Discipline is not a dirty word: become a disciple of discipline
Learn to see the positivity in and purpose of being disciplined. It might just lead you to living your best life yet.

Discipline can be perceived as a dirty word, but I’m here to tell you otherwise. When you think of discipline, does it conjure images of toil and labour as you strive towards impossible goals that you can’t wait to kick to the curb? Well, discipline doesn’t need to be about deprivation. It can become your best friend, helping you to live your very best life. The Dalai Lama himself suggests, “A disciplined mind leads to happiness, while an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.” Perhaps it’s time to become a disciple of discipline. Who’s in?

Discipline redefined

The word ‘discipline’ has all sorts of negative connotations. You can instantly feel trapped by a sense of strictness, regulation and restraint. Our lexicon for living well has changed in recent years and we now gravitate towards terms like “flow”, “acceptance” and “presence”, whereby we feel a sense of ease and calm.

But girls, the notions of discipline and flow are not mutually exclusive. They don’t need to be in opposition. Taking a disciplined approach to life can lead to a sense of true autonomy allowing you can create the space to relax and pursue what really matters, leading to a much more meaningful outcome.

Discipline shouldn’t mean ditching fun altogether. It just means saying yes to the fun things at the right time. There is nothing better than treating yourself after you have done something to earn it.

Discipline doesn’t have to be a 24/7 commitment,either, but rather should be incorporated into daily life. In his most recent book, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual, American author, podcaster and former Navy Seal Jocko Willink provides an example of how discipline is the pathway to liberation. He says,for instance, that sleeping-in appears to be a form of freedom as you are free to do nothing and once in a while it feels great just to laze away the morning.

However, the problem with sleeping-in, especially if it becomes the norm, is you don’t get anything done. Consequently, as Jocko points out, jobs bank up; you end up playing catch-up and even lose control,lamenting your lazy, opt-out approach. Ultimately, this attitude to life leads to stress. Discipline, on the other hand, can liberate your life. Which would you prefer?

We all know that feeling of self-recrimination when we’ve given in to laziness or allowed ourselves to be distracted by the endless Instagram scrolling or YouTube marathon. You can feel quite down on yourself when you know you’ve avoided things that needed to be done or wasted time that could have been used more productively. You can make every excuse in the book but you know deep down this is not the case. Avoidance and procrastination can become chronic and even lead to more serious mental health issues.

One step at a time

Being disciplined in no way means you have to “go hard or go home”. But many take an all-or-nothing approach. Have you ever set(or been set) a tough goal only to fall down at the first hurdle? Take the perennial problem of losing weight, for instance. We’ve all heard of or been victim to yo-yo dieting and part of the reason we fall for fad diets is because we want fast results. Sound familiar?

We live in the age of instant gratification. You can stream programs instantaneously and binge-watch your favourite shows. From food to fashion, everything is available on-demand. As our attention spans have shortened, we’ve become more impatient and less tolerant.

Playing the long game is simply not an option for many, but for those who are prepared to put in the work and embrace a little bit of patience, albeit in small bite-sized chunks, results are forthcoming and they tend to be permanent. Discipline is synonymous with habit. Good habits performed daily create lifelong change. It’s as simple as that.

In the example of losing weight, rather than goon a diet to lose kilos fast, only to succumb to the late night proverbial junk food hit in desperation, the slower approach of maintaining a nutritious regimen over a longer time will inevitably yield better results. You see this in all areas of life.

Going hardcore at the gym for two weeks will barely create a difference in your physical wellbeing, but doing a workout three times a week for a year will produce a change in size, shape and fitness. Moreover, once you’re in the habit or have adopted a set routine, it’s much easier to stay in that juicy groove. The stop-start approach means we never get into a momentum and are often left feeling frustrated and disappointed.

Make the choice

Jeff Olson, who wrote The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success and Happiness, discusses how small actions over time will make a big difference. He argues that the daily decisions you make have a powerful and cumulative effect. Mathematically speaking, this makes perfect sense. Just as you may decide to eat nutritious food every day to achieve an overall goal, Jeff points out that eating healthily for one day makes no impact at all. It’s the compound effect that yields the results.

