How often do you reach the end of the day, look back on it, and say, “There were just enough hours in the day today! There was time to do everything I wanted to, and a little time left to spare!”
If you’re like most of us, it’s not often. If you’re Gracious Shoko from South Africa, it’s almost never. On a typical day, she rises at 3:30 a.m. to do her scripture reading, personal prayers, check her weekly goals, and list what she needs to do by the end of the day. By 6:30 a.m. she’s off to drop her two children at school and get to work. After a full day’s work and dinner, when most of us would be getting ready to put our feet up, she gets out her sewing machine to sew curtains, duvets, and pillowcases for her part-time business. Around 10 p.m., when many of us would be getting ready for bed, she opens her study books.
Being a parent, working full-time, running a part-time business, and studying part-time simultaneously are “not easy,” says Gracious, who has been studying toward a certificate in management accounting for some years. “That’s the reason I’m going like a snail in my studies,” she says. She alternates late nights with earlier ones so that she can get an adequate amount of rest. “Sometimes I feel so tired that I sleep for an hour when I get home, then I start studying after that,” she says. But she keeps at it, and recently wrote an exam that will take her one step closer to completing her qualification.
“It will get rough out there,” we read in the self-reliance course under principle three: Be Obedient. “We will all have times when we are discouraged or overwhelmed, but our Heavenly Father hasn’t left us alone in the wilderness. He gave us a lifeline: the Holy Ghost. We can pray for direction, confirmation on our choices, the energy to perform the tasks at hand. But the answers will come only if we are being obedient to the commandments.”
Obedience to the commandments can help us develop self-discipline, the self-reliance course teaches. And that ability to “endure to the end” (see 2 Nephi 31), to keep persisting toward a goal despite difficulties, is inherent to success.
The course gives a few practical tips for improving self-discipline, and by extension, our ability to be obedient and therefore succeed.
1. Visualise your motivation. Why are you choosing to keep this habit? Examples might include that you want to live with your family forever, or be more Christlike. When the going gets tough, it’s important to refer back to your greater purpose. Psychologists teach that it helps you deal with stress and stay focused as you encounter difficulties in your task as well.
2. Identify and practice good habits daily. “Behavioral scientists will tell us in order to succeed we need to control the things we can control,” says the course.
“This is the art of developing healthy habits: going to bed at a decent hour, rising early and preparing for the day with scripture reading and prayer, and then organizing your day; being honest; being kind; making time in your schedule to practice good habits daily. As you do, you’ll find your self-discipline increasing, making it easier to be obedient.”
And Gracious can attest to that. “I read my scriptures during the mornings,” she says. This gives her the focus she needs to stay positive.
3. Interview yourself at the end of the day. Identify what you did well and what you need to do better. Gracious does this regularly. She describes this self-interview as “kind of a push, a motivation—like if you talk to someone, and they say something positive, you feel like: ‘Oh yes, I will get there.’”
4. Pray. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow. Ask for guidance on important decisions. “When we have a load, we must just offload it on Him,” she says. “I feel like by so doing it gives me that strength to do what I need to, and my load becomes lighter.”
As long as she stays obedient, Gracious knows she can achieve her long-term desire of turning her part-time business into a full-time endeavour.
“You just give yourself to the Lord, and then you tell yourself that you’re just going to do what is right and you wait for the promises which He has made,” she says. “The important thing is having hope—you know that He’s not going to let you down.”