Self-Discipline, Self-Control, and the Pathway of Self-Improvement

Improvement is a natural instinct. Part of life requires individual growth. Our souls yearn for it. What does choice and discipline have to do with self-improvement? I have a few thoughts. 


Self-discipline takes grit. Self-control becomes easier once it becomes a habit and routine.

It’s easy to eat whatever you want. It’s easy to not exercise. It’s easy to get angry, indulge in the carnal senses, or to not take personal responsibility.

It’s more difficult to regulate yourself. It’s more difficult to control your temper and your appetite, whether it’s food or lust. It takes time to tame the tongue or to think more about others and less about self.

Choice and accountability is key for self-discipline, and self-discipline is a key to personal and professional wellness.

So try to stop swearing. Try to exercise. Don’t engage in the easy things. Stretch yourself. Surely there’s something each of us can work to improve upon. It’s only through effort that we can become better today and tomorrow. 

Individual Choice

The principle of individual choice cannot be changed nor altered. 

Individual thought and behavior, or individual choice, is an eternal law. It is the basis of all freedom and liberty, which has stood as time immemorial. 

This law is what led Viktor Frankl, who was held by the Nazis, to exclaim in his well-known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Self-Control and Controlling Others

Sometimes our biggest frustration and challenge may be that we cannot control others, even if we want to. We cannot control what others think, say, or do.

When we do not have control over a situation, an organization, or an individual, we can experience internal distress. Our needs and interests must be sacrificed to the eternal law of another’s agency and personal choice, even when we see that choice as wrong or destructive. 

The sooner we realize we do not have control over anyone or anything except ourselves, the sooner we can begin to experience inner peace, even if others are doing things that may cause our hearts to ache. 

This principle may be part of one’s religious or spiritual views. Choice is a pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal law. The minute I try to control others, or take someone’s freedom away, with some exceptions pertaining to the criminal justice system and self-defense or self-preservation or in cases of just war (jus ad bellum and jus in bello), then our own freedom and peace is jeopardized. I should never attempt to force or control anyone. That would be a recipe for abuse in the family or unjustified war in an evil regime ruled by despots.

We should never “exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:37). Unrighteous control is what lead the American Founding Fathers to establish the Declaration of Independence and ultimately the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Further, that freedom of individual rights is what lead to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Daily Improvement

Do you want to cease with anger and increase self-control? Are there other areas you’d like to improve upon? Do you want to really improve? Then here’s the secret: Improvement is made by incremental, minute, and subtle decisions every moment of every day. 

We often think courage and courageous acts must follow the most difficult and unusual circumstances. While that may be the case, more often than not, courage follows the conviction of making honorable decisions that are in line with our moral values every single day—every minute of every day. 

The things we do, what we watch, listen to, or read, where we go (including in cyberspace), what we take into our bodies, and who we choose to spend time with, all matter. The small choices really matter. 

As then-presiding bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gary E. Stevenson, speaking of digital peer pressure observed, “The demonstration of righteous courage will often be as subtle as to click or not to click.”

He then added this wonderful counsel: “Remember, what you do, where you go, and what you see will shape who you become. Who do you want to become?” (“Be Valiant in Courage, Strength, and Activity,” Oct. 2012.) 

Jeffrey Denning

Jeffrey has written award-winning articles for the Washington Times,, and other publications. He is the author of seven books, including Warrior SOS: Military Veterans’ Stories of Faith, Emotional Survival and Living with PTSD. He teaches courses on peer support, suicide prevention, and other mental wellness and resilience to public safety professionals. If you would like Jeff to speak at your event or training please contact him HERE.

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