What are your concerns in life at your age? Some of you have had questions on your minds about schooling, employment, marriage, and other general directions in life—about how to best fulfill the expectations of yourself as well as the expectations the Lord has for you.
If I were your age and thinking about life and its meaning, there is one characteristic that I would strive to develop. That characteristic is to have a positive attitude. I am a great believer that what you and I think about will ultimately come to pass. I believe if we think about committing a sin long enough, we will find ourselves entangled in that sin. I believe if we think about what it takes to be successful long enough and if we are willing to discipline ourselves to the principle of success, we will experience success. Yes, I am a great believer that “as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
I have learned that I really do have control to a great degree over my circumstances. If I don’t like them, I’ve found there are certain things I can do to change them. If I want to move to higher ground, if I want to have more positive experiences, I must think about life in positive terms, not dwell on the negative.
I believe you can train yourself to become a positive thinker, but you must cultivate a desire to develop the skill of setting personal worthy and realistic goals. I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the technique of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When you learn to master the principle of setting a goal, you will then be able to make a great difference in the results you attain in this life.
I would suggest that if you want to have success in the goal-setting process, you learn to write your goals down. I would even put them in a prominent place—on your mirror or on the refrigerator door.
You control to a large degree your own destiny. You control your own life. Some of you might cop out by saying, “Well, Brother Ballard, you just don’t understand my environment. You just don’t understand my circumstances. You just don’t understand what kind of a father I have, or what kind of a mother I have, or what kind of a this or that.”
“No,” I would say to you, “put all of that in the back of your minds and bring forward to the front of your mind the worthy goals that you want to obtain. Then practice personal self-discipline.”
Benjamin N. Woodson had some good things to say about self-discipline:
“For my part, I have concluded that the quality which sets one man apart from another—the factor which lifts one man to every achievement to which he reasonably aspires while the other is caught in the slough of mediocrity for all the years of his life—is not talent, nor formal education, nor luck, nor intellectual brilliance, but is rather the successful man’s greater capacity for self-discipline.”
Mr. Woodson offers a great suggestion:
“All you need to do is this: Beginning this very day, stop doing some one thing you know you should not do.” After you have written this one thing down, stop doing it!
Some of you will have the necessary self-discipline and courage to do this. Others of you will just sit here and say, “Oh boy.” You won’t pay any attention to it, and so a month from now you will still be dragging behind you the same habit that is holding you back from being your best self.
A few of you will stop doing that one thing today. Why? Because you are going to write it down and then you are going to discipline yourself in such a way that you are going to take a problem out of your life.
Now the second part of Mr. Woodson’s suggestion is this, “Start doing each day some one thing you know you should do!” Write down one thing that you are going to start doing that you have been meaning to do for a long time but that you just haven’t gotten around to. I don’t know what it might be, but place into your life, beginning tonight, one thing that you are going to do that is going to make you a better person. I believe if you make this a regular practice, you will start to fulfill the Savior’s teaching when He asked us, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Perfection is a process and not an event, and you will come to appreciate that perfection is an internal matter, not external. It is a process by which you and I learn to eliminate the things in life that are not good, replace them with the things in life that are eternal in nature, with the objective and thought that perfection is obtainable, but it must be earned.
If your goals are righteous, of God-given perspective, eternal in their nature, then go for them. Pray for the inner strength to have the discipline to do those things that will guarantee through your activity and your life that you will reach your goals. Then, I think, perhaps as important as anything, we have to have faith. We have to have faith in God. We have to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And oh, how desperately we have to have faith in ourselves.
We all are the sons and daughters of God. Therefore, none of us, no not one, should ever have a low self-image. We belong to Him. We must struggle always to keep in our minds that our ultimate goal is to inherit eternal life.
Sometimes young people will say to me, “Brother Ballard, I have had this problem in my life, and I haven’t cleared it up.” Depending upon the nature of the problem, I counsel with that young person and teach this principle: You must clear the problem up and then not spend one more second worrying about it. Past problems are like a stream when you are standing on a bridge—the stream is rolling underneath you, and your problems have gone downstream. Regardless of how hard you try, you can’t change the past. What I want you to learn to do is look upstream. Watch for the things that are coming down the river of life that you can change and control. Now if there are those of you who have committed transgressions that are of the nature that require a visit with your bishop, please get to your bishop. When? Immediately! Get it cleared up! Get and keep your feet planted on the straight and narrow way.
Set clear and specific goals. When you set a goal and commit yourself to the necessary self-discipline to reach that goal, you will eliminate most of the problems in your life. Spend your energies doing those things that will make a difference. Then you can become what you think about. If you just have the simple faith that God is in His heaven and He is your Heavenly Father and He does know that you are here and He does love you—and that Jesus is the Christ, that He is your Savior, that He is your Redeemer, and that you love Him with all your heart and are going to do all you can to keep His commandments—then peace comes.
Where do you want to get? You are trying to get to the celestial kingdom. We are struggling to become worthy to some day go into the presence of God and Jesus Christ and dwell with Them. There is only one way that you can forfeit the blessings of eternity. You can forfeit them by unrepented sins.
Live a righteous, pure life. Do the right things for the right reasons, and in God’s due time, all of the blessings of eternity will be yours. The key to this is personal self-discipline that leads to righteousness. The key is to do and to learn to master living the gospel for the right reason, to build the inner self.
You have a mighty spirit and so do I. The greatest education and the greatest thrust in our lives ought to be to build upon the things of the Spirit. You do that by practicing some of the principles I have suggested.
We cannot ignore keeping the commandments of God. We cannot excuse ourselves or rationalize or justify even the smallest things in our lives that we need to master. We must work to overcome them. We can become the masters of our own destinies by practicing self-discipline and by setting worthy goals that will lead to higher ground so that we can become what our Heavenly Father wants us to become.
In site: See “The Message: In Control” (New Era, Sept. 1987) by Elder Robert E. Wells at www.lds.org in the Gospel Library.