The word ‘discipline’ can have many negative connotations. We can associate it with being restricted in some way or being prevented from doing that which we want to do, it can also be associated with corporal punishment and therefore with pain. Is it any wonder then that today’s society is perceived as lacking the discipline of our forebears?
Nowadays we are perceived as a generation of people who, through lack of discipline or knowledge or peer and/or media pressure seek instant gratification, forgoing the foresight to assess the results of our current actions on our future selves.
Maybe our society, in an effort to ‘be all things to all men’ has become too liberal, or maybe we’ve just forgotten the benefits of a disciplined life and the long term advantages this can have for us, or, by contrast, the difficulties which await us in the future should we choose to live an un-disciplined life now.
Below I’ve picked out a few quotes which delve into the subject of discipline, with an emphasis on why it’s so important. A key concept to remember though is that discipline isn’t something we ‘do’ to other people. Instead, the emphasis is on self-discipline, which, in time sends out a clear message to those around us about our values and underlies our personal integrity. It is also likely that our self-discipline will ‘rub off’ on those around us, especially our children who, of course, learn from our actions.
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” Mortimer J Adler.
Adler’s quote is very interesting and possibly flies in the face of our contemporary ‘definition’ of discipline described above. It’s my belief that many people accept that to be free is to throw caution to the wind and to do as we please when we please. In other words, to live an undisciplined life, free of the shackles of ‘I must…’, and ‘I should…’ in favour of allowing our whims to direct our actions. Indeed, I’ve read many magazine articles which have alluded to or even encouraged us to ignore the ‘should dos’ in our lives and just ‘be’.
In our fast-paced world this is probably good advice – in the moment – but as a way of life it stores up so much trouble for the future. On a very basic level ignoring the mental calls of, ‘I should wash the dishes’ or ‘I should phone a plumber about the leaky pipe’ will lead to at least a low level of discontentment at the mess in the house or all-out stress when the pipe finally bursts and causes not only mess but demands on our finances.
It only takes a little thought then to see that on the wider scale of ‘I should write that essay’ or ‘I should save for the holiday’ that a lack of self-discipline can have hugely negative effects on many areas of our lives.
Adler’s quote therefore sums up neatly what personal discipline can give us – freedom. Freedom from the constant chatter in our brains that we need to be doing something else, or, considered another way, freedom from worry about the future because we will have done in the moment, in the ‘now’, what is best for our present and long term well being.
Let’s move on now to another quote which takes this idea a little bit further:
“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Abraham Joshua Heschel.
I love this quote! The idea of saying ‘no’ to ourselves conjures up images of negativity and punishment, of being made to feel that we are somehow penalising ourselves by saying no. But really we should turn this perception right around and see it in a truly positive glow! Think about instances when you’ve turned down a cream cake, another beer or a night out and instead stuck with your plans and principles. Did that make you feel good or bad? But, on the occasions when you’ve eaten the cream cake, drank the beer or gone out with your friends, how did you feel afterwards?
We know we need to do the ‘right’ thing in the moment because, later, after indulging ourselves, we know we’re going to feel regret. And really, we’re not regretful because of the extra calories, fuzzy head or money spent, but because we know we haven’t lived up to our own personal expectations…we haven’t maintained our personal integrity. And this is much harder to bear than the calories and so we mentally beat ourselves or decide it’s just not worth the effort and give up, neither of which is particularly helpful.
And so to the final quote for this blog…
“Why is discipline important? Discipline teaches us to operate by principle rather than desire. Saying no to our impulses (even the ones that are not inherently sinful) puts us in control of our appetites rather than vice versa.” John MacArthur.
John MacArthur’s quote sums up those we’ve touched upon above and also adds the idea of personal control.
When we choose to live by our principles and values and allow self-discipline to be an active force we are able to run our own lives rather than letting our lives run us. The irony is that by placing boundaries around our current wants in favour of our future goals, we actually gain more clarity, time and motivation, which are things we’re all seeking.
So next time you find yourself facing down that cream cake or the extra 15 minutes in bed, call on your friend self-discipline and remind yourself how you will feel afterwards. If your integrity will stay intact then enjoy the moment, if not, say no and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing your future self has just said ‘thank you’!
So what do you think? Does self discipline help or hinder? Please leave a comment…I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Photo: Hajime Nakano