are priceless.

 

I place great importance on remaining trustworthy, but I do still struggle with always being dependable. One of my weaknesses is failing to always follow through on promises to call, write, or visit friends.

 

Question: What is something that causes you to begin to lose trust in someone? Do you have an area where you’ve realized you tend to be less than reliable? 

What I Love About This Time of Year

Autumn is my favorite season.

 

I really enjoy every season, but there’s just something about autumn that fills me with peace.

 

 

Maybe it’s the wind that blows color off the trees and through the air, gently pelting my windows and filling my driveway with red, yellow, orange and brown.

 

Maybe it’s the acorn shells and crunchy leaves that create a competitive hopscotch game down the sidewalk when taking a laughter-filled stroll with my husband and friends.

 

Maybe it’s the crisp air and the smell of a backyard campfire as the evening shadows get long and the sunshine turns golden.

 

Maybe it’s sipping hot cider from a steaming mug, curled up with a blanket and a book on a Saturday afternoon.

 

Maybe it’s the cold mornings that give me permission to bundle up in scarves and mittens and let the heater in my car warm my toes.

 

Or maybe it’s just knowing that the holidays are upon us, and with them the cherished visits with family and friends. Remembering the missing faces and welcoming the new ones. Enjoying conversation over good food, and laughter over shared memories. Exchanging stories, gifts, elbow nudges and meaningful looks. Practicing old traditions and starting new ones.

 

My husband and I haven’t really started any holiday traditions yet, but I’m sure that will come with time and with children. In the meantime, I enjoy reflecting on those from my childhood, like eating clam chowder and popcorn on Thanksgiving, or always reading the Christmas story before opening our presents on Christmas morning.

 

Most of all, I cherish those memories of my family together. Laughing, praying, singing, eating, opening presents, playing games, working on puzzles, going for afternoon walks with the dogs, and loving each other, no matter what.

 

The holidays look a little different now that I’ve grown up, moved away, and gotten married. My family more than doubled in size when Geoff and I said “I do,” and this will be my fifth holiday season with all the craziness of a big family that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I now juggle two halves of my much larger family, all in different locations with hundreds of miles of highway separating our homes. But somehow, even when distance keeps us apart, we’re all a lot closer this time of year.

 

I count my blessings every day, but when autumn arrives and then begins to fade into winter, my heart hums with the peace, love and joy of family.

 

Question: What do you love about this time of year? Do you have any fun family traditions you do during the holidays?

One Thing That Shouldn’t Be Adjustable

I love adjustable products.

 

Office chairs, steering wheels, tripods, closet shelves, bike seats, helmet straps, and those pants that have the adjustable snaps along the waistline. And I’m especially fond of volume knobs and thermostats.

 

 

Adjustable products allow us to pick the setting that works best for us at that time. And if circumstances or personal preferences change, we can always adjust! Being flexible, adaptable and able to adjust to changing times is a celebrated characteristic not only among products, but also within individuals and organizations.

 

Unfortunately, adapting to change isn’t always a good thing.

 

If you’re at all familiar with Christian doctrine or “church speak,” then you’ve probably heard of “the fall of man,” or, “the fall.” The fall is a reference to the beginning of history when mankind fell away from the holy standards of God into what we call sin. I’ve no doubt you’re at least familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, and particularly that of Eve, the serpent, and the apple.

 

Most consider the fall of man to be a defined moment in biblical history. I tend to think of it as something that’s still happening. Mankind is still falling.

 

As Christians, we have been reconciled to God through repentance and acceptance of his saving grace through Jesus Christ. While good works aren’t required for salvation, they are evidence of it. And while God is merciful and forgiving, our obedience testifies to his unsurpassed wisdom, sovereignty and justice. We strive to lead lives built on a foundation of selflessness and morality, aiming for a higher standard than the world around us.

 

But maybe the standard we’re aiming at is the wrong one.

 

Maybe the standard we’re aiming at is one of comparison, not of truth.

 

Maybe without realizing it, we’ve slipped into a pattern of living lives that are more moral than that of the secular world. And while at first nothing seems wrong with that statement, upon reexamination you might see the problem.

 

If our measuring stick of morality is based upon whether or not we are more moral than the secular world around us, then I think we’ve missed the boat.

 

The whims and standards of the world fluctuate like the ocean’s lapping waves. The morality of the world can change quickly and easily, with circumstances and personal preference. The morality of the world is adjustable.

 

As Christians, our morality should not be adjustable. The standard we’re aiming at should not rise and fall in sync with that of the world. As Christians, the standard we are aiming at should be unshakeable. Because as Christians, the standard we should be aiming at is unshakeable.

 

It’s not about being “better than the secular world.” Because “better” is not quantifiable. “Better” is relative. And the standard we are pursuing should not be determined relative to that of the secular world.

 

The world changes. God never does.

