The Virtue