Conversely, munching down a chocolate bar occasionally won’t make a significant difference at all to your median weight.However, a chocolate bar every day of the week for a full year will eventuate in having to invest in a new wardrobe. To paraphrase an old saying, one sunny day does not a summer make.

Any major undertaking, such as training for a marathon or mastering a yogic headstand, requires this approach. In addition there’s a range of subsequent decisions to optimise lasting success. In the case of losing weight, it isn’t merely about the discipline of nutrition and portion control. For instance, what you put in your shopping cart matters so when you open your fridge only an array of healthy options is up for grabs. There’s no pesky temptation there to derail your new steely resolve. It’s these collateral decisions that make a difference in how achievable the goal really is.

The anti-discipline movement

In many ways, qualities like discipline and drive get a bad rap when they should be applauded. Television talent shows where exceptional teenagers become overnight sensations may give the impression that this qualifies them for lifelong stardom. They may be unaware their supposed path to glory is a very rocky road that requires endurance and effort if they are to survive, let alone thrive.

In a society that has become addicted to instant gratification we have swapped “head down, just get on and do it” with “do what feels good right now”. While there is some validity in taking the path of least resistance, for many of us it can actually give us permission to do the bare minimum or not act at all.

Just as discipline has its friends, it also has its foes. They include apathy, procrastination and avoidance as well as the sense of entitlement that has gripped our modern psyche. The assumption that there must be an easy way out rather than having to do the hard graft is standard fare.

Discipline is good for your health. It fortifies you against the disappointment of failure as it gives you stamina, a sense of purpose and productivity where you know instinctively that good things come to those who work and wait.

Hustle, no talent required

Life, it’s said, is not a spectator sport. Nor is it a sport where things come easily. You have to roll up your sleeves and work hard to achieve your goals. Of course, life circumstances have a role to play and bad luck or misfortune can keep you from not being able to play a proactive role in your life.

Yet many sit on the sidelines, never taking chances in the game of life. Whether they battle their own internal resistance and doubts or perhaps lack purpose or motivation, they don’t make things happen and wait passively for life to happen for them. Are you one of these people?

But there is a third category of people who step up, knowing that life never hands out guarantees, but they still go for it and it’s these people who make things happen. They work towards a goal or are strongly guided by a purpose and pursue it with vigour, organisation and discipline. The more they persevere, the more they cultivate and hone their skills, making them more formidable and focused.

The secret is that anyone can hustle. All you have to do is decide to be disciplined. And you can do it with this five-step plan.

Five steps to being a disciple of discipline

  • Set a goal (start out simple — eg, aim to climb Mount Kosciusko before you set your sights on Mount Kilimanjaro).
  • Write a plan of action with the strategy or approach you will use to reach your goal. Put what you need to do in place. For instance, if you want to climb that mountain, set out the program you will need to implement. Then break it down into time segments to track your progress (a month/six months/a year).
  • Get specific by writing your daily to-do list so you create a specific routine to implement your goal program. Remember the old adage coined by Vincent Van Gogh: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
  • Run periodic reviews to see how you’re travelling. This helps with motivation.
  • Give yourself little rewardsalong the way until you reach your final goal destination.

The potential of discipline

Do you remember being read that wonderful tale by Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go?In fact, this story is a philosophical parable that’s worth revisiting,especially when you’ve lost your way. Don’t let its whimsical tone belie its profundity. At its heart it reminds you that life is for living, so don’t abandon yourself to merely existing.

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Throughout the story, the Doc explains that you will meet those who are just “waiting” for life to happen and as a result they let life pass them by.

This story implores you to chase your dreams. If you want to write that opus or lose those holiday kilos, you have to find the determination and mental rigour to get up and do it. Not just once, but over and over until you get to where you want to be.

Becoming a disciple of discipline isn’t as bad as you think once you get the ball rolling. Success does not come to those who wait but those who act now.

First published on wellbeing.com.au