 

 

Question: Do you think some Christians have slipped into a pattern of comparing their morality to the shifting standards of the world instead of to the unshakeable standard of God? What are some examples of this that you’ve noticed?

 

4 Tips for Handling Unpleasant Confrontation

I really didn’t want to.

 

I’d spent several days worrying about it, and the whole morning preparing for it. I had typed three pages of notes, with more than twenty scripture references. I had prayed and prayed about it. My stomach was still twisted in knots.

 

But I wasn’t backing out.

 

© Copyright Emily Sirkel Photography

 

I had been “the boss” for about a year and a half, but confrontation was something I still avoided whenever I possibly could. Conflict management was a leadership skill that I knew was absolutely critical, but one I had hoped I could somehow get along without ever using.

 

The time had come.

 

This was much harder than that one time I had to ask someone to go home and take a shower and put clean clothes on because the smell was making me gag (and believe me, that conversation was painful).

 

This was completely different than that night when we were running way behind so I made the decision to pull one employee from their task and replace them with another who was much faster and more efficient.

 

Those moments were hard, but this one was so much harder.

 

I have always been a people-pleaser and a peacemaker. I hate hurting feelings, stepping on toes, or seeing people argue. For this reason I still can’t watch presidential debates. So when it comes to those moments as a leader when you have to confront a direct report about poor performance, misconduct, or worse – I’ve been guilty of being that leader who is inclined to dismiss things really easily rather than actually deal with the problem.

 

But this time, I was determined to deal with the problem head on.

 

I took him aside for a private conversation. I picked a picnic table outside, shaded from the summer sun by a big oak tree. I pulled out my notes, and cut to the chase.

 

“I know you, I respect you. I’ve seen how you’ve grown and matured in the last year. But recently I have had several of your coworkers ask me why you’re such a jerk.”

 

Talk about a hard thing to say! But guess what. The conversation went great. At the end of it, eyes were dry, chins were up, truth acknowledged, and a plan and consequences agreed upon.

And then I bought him ice cream. (Okay, I didn’t say I stopped being a people-pleaser…)

 

So how did a potentially awful confrontation turn into a productive and effective conversation? I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I’m still learning the art of conflict management as a leader. But here are four elements to which I attribute my success that day:

1. Proper preparation: By spending hours thinking, praying, and searching scriptures beforehand, both my heart and my words were ready. When you’re not afforded the luxury of several hours or more of preparation before confrontation, at least take a few moments in prayer to prepare your heart and mind.

2. A neutral setting: By choosing to meet outside in a different but pleasant location, I reduced the inevitable tension that would have been felt had the meeting taken place in my office. While there are situations where it is appropriate to utilize the power-position of your side of the desk, sometimes you need to find common ground to put everyone at ease.

3. Openness and candor: As tempting as it was, I decided not to beat around the bush. I let him know that this was hard for me, but was very clear about why the problem needed to be addressed. I didn’t leave him guessing about why the conversation was happening, what he’d done, or what the consequences were going to be.

4. Affirmation as well as correction: Yes, I was blunt. But I did not berate or humiliate. While I firmly corrected his misconduct, I honestly affirmed the personal and spiritual growth I had observed in the year I had known him. While I pointed out what he was doing wrong, I also praised him for the things he was doing right. I didn’t leave him feeling chastised like a child; I left him with the knowledge that I truly appreciated what he added to my team, and with instruction for improvement.

 

These steps may not be foolproof, but they have certainly worked for me. What are some tips you’d add for dealing with potentially unpleasant confrontation?

 

Learning to Thrive in a Chaotic World

© Emily Sirkel Photography

Life gets so busy sometimes.

 

© Emily Sirkel Photography

 

Sometimes?

Okay, life is busy all the time.

I keep thinking that an easier pace of life is just around the corner. I tell myself, “When I get that project finished, I’ll have time to breathe,” or, “When this Bible study is over, I’ll have more free nights,” or, “After the holidays, things will slow down.”

But somehow, “When” never gets here.

So I’m learning, slowly, how to deal with the chaos. Because the truth is, the chaos will never end. I mean really, I don’t even have kids yet, so who am I kidding?! In reality, my life is on track toward becoming more and more busy, chaotic, stressful and crowded.

Bring it on.

Instead of hoping and waiting for the chaos to become less chaotic (because I now realize that will never happen in this world) I am learning to thrive despite the chaos.

So here is my blog; brand new, a little empty, but determined to be a place where I can flesh out just what it means to thrive in a broken and spinning world.

Be forewarned, I am a recovering perfectionist.

I have stalled launching this blog for months now, because I was worried about getting everything just perfect first. But you know what? Perfect is overrated. Today I’m taking the first step, because without getting started I’ll never get anywhere.

I invite you to tag along as I embark on this journey of writing, and I implore you to do as much talking as listening. Join in the conversation, respond to what I’m saying, and feel free to speak up when you disagree. Together, we’re going to learn how to thrive.