ABCs of Positivity: D Is for Discipline
For decades, the word discipline conjured for me the literal image of a ball and chain. Punishment of the highest order. Soul-crushing boredom. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat…
Though never a military man, my father was a stickler for discipline. He’d developed a morning routine early in his life, and he never deviated from it. Never. You knew he was sick if the paper went unread or there was an errant dish in the sink. He wasn’t fastidiously neat – but he had rules and routines, and there was no breaking them.
My mother was his polar opposite. Chaos ruled her world, and I’ve often wondered how my father survived it. Mom did her best to fit her round peg into dad’s rigidly square hole, but she often failed – routinely forgetting to record the checks she wrote in the register, running out of grocery staples, leaving the hose on all night so we had a lake in the front yard.
My friend and mentor, Sunil Ahuja, once taught a relationship class where he mentioned that we tend to take after one or the other of our parents – and push strongly against the one we don’t resemble. That would go a long way toward explaining my aversion to discipline. The second I got to college and realized no one was looking over my shoulder to see whether I went to class or not, I stopped attending a number of classes. I attended just the first week of one history class I had with a first-year professor who was truly awful, never bought the textbook, only attended the study sessions with her TA, and still pulled a B in the class.
I got a B – but I could have gotten an A. That’s what my lack of discipline got me: decidedly mediocre results.
Nevertheless, I continued to push back against anything that resembled a rule for a very long time. This can get one into trouble – and it put me in a world of it. Nothing life threatening, but seriously uncomfortable and quite damaging to my credit rating for a while.
I rather suspect my husband was my unwitting teacher when it came to accepting discipline as a positive thing. He is a talented musician – and as any talented artist will tell you, talent can only take you so far. The rest involves a lot of hard work. So when he’s learning a new piece on the guitar or bass, Mickey will play it again and again and again, dozens and dozens of times in a single day.
We were visiting with his sister’s family a few years ago, and his 10-year-old niece was whining about having to spend 15 minutes a day practicing the harp. Mickey laughed at that comment, and she took offense. Somehow, the conversation evolved into a challenge. Cassie didn’t believe my husband could play “Ode to Joy” – the piece she was learning – on her harp because he’d never played the harp before. So he sat down at the harp and played the piece – imperfectly, but enough that you could certainly identify the song. Cassie was shocked, until I told her that Mickey had been practicing his art as a musician multiple hours every day for longer than she had been alive. The result was enough skill to play a foreign instrument decently well, and that was why he’d snickered when she complained about her 15-minute rehearsals.
Another lesson in the positive aspects of discipline came via a TED Talk, where the speaker (not the admiral) said people routinely ask him how to be successful, and he tells them to begin by making their bed every day. Frequently, they will see him again and complain they’ve made no progress – and when he asks whether they’ve been making their bed, they admit they haven’t. It seems like such a small thing – but I’ve habit-linked it to brushing my teeth, and now our bed gets made about 95 percent of the time. (I’m the last one to get up, so the job falls to me.)
Most recently, I’ve seen physical results as I’ve changed my eating to include intermittent fasting. The format I’ve been using involves eating only during an 8-hour window of my 24-hour day. My biggest challenge used to be late-night snacking. Now, however, it’s easy not to snack at night because I don’t eat anything after 8 p.m. This doesn’t create the deprivation feeling of a diet, as I haven’t changed what I eat much, just the hours in which I eat it. Still, I’m down 8+ pounds since I began about 8 weeks ago. I’ve also noticed a greater willingness to exercise. I do that in the pool, so it’s fun – but it’s still a workout. This new eating schedule could certainly be described as a form of discipline – and now that I’m seeing results, I’m pretty motivated to continue.
Somehow, it snuck up on me – this idea that there is freedom in discipline.
Reasons to Develop Self-Discipline
- Self-discipline helps you focus – meaning you can reduce distractions and achieve your goals more quickly.
- Self-discipline helps eliminate chaos. As much as chaos may appear to be freedom, when you lose your keys again, forget your car payment, or run out of gas because you thought you could squeak by, you start to realize that chaos might actually be a form of self-sabotage.
- Self-discipline helps you withstand temptations – listening to the devil on your shoulder may be fun in the short term, but those long-term consequences add up.
- Self-discipline can help you get and stay healthier – whether it’s through proper exercise, enough sleep, good hydration, or choosing nutritious foods.
- The results you achieve through self-discipline can increase your self-esteem.
If you view discipline negatively, as I used to, you might want to choose a different word to achieve the same result: perhaps self-control, self-regulation, mastery, restraint, habit, and/or routine would work instead. Any way you slice it, good routines make for more positive results.