DISCIPLINE is a Bad Word

I was raised by hippies.

Maybe not in the way you’d usually think of hippies. In my house everyone was a rebel. I was encouraged to express myself and even called my parents by their first names. No-one wanted to do anything on a schedule or with any discernable regularity. I only sort of had a “bed-time” which I could usually finagle to watch “Star Trek”, “Bonanza” or “Monty Python”.

Discipline was definitely a bad word and was vaguely reserved for when I had done something wrong; I knew I would be “disciplined”. “Being disciplined” only happened on very rare occasions (four “spankings” if I recall) but there was always the possibility that “this time” there would be repercussions.

From Wikipedia, on “Discipline”. “To think good thoughts requires effort.”—James Clavell, Shogun

I suspect many of us have the association that we are “victims” of discipline. This word is rarely associated with anything pleasant and is generally to be avoided. Think about it! At worst, the reference to discipline brings to mind sadism & bondage! At the least, it’s akin to taking your morning cod-liver oil: a necessary evil.

Discipline is something to be pushed against, resisted, and you may be perceived as a bit “dull” if you follow through. There’s a bizarre stigma against being disciplined.

But where does this resistance leave us? If we want to lose weight, stop self-medicating, exercise, create art, advance our careers, practice kindness to ourselves, live a more authentic life, go back to school, meditate, anything that requires breaking into a new way of being in the world will require daily disciplines.

We will have to stop wasting time on “distractions” and exert some awareness about our priorities. We will have to say “no” to some things so that we can say “yes” to our vision of what we are creating. We need to choose our best “adult self” over the inner, cranky child that “wants what it wants, NOW!”

Most of us have spent our lives trying to fit someone else’s idea of who we are.

For most of us, leading an authentic life will require discipline… and structure. Why? Shouldn’t authenticity come automatically? Don’t you just have to “be” yourself to be authentic? Exactly, and most of us have spent our lives trying to fit someone else’s idea of who we are, leaving us with vague impressions of our true selves. We have to go in pursuit of who we are by discovering our passions, through discipline and structure.

And yet, each day of determination, where we wake excited and committed to our new path, can end up slumped in front of the TV with a pint of B&J. What happened? Where did our resolve go? Don’t we love ourselves and think we’re worth the effort? Why is inertia so attractive? Because it is familiar, the status quo, the rut in the road.

Practice kindness and empathy for ourselves… and push through the pain.

What’s “the answer”? Kindness… kindness and empathy for ourselves for when we drop the ball, again… and… there’s a side to discipline that I left out on my first draft of this post (gee, I wonder why?).

I left out the pain.

Anyone who ever achieved anything had to have gone through some discomfort, or perhaps even down right “pain” to get there. Think of the guitarist with blisters on their fingers, or the dancer with their bruises and aching feet, the runners who look like they’re nearly dead just before they cross the finish line… But what do they look like afterwards? Nearly dead (they just ran 26 miles) but also euphoric! They did it! They pushed themselves through the pain and they achieved their vision! This is why they say, begin with the end in mind. You’ve got to see your success, vividly in your mind’s eye and hold it there through all the struggle in order to attain your dream.

“Your most important work is always ahead of you, never behind you.” —Dr. Stephen R. Covey

So, yes, practice kindness for ourselves, but remember: this is your dream! And dreams don’t become a reality unless we take action. Beat yourself up? Not too much… but push? You bet!

Discipline & Structure.

Get back on the horse, to the guitar, the computer, the exercise mat, the cushion, the “breath”, the spreadsheet, the books, the personal kindness and start again. And again. And again. And again… because there will be pitfalls.

We will stray a bit, but we can choose, every day, in every moment.

“Am I moving in my consciously chosen direction, or have I (unknowingly) chosen the familiar path once more? Am I ready, in this moment, to choose again what I want? Will I be kind to myself, and understanding of my setbacks, and choose to move forward with intention and discipline?” This may become a constant mantra which is why they are repeated ad nauseum. Course corrections are part of growth!

“Structures keep me in a cage! I want to fly!”

And now to that other “bad word”: Structure. This one pisses people off as well. “I want to be free! Free to do what I want, when I want, without hindrances of any kinds! Structures keep me in a cage! I want to fly!”

Wait a minute!

So you’re saying that you don’t want a house over your head? You’d rather live in the streets? Houses are structures, in case you hadn’t noticed. Your skeleton is also a “structure”. Kinda need that too, don’t cha?

Structure is (literally!) the road to discipline which leads to what you want. Structure is what your practice of discipline looks like. It’s:

  • the waking up every morning at 6:00 to write for an hour.
  • the shopping, prepping and meal plan you create every Sunday.
  • your 12-step program.
  • your bag, with your sneakers, and your path to the gym rather than the TV.
  • your curriculum at school.
  • your coffee, headphones, cushion, “meditation timer” every morning.

Structure provides a framework for obtaining what we want through the practice of discipline.

That is, unless, we’d prefer to complain? 😉 Always a (familiar) choice!

And listen, I want you to always live “in choice”, so if you’re choosing right now to not pursue that growth, make it a deliberate choice and quit breaking promises to yourself. Constantly breaking our own promises leaves us in self doubt as we no longer trust ourselves. Only commit to what you will follow through upon, and do it! Or choose not to, for now.

Stay the course and one day we will wake up to find we are further down the road, the rut is at the last fork in our rear view mirrors and we’re cruising along towards that beautiful horizon.

Always infinite possibilities, always your choice…

A couple of book ideas for when you’re ready to make those changes:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey
The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson

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