What do you think of when you hear the words “self-discipline?” Forcing yourself out of bed early on a cold morning to get to the gym before work? Turning down that piece of chocolate cake even though you really want some? Keeping yourself at the computer until late so you can finish a project, even though you desperately need some rest?
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-discipline as “correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.” Yet there are many ways to create self-improvement. The above scenarios are more like the mind acting as a dictator than they are a reflection of the art of self-discipline. They involve making yourself do something you don’t really want to do. Often, such harsh methods result in rebellion, and you end up abandoning the whole thing.
In the realm of spirituality and personal development, true self-discipline emerges from a deeply held desire. You have a passion for something, you set a goal related to it, and then you use self-discipline to help you take the steps necessary to get to that goal. The goal comes from within, and is something you really want to do. This true self-discipline includes compassion for yourself on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
For example, say you’ve always wanted to play the piano, ever since you were a little girl. You took some lessons and enjoyed them, but then you got busy with school and life and haven’t pursued it since. Your passion for music has now resurfaced, and you decide to do something about it. Your goal is to become proficient enough to play a romantic song at your parents’ upcoming wedding anniversary. The steps that will get you there are signing up for lessons, figuring out which song you want to learn, and lots of practice.
Where does the self-discipline come in? When you’ve had a busy day and want to skip your piano practice, remind yourself of your goal and where it comes from. Rather than simply forcing yourself to sit down and practice, meditate for a few moments on the good feelings you have when you play. Visualize yourself playing the song and delighting your family members. If you’re tired, take a short walk, make a cup of tea, and then sit down to play once your body feels refreshed.
Practicing the art of true self-discipline takes a bit of extra time and thoughtfulness. It might be quicker to just make yourself do something, but eventually you’ll get tired of it and rebel. Taking time to sit and meditate on your intention will be more productive in the long run. It also requires some self-knowledge. You might be the type of person who tends to do too much, and giving yourself a break from time to time is healthy. If you’re someone who tends to give up easily, knowing when to push yourself a bit can come in handy.
When you’re using self-discipline to help you achieve a goal that means a lot to you, taking action will come more easily. Having clear steps towards your goal is also helpful. Make those steps realistic – you’re not going to want to work on your home business all weekend after being at your day job all week, no matter how much fun it is. Leave time for rest and renewal, while still pursuing your goal and getting things done. Celebrate each of the steps as you complete them. When you lose focus, remind yourself why you’re doing this project to begin with – concentrate and really feel the excitement your goal brings you. With these techniques, you can use gentle self-discipline as a tool to bring more passion, joy, and fulfillment – and yes, improvement – into your life.