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The Use Of Self Discipline

Many of us wish we were more self-disciplined.  If we could only will ourselves to do what we needed to do when we needed to do it, we would be successful, fulfilled and have the things that we always wanted.  Think of the last lazy weekend afternoon when there were errands to run, chores to finish and maybe a personal project or two that you wanted to work on.  Yet all you wanted to do was lay around and watch old movies on TV or spend time outside with your family.  In those moments we wish that our willpower was ironclad and we could push the thought of movies or sunshine out of our minds.

But, what if, despite the errands and the chores and the projects, what you really needed to do that afternoon was lay around or spend time outside?  How do you decide between what must get done and what you desire to do?

Following your own desire can be exhillerating, but also a bit scary.  Imagine what it would be like if you said “yes” to everything that you wanted to do when you wanted to do it.  Your life would be much more enjoyable, but most of us would be afraid that we were telling ourselves the “wrong things” to do.  We have received a message that what we want will lead us down the wrong path, and the remedy for this is harsh self-discipline – the ability to force yourself to constantly do things you don’t want to do.

When our bodies need fuel, we get a message in the form of “hunger.”  When our bodies need to rest, we get a message in the form of “sleepiness.”  If we listen properly, our body tells us exactly what it needs and I don’t feel that this is any different from looking out of your window and desiring to go outside rather than work.  We tell ourselves what we need when we need it, even for things that aren’t “essential” for the maintenance of our bodies.

Maybe on that lazy afternoon, what you really need is fresh air and sunshine, physical activity, time with your family and play.  And, when you think about it, the errands you want to do aren’t a necessity, and the chores you can finish during the week and there really is no rush on your personal project.  In this case, I feel following your intuition is the right thing to do.  So shake off your guilty feeling and go outside.

On the other hand, maybe you desperately need to go to the grocery store or you will be eating out of drive thru windows this upcoming week.  I think this is the time when our brains kick in and tell our bodies to hold on a minute.  Yes, the sun is shining, but you are really trying to eat healthfully and a week of fast food just isn’t going to cut it.  Having some self discipline in this case is a good thing and ultimately will serve you as well as your body does when it needs something.

Your brain and your body aren’t enemies – they just have different roles.  And you can use both to pick the direction you need to walk in.  I think I prefer the term “self-management” for this process, rather than “self-discipline.”  To me, “self-discipline” infers that you have to punish yourself to keep yourself in line.  Or that you have to force yourself to do the “right things.”  But, “self-management” implies a back and forth process between your body and your mind.  You can discern between when you need to follow your body and when you need to follow your mind.  You are in charge of yourself, but you know when to listen also.

What do you think?  Are you more of an intuitive follower of yourself or are you more likely to make plans and follow them to the letter?  How have you combined the two?  Leave us your answer in the comments.  Thanks!

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  1. Amanda,

    Interesting post. I think that self-discipline is a great word because one has to exhibit will power to avoid laziness. This is not punishent, just a way of life to be productive. For me, the process is not really back and forth between mind and body, I just procrastinate at times. This is just a mental decision I make between being productive doing work, or being lazy.

    Anyways, I enjoyed the read. Thanks for the post.

    @JoshHurlock’s last blog post..How to Rekindle Your Love for Your Business

  2. Amanda,
    The word that St. Paul and the desert monks used was “ascesis”, which means “practice” or “training”, in the way an athlete trains his body or a craftsman works to perfect his craft. That’s how I like to think of it. It’s very like the Eastern (Buddhist, Yoga) emphasis on “mindfulness”. When we indulge every whim, the whims take over. When we are mindful, we recognize the impulses as they arise, we don’t try to smother them, but we don’t immediately indulge them either — we just look at them, consider them, decide what to do with them.

    What I find often works is to tell myself “well, I’ll just do this ONE chore, and then I’ll lay back and watch TV (or drive up to the ice cream shop, etc.)”. By the time I’ve done the chore, the impulse is likely to have passed. If it hasn’t, I need to examine why it is so strong and persistent. Have I been getting enough sleep? What time of the month is it? Or is there something I’m avoiding dealing with?

    The correlary is the astonishing fact that the Sabbath rest is right in the Ten Commandments, up there with “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery”. Thou shalt damn well kick back and relax, for a whole day, every week. Completely relax, enjoy contemplation and simple pleasures (the kind that don’t require somebody else to work instead). It takes a little forethought to make sure you’ve got plenty of leftovers to get you through the day without having to cook, but man, what a gift! I find that it makes self-discipline (or “ascesis”) easier if I know that I have a completely chore-free day coming up, in just a few days.

    In practice — I am terrible at self-discipline. But I’ve been working at it in the last year or two, and these things I’ve found helpful.

    Blessings to you

    Regina’s last blog post..7 things you may not know about me

  3. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Josh – Thanks for your comment and perspective 🙂 It does take some willpower to do something when it needs to get done, and I understand the way you see “self-discipline” fitting that. I think my unstructured nature simply bristles at the word “discipline” 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Regina – Thanks for your comment! Great consideration of the idea of self-discipline as “training.” I like that. Also, interesting comparison with “mindfulness” – I hadn’t thought of that and I think that’s also a useful concept for thinking about self-discipline. And, you’re right, resting is not an option – not taking some time to rest is just as bad as being perpetually lazy 😉

  4. I’m more of an intuitive follower and have felt guilt for giving myself probably what I really needed in that moment rather then following my life to the letter of the law.

    Its good for me to defertenerate between the need to rest and do things for myself vs errands and chores that either need to be done now or that can wait until tomorrow. The key for me is not to feel guilty with whatever decision I make.

    Carla’s last blog post..The Controversy of the (Organic) White House Garden

  5. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Carla – Thanks for your comment! I’m really glad you brought up guilt about being more intuitive. I know I’ve often felt the same way, even though, as you also point out, I probably needed whatever it was that I chose in that moment. I think I try to work on following my intuition mostly (it usually doesn’t fail me), but recognizing those moments when I need to override it because something has to get done. 🙂

  6. interesting post

  7. Hi Amanda!

    It’s interesting that as I wind down my weekend on this Sunday evening I just realized that I didn’t have a weekend at all. All weekend was spent doing homework that I am too tired to tackle during the week due to a heavy workload.

    I agree with you that it takes self-discipline along with commitment.

    Now I have an hour to catch a move and be lazy!:~)

    “Self-discipline is the child of commitment!” ~Henie~ :~)

    Henie’s last blog post..Life Is Like A Door

  8. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi hkki – Thank you 🙂

  9. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Henie – I love the last quote in your comment!! I’m going to remember that going forward 🙂

  10. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Tess – I’m with you on this one 😉

  11. Anthony Anthony

    I’ve been reading about “self-discipline,” tonite and I’ve been experiencing that twang of “this is not the whole picture.” Finally, I found your blog and you eloquently express how to avoid the master-slave dynamic between the mind and the body. In my case, there is always a violent slave uprising before too long when I try to whip myself into activity. It’s very difficult to find that proper balance of tension and relaxation. Do you know of any books that can inspire people to take this more wholisitc approach to “Self Management?”

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