There are two kinds of self-discipline: Imposed self-discipline and loving self-discipline. Imposed self-discipline says, “I will do this no matter what. I don’t care how much I will have to suffer. I deserve to suffer! I am useless if I don’t do this.” Loving self-discipline says, “Healthy love requires measure and tempering. Relax into the task at hand. Be present. Experience it fully. It is not so bad. See? You are doing it and you are OK.”
While imposed self-discipline can “get things done” and can give a person a veneer of efficiency, it can be demoralizing and debilitating, and certainly does not possess the ability to bring out the best in a person. Consider the ways in which you were disciplined as a child: You may have been disciplined with cruelty and mocking by some adults, and with more supportive and encouraging means by other adults. While the former unkind approach to discipline may have intimidated you to act out of fear of being judged or hurt, it didn’t bring out the best in you, and certainly was not motivating and empowering. What it probably elicited in you was fear, shame, resentment, and anger. As children, we don’t get to choose our disciplinarians. But as adults, we can choose how we discipline ourselves.
Here’s how to approach self-discipline with self-love:
- Be present: Before you let your inner taskmaster berate you, take a deep breath. Exhale. Scan your body. Are you tense? Can you let go of the tension in your body?
- Check into your emotions: Are you attempting self-discipline from a place of shame and anger, or from a place of focus and determination? From weakness or from strength?
- Evaluate your motivations: Why do you want to do this task? Can you find a higher purpose in it?
- Act with love: Make an effort to do your work, whatever it is, in a state of relaxation and love, rather than in a state of tension. Find ways to enjoy the activity, even if it is difficult. Keep breathing, keep your mind clear, and persist through the task.
Whether you are embarking on an exercise regimen, attempting work that you have been procrastinating about, or trying to establish a new healthy habit, you’ll get farther and you’ll get better results if you do it with a pleasant and loving attitude. Treat yourself gently and allow your strengths and talents to slowly emerge. Work every day, and work consistently, but work tenderly. You must not diminish or destroy yourself while trying to improve your life — build yourself up while you go out of your comfort zone.
Go deeper into this subject: Your Guide to Personal Freedom: Counting the Omer Week Two | Vice Advice Series Part Seven: Laziness | Shoveling the Snow | Can There Be Growth Without Pain? | How to Change Your Life | Do You Know How to Love and How to Channel?