Today is day 31 of waking up at 5am. I’m less tired but still a little cranky. I’m tempted to curl back up into bed, but it’s getting easier. I’m making progress, I tell myself as I walk into the kitchen, pour my coffee and head to my desk.

This is how habits are born.  

I love setting new habits because I love discipline. Discipline used to be this really hard word for me. I associated it with all the wrong things: rigidity, legalism, fear. It wasn’t until last year when I began meal-prepping for the week on Sunday that I realized staying disciplined to a task made me feel happier.

It’s said that discipline leads to freedom, and I fully believe that now. When you learn to take care of yourself and order your tasks, your mind gets freed up. You're able to love people better and experience more peace.

I was recently having coffee with a girl about setting monthly goals. We were talking about how we love setting goals for the month and she told me that, for some unknown reason, she wasn’t nailing any of her goals. When she elaborated, I pointed out that her goals were really extreme. These goals were asking her to completely stop living one way and make a hard left turn in in the opposite direction.

It’s not bad to make these sorts of goals or believe we could become the sort of people who rise at 5, run by 7, eat kale at 9, and then tackle the to-do list like a boss. But you won’t become that person overnight. There will likely be a lot of stopping and starting along the way.

This girl had some extreme goals but they were all-or-nothing. If she failed one (never mind 3 of them) she was bound to give up and feel unworthy of reaching these goals. I prompted her to write down smaller goals that would allow her to scale up to the big ones. Sometimes we need stepping stones between who we are and who we want to become. Getting there is worth it. Becoming a better version of ourselves is always worth the fight.

Here are 4 steps you can take to start setting better habits today:

1. Buddy up. Discipline can be hard if you start on the path alone. It’s hard to be the loudest cheerleader on your own team. One of the biggest lies I needed to overcome in my young adult life is the one that wants me to believe I should try to do it all on my own. We have people in our corner for a reason. We are allowed to call on them and ask for help. When it comes to 5am hours, my friend Kim and I text each other each morning. We send each other a selfie first thing in the morning (no makeup or filters) as a way to say, “I’m up. I’m tired. But I’m ready.” People keep us accountable and push us to limits we didn’t know were possible. We can do some cool things solo but I always find the impact is greater when we let other people in. Taking on this journey with other  people has made all the difference.

2. Stay rooted in your “why”. I think this might be the key to balancing between discipline and legalism. I’m very familiar with legalism when it comes to setting life goals. Legalism would be the voice inside of me that tells me I must be perfect, must never falter, and will squash all my progress if I mess up once.  I have to step back and ask myself: What is driving me? Why am I on this road to become more disciplined? Ultimately discipline leads to freedom. I want to be someone who experiences that freedom! When my “why” is rooted in love instead of fear, I am more successful and feel more capable.

3. Set manageable goals. Yes, you should have reach goals. You should have those big goals that you want to work up to but every big goal is really just a bunch of small goals strung together. Start micro. Begin with running a mile or getting into the gym twice a week. The goals might seem puny at first, and you may be tempted to take on more, but habits take time to build. Give yourself permission to be in process and loving who that process is turning you into.

4. Kill your inner perfectionist. The goal is progress, not perfection. The other day, my trainer asked me to track my afternoon run. She gave me a goal. She told me how to tackle it. And then she told me to send her the results. Mind you, I am not a runner at heart. I can run but it definitely doesn’t come easy to me. As I was running, I was worried about the results. I was worried about reporting back to her and coming back as “less than” she expected. This attitude will ruin me if I allow it. The goal is not to master things on the first try, it’s to push myself to a new level. If I cannot appreciate the hard growth, I will never see the real progress happening.

5. Teach with your life. This year I don’t have a verse for my life, I have an entire chapter. The entire chapter of 1 Timothy 4 is how I hope to live and live loud. One of my favorite aspects of this chapter is this idea of teaching with your life. Translation: Don’t talk loudly about how good your life is, live it and see if people notice the difference. We live in a world where people talk loudly about progress, change, goals and transformation. But I want to be a doer, not a talker. I want there to be evidence. This isn’t a race or a competition.

Reaching goals and embracing discipline isn’t a competition. This is between me and God—who I am, and who he wants me to become. 

The first step is right in front of me. It’s up to me to take it.

Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher founded the global organization More Love Letters in 2011 and cofounded If You Find This Email in 2015. Her memoir “If You Find This Letter” is now in bookstores across the country. Connect with her on Twitter.      


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