Last week a chance meeting with another self-development devotee led to a question of “What is discipline?” Initially a conversation about exercise and fitness, but of course it’s much, much bigger than that.
Discipline sounds hard and harsh, but actually, it’s about choice. That we always have a choice. In some situations, the choice might be between two or three pretty unpalatable options, but a choice nonetheless. Discipline is choosing when there is a choice to be made, even when that decision is a hard one. Discipline is to KEEP CHOOSING in favour of that outcome or destination even in the face of opposition. Discipline is gathering our reserves to overcome obstacles when it’s so much easier to quit. Discipline is choosing in favour of our values – living them -not just stating them, but making a choice of integrity in the moment when it counts.
What do I fancy right now? Netflix and pizza on the couch. What do I want most? To fit in my skinnies and zip them all the way up. What does he say his values are? Fidelity and family. So that means choosing to walk away from the flirty colleague in the bar at midnight however flattering and ego stroking it might feel in that moment. It’s steeling herself to make an unpopular choice but right choice to restructure and follow it through with conviction however tough it may be.
Discipline is self-governance in action. It’s choosing to do the thing you don’t fancy right now (pounding the pavements in the rain/ making the zillionth lunchbox / answering tedious email) in order to serve a higher, longer-term goal (finishing the marathon / keeping the children well fed / holding a job and making money to live on). I think many of us think we are undisciplined – but actually, we are far more disciplined than we think. I generally see that people lack discipline in one or two areas of life, but in the rest, they operate with a steely determination come what may. Channelling the same discipline of showing up to work or for our children into showing up for our body at the gym is a process of applying something we already know how to do, just in a different area of life.
We all have moments where we take the route of least resistance. Have the second helpings even though we are totally replete. Skip the workout because we can’t be arsed. Give someone good feedback when it really wasn’t a job well done because we wanted to avoid feeling anxious with a hard conversation. Not walking away when we know we so should have. Not stepping up or speaking up when we know in our gut it was the right thing to do.
Essentially discipline boils down to this. The choice between what feels good now and what will feel great later.
Discipline is more than a decision. It’s a practice. Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil, which surely infers that it’s a process of learning. When we know better, we can choose better. And keep choosing better.