Self Discipline – building the will and ability to sustain it

Self Discipline – building the will and ability to sustain it

Sumita Banerjea

Educator, Counsellor & Author


Dear Discipline,

I have noticed that over the past few months you have been avoiding me. If you think that by hiding, you can lessen some burden on yourself, of getting me back on track, I have news for you!

There is a mole in your organization that has wizened me up to your tricks; and to your new found friends, who wish to score a point over you; by making you relax and not do your job.

These ‘non-friends’ have cozied up to me, to ensure that our friendship goes for a six. Discipline, I am missing you in various compartments of my life, such as, work, health and relationships.

You ask me who these non-friends are? Here. Let me name some of them for you.

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Non-Friends’ of Discipline

  • Each time you and I have an appointment for a walk in the park or an exercise session, procrastination along with lethargy make themselves readily accessible to me; leaving me without time-management and devoid of energy.
  • When I open the fridge and find the chocolate mousse beckoning me, my impulse control goes for a ride.
  • The same happens when I react with anger instead of taking a breath and responding calmly to a situation at work or at home.

Dear Discipline! I realise you are a learnt behaviour that needs practice; and, it is equally easy to unlearn you, if I fall prey to your new game plan of deserting me.

I have worked diligently with you to get my life sorted to the extent possible; and so, have been able to achieve whatever I have.

But of late, your new ambassador, overconfidence has been visiting me regularly. It gives me the false belief that I’ll be able to get things done with last minute effort. Things either don’t get done or get done shoddily.

With you by my side, I did my work systematically and got the desired results. You helped me look at long term happiness, instead of short term pleasures that are ephemeral.

Lack of patience, insufficient effort or hard work have made me get hooked on to immediate gratification and quick results. I find that I am constantly looking for a short cut; and that, is hurting me!

How does this make me feel?

I feel powerless and angry at myself. I also feel guilty about succumbing to these unhelpful visitors.

Actually, I am being unfair about blaming you totally, discipline, for abandoning me. I know that I am accountable for it too.

I have made it easy for you to relax. Perhaps you wanted to test our friendship, by letting these non-friends of yours loose on me; and,  by succumbing, I let you down.

There are some chinks in my armour

Your so called friends find me easy prey –

  • when I am sad, anxious and over stressed
  • have had lack of sleep
  • have too much free time
  • and when I can’t establish clear boundaries and say ‘no’ when I need to.

Strangely enough it is also when –

  • I don’t care for myself, or
  • not love myself
  • and hear strong voices of self criticism and judgement, that make me give up.
  • External unfair judgement that is critical and demeaning weakens my resolve.

But dear friend discipline, I have decided. No more of this!

I need to ensure that indiscipline, your alter ego, does not win.

How do I do it?

It has to be a well thought out plan. First I need to accept that I am getting distanced from you and becoming vulnerable to counter forces.That has to change.

 For this, I have to do the following; And while doing this, you my friend discipline are not a burden but an ally.

  • I am required to ensure that I am strong and protected from the attack by indiscipline
  • I need to look after myself, physically and mentally
  • Enough rest and exercise
  • Good mental health, which includes, among other aspects
  • Building my self esteem and self worth
  •  Handling my stressors effectively
  • Exploring and understanding the context in which I allow myself to feel demeaned.

To do all this, I have to separate the problem from myself. Shift the focus from my identity to the context. Then I can cope better.

I cannot equate a slip-up of mine, with me being a moral write off. For example, just because I lost my temper, does not mean that I am a terrible person. The two are not the same.

Understanding and accepting my emotions and their triggers helps me work with them; and then I don’t try and cover up for them. I am open to facing my internal issues and dealing with them. It helps me stay on track and opens up many choices and possibilities.

According to Mark Manson (In the article: If self-discipline feels difficult, then you’re doing it wrong) the classical approach to self discipline is

 ‘Self-Discipline = Willpower = Self Denial = Good Person.’

Someone who can say no to the taco is a good person. The person who can’t is a failure of a human being.”…… “The classic approach has the paradoxical effect of training us to feel bad about all the things that make us feel good. It basically seeks to teach us self-discipline through shaming us……..”

Quite obviously this is not sustainable!

This shaming merely breaks our self confidence and builds up tension and stress that eventually implodes and creates other problems.     

What is sustainable in the long run?

I need to feel happy about embracing you, dear discipline, because of what you are doing for me; and that good feeling is my reward. By holding hands willingly with you and feeling validated for my effort with the results achieved, makes us long term buddies.

We are on the same side and you don’t seem like a punishment for some wrong that I have committed. With you I am not denying myself, rather accepting and helping myself.

Next I will ensure that I have a structure with which to work.I can hear your voice telling me what to do. Makes me happy – your warming up to me again.

  • I hear you say that I need to set the much talked about SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/relevant, time-bound. For example, lose two kilograms in one month by walking for forty minutes each day at a brisk pace and following a reasonable diet.
  • And when I achieve it, reward myself with an ice cream or something that makes me feel good.
  • But while on the journey, it would be easier for me to stay off temptations, till I feel mentally strong enough to say ‘no’; even if a fresh strawberry flan with cream is placed in front of me! Over time I will develop new helpful habits and replace the unhelpful ones.
  • I don’t want to starve or deny myself all pleasures. So perhaps I can even look for other things that can give me happiness – like distributing chocolates to children who cannot afford them; volunteering in a library; doing story telling sessions; making hand made soaps for a charity….
  • Making others happy gives me a lot of joy, which in turn keeps me in a better mood to embrace you, dear discipline.
  • I could put up pictures of a fitter me on my cupboard to egg me on; talk to those who appreciate my goal and motivate me. Even if I slip up, say its okay, carry on and remind myself why I began the journey.
  • I need to be conscious of what made me slip up, what my internal hurdles are, take counselling help if necessary to help know and accept myself better.
  • I need phone detox time so that I can do better time management to stick to my plan.

Word the goals in the present tense

I would like to word my goal in the present tense as if it is happening; and mention what it will make possible for me – not just ‘lose weight’. This seems incomplete and somehow like an imposition. So I will say-

“It is giving me more energy to read, do gardening, be more productive, not waste time just lying around.”

“It is giving me better sleep, helping me with health parameters, being lighter is helping me go on treks and climb.”

“I am bending easily and cutting my toe nails without struggling, playing longer with my energetic grandchildren, using all the clothes in my wardrobe and not paying unnecessarily for alterations, feeling good about myself and happily puffed up (not too much) with a sense of empowerment”…………. SO many benefits!!

Cheers to our Friendship!

Yours Truly

P.S. – Mark Manson has a very pertinent take on what works :

Our behaviours are not based on logic or ideas. Logic and ideas can influence our decisions, but ultimately, our feelings determine what we do.”

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Mini Kapur
Mini Kapur

What a beautiful article ! I am sure I will try to make Discipline my good friend 😊