“More self-discipline, more freedom.”
The connotation attached to the word ‘discipline’ is often negative. To discipline a student who has misbehaved with suspension or to discipline a child for behaving badly and therefore revoking privileges, so when we have been conditioned to view a particular word with a negative slant, it can take time and must include conscious shifting of the story of what a word means in order to trust that it can have a constructive, and yes, even an enjoyable, connotation.
The term self-discipline is just such a word that when its full benefits are realized can completely transform your life in the most amazing ways.
In 2010, waaaaaay back when TSLL began, I wrote a short list of the benefits of practicing self-discipline, a list that introduces the shift in perspective regarding the phrase self-discipline. As now 13 years have passed, I find myself with an even deeper appreciation and sounder realization of the gifts of self-discipline can bring into our lives. Going beyond the superficial, for example, when it comes to say, losing weight to look thinner, and instead eating well and mindfully to avoid health maladies that will never cross our path in the first place. And so, in such an instance, self-discipline without question contributes to an elevated quality of living and an extension of such a life as well.
And so it happened in a yoga class recently that our instructor gently and wisely reminding us why we hold our poses, why we endure the ninety degree room temperatures – to strengthen our mind, to strengthen our ability to remain present even in the unwanted moments, to respond rather than react, and so we hold our poses which are not comfortable and are not easy, but we choose to do so as a practice to remind ourselves that we can endure and do so constructively so as to weather wisely and lovingly the unwanted moments in our lives when we leave the studio and step into our everyday life. She then concluded, ‘Self-discipline . . . more freedom’.
Self-discipline is a skill, but it is a skill that when we have a clear and intrinsic motivation to hone it, we are more apt to put it into practice, and when we regularly put it into practice, the results we seek gradually and then permanently become part of our daily lives.
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about self-discipline as it pertains to a handful of different arenas of my life. From monetary discipline, to dietary discipline, to physical discipline (yoga!), to minding my thoughts to mental growth through new language acquisition. And as I reflect on the life journey that has lead me to where I am at this moment, many of the decisions made required me to do something – to act, to take a risk, to step forward, etc., but I am reminded of Aristotle’s observed truth, “What lies in our power do to, lies in our power not to do”. So in other words, my confidence in my ability to do tasks, to reach goals through action has been strengthened over most of my life, and while I may not have as many ‘grand’ examples of ‘not doing’ that come immediately to mind, upon conscious consideration actually I do have oodles of examples due to what negative outcomes did not transpire. So in fact, I have done and achieved desired outcomes both through doing AND not doing (aka exercising self-discipline). Proof to myself that acquiring the skill of self-discipline is not only absolutely doable but just as beneficial as objectives reached by doing something.
It is not surprising to note that Aristotle’s star pupil, Plato, the man who is the reason we know of Aristotle’s teachings, furthered reiterated the importance of self-discipline when he shared, “The first and best victory is to conquer self”.
Again the term ‘conquer’ carries with it a negative connotation, but it need not be in the case of acquiring knowledge of yourself, specifically your mind, your emotions, and the triggers that prompt unhealthy or unhelpful behavior. To conquer ourselves as Plato conveys is to strengthen our self-awareness and become ever more mindful of what we do that contributes to the quality of life we wish to live and what does not, to acknowledge honestly when we observe a gap in our knowledge and so then to seek out more information from others far wiser than ourselves in a particular area.
For all of the energy we expend outwardly that is not guaranteed to return benefit such as any attempts to control the world around us – people, outcomes, decisions, etc. – by expressing our opinion, reacting in anyway that is consciously or unconsciously meant to influence others to do as we wish, or any non-constructive behavior that at its core is trying to control what we have no control over, why not shift to using that energy to deepening the knowledge of yourself and strengthening the muscle of self-discipline?
“Mastering yourself is true power.”—Lao Tzu
How does self-discipline appear in our lives?
- Shifting your story-line from ‘saying no to what you don’t want’ and instead rewriting the story to read you are ‘saying yes to a particular goal/outcome’
- I.e. Instead of “I cannot buy items for my wardrobe this month as I have to save money”, shift the storyline to “I am building my way to financial freedom, so I no longer will have to feel deprived or carry the burden of debt.”
- Investing in a life you love living and that feels good to live.
- Yes, that cookie/piece of cake/[insert the food(s) you are trying to limit that do not serve you well] may taste good in the moment, may satiate a comfort you want to feel that your life currently doesn’t provide, but how do you feel afterwards? I am not talking about never having a cookie or a slice of cake – I love a delicious Oregon Chocolate Chip Cookie, but it is those instances when you reach for a food that you know is not going to build your inner confidence or feelings about yourself and are seeking something else that the food cannot provide.
- Putting forth small, consistent effort and letting go. Exercising patience that those small efforts done consciously will add up.
- Removing unconstructive influences.
- From people to exposure to certain advertisements, influencer feeds on social media, news outlets, etc.
- You don’t know what you’re missing if you are not exposed to it.
- Adopting healthy, constructive, beneficial habits and routines, and ones that you take great enjoyment.
- Explore multiple posts about building good habits here.
- Explore multiple posts about the benefits of routines and how to create ones you love here.
- A readers’ favorite for posts about the topic of routines: The Paradox of Having Routines: Spontaneity and Creativity Arrive in Abundance
I want to leave you with a lasting thought to ponder on this topic. I recently had a conversation with someone about a project they had completed and have since received great success upon completion. A four+ year project sharing information and inspiration on a topic they loved and had spent decades of their lives becoming an expert in. When we talked about the project itself, bringing this information to readers, they shared that writing the book was very difficult, the actually writing itself because they are not a writer by trade, but rather an expert in what they are writing about. However, they persevered. They stuck to the project and brought it to completion due largely because of the motivation of sharing what they loved.
As I was listening to them speak about this truth, I noted to myself that this is the key to maintaining self-discipline: the desired outcome must be intrinsic. In other words, the motivation for what you are doing must come from a genuine place inside you – to achieve something that means something to you. You cannot be shamed or guilted into doing something that does not have meaning for you. Which is to say, if you are doing anything for approval, the self-discipline will expend its energy long before the outcome can be reached or if you do reach it, you have little or no motivation to maintain or appreciate where you’ve arrived. The motivation must be rooted within you.
So today, what is something you have long wanted to achieve? Once you have placed your mind upon that outcome, first ask yourself, Why do I want to achieve it? (and be honest with yourself). Once you have pinpointed an outcome that speaks to something within you rather than without, focus on the five points enumerated above, and in time, you will reach the success you seek. And when you do, nobody else may be the wiser, but you will know, and that is all that matters and all you need if the goal came from within.
Yes, that is the gift of practicing self-discipline. To master yourself. You have set yourself free. Enjoy the life you have cultivated because it really is a sweet life to live.
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15 Everyday Habits to Live a Life of Contentment, episode #93