While it may not carry with it the same level of warm-fuzzies as America, motherhood and apple pie, it’s pretty hard to argue that discipline isn’t something just about universally celebrated as a good thing to pursue. The ability to stick with something you commit to, even when things get hard, inconvenient or lonely, is one of those generally accepted positives. And I think it does deserve that kind of placement in the pantheon of virtues (which now makes me think I need a blog post about a pantheon of virtues).
What’s funny about discipline is how easy it is to get completely wrong. I say this from very personal experience and I’ve seen it on more than a few occasions in others.
“Hey Kev, you remarkably handsome and dapper son-of-a-gun, how does some get discipline wrong? And how can YOU, of all people, get it wrong?” is what you must be thinking. I can feel it. That exact quote of amazement. I’m good at this stuff.
Glad you (well maybe I) asked.
This is how: when discipline morphs into self-bashing and, at least for me, that transition occurs a little too seamlessly at times.
Not having great focus during a lifting session could be “Not great tonight, but tomorrow get back at it. Maybe get up early to see what you can do.” vs. “What the f**k was that? You aren’t going to get better mailing it in like that? Seriously, stop screwing around and acting like a jackass. Do better.”
Trying to lose weight and caving in with an oversized dinner when out with friends could be “Well, not ideal… but that’s just one meal. Get back to the plan tomorrow.” vs. “Great going, champ. All this progress totally blown. Typical. This is why you aren’t doing any better and this is why you keep screwing these things up.”
These aren’t the exact things I am saying to myself (well, maybe the lifting part), but I think it’s representative of how we can shoot for tough-minded discipline and miss the mark by going with “I am going to utterly kick the bejeezus out of myself to fix things.”
Discipline is great and necessitates a toughness towards yourself in order to fully express itself. You will be forgoing ease and comfort in the pursuit of true discipline. You will have struggles and moments of doubt as you push through. You need to persist.
But when you inevitably stumble…because we all stumble… you need to tune in to how you react to that. Tough mixed with positive is doable and you probably need to catch yourself to make it happen. God knows I do. Because discipline at the expense of your self-worth is a trade-off without much long term merit.
Self-kindness isn’t weakness, my friends. It may be the best strength you have.