Have you ever looked at someone’s life—maybe an Olympian, an athlete, or just someone you admire—and thought you could never be as disciplined as they are? We’ve all been there. It’s easy to feel like discipline is reserved for the most talented among us. But discipline doesn’t develop overnight. It’s born from small changes made consistently over time.
Pastor Craig Groeschel says it this way: “The small decisions no one sees produce the results that everyone wants.”
That Olympian has spent their entire life pursuing that medal. From early morning wake-ups to long hours of training to choosing to eat and rest well—their success was not a one-time event but the product of daily decisions that added up. And that’s how discipline works.
We know how the cycle normally goes. Maybe at the beginning of the year, you set some resolutions for yourself. Maybe this is the year you’ll eat well or go to the gym or start reading the Bible every day. But then by February, some of our old habits creep in. We miss a day. We have a cheat week. And then we’re back to square one.
But we can’t give up every time we give in. If we do, we’ll never develop discipline. So, where can we start? How can we make sure that this year, we pursue the greater reward of discipline?
We have to start small, stay consistent, and pre-decide our disciplines. In fact, the best way to start and stay disciplined is by remembering your reason for doing it in the first place. Why? Because you can overcome a painful discipline with a powerful principle.
We see this play out several times in Daniel’s story. Daniel and his friends were kidnapped by the Babylonians, who changed their names and began to indoctrinate them in the Babylonian culture. But Daniel worshiped the true God and didn’t want to make compromises.
Enter the power of a pre-decision. Daniel knew the food his captors were giving to him was offered up to idols, which was dishonoring to God. So, he decided not to eat it. Here’s how strong his resolve was:
But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. Daniel 1:8 NLT
Daniel made a decision before he was tempted. He didn’t wait until the overpowering scent of the food weakened his resolve. Before he was tempted, he decided to be disciplined. And he knew his principle for saying no was more powerful than the temptation to say yes.
After only eating vegetables, Daniel and his friends turned out to be the strongest men among them all. And Daniel kept making disciplined decisions like this throughout his life.
Later on, King Nebuchadnezzar decided to force everyone to worship a gold statue. Daniel and his friends refused, and God showed up in a powerful way. Many years later, King Darius issued a decree requiring people to pray only to him. Daniel again refused, continuing to pray to God as was his regular practice.
Pretty incredible story, right? But Daniel couldn’t make those tough decisions without daily surrendering to God through a small habit of prayer. So, if you want to be disciplined, start with small changes. Choose one habit to start. And pick one principle to keep you steady. Like Daniel, that pre-decision to do what’s right over what’s easy will pay off in the long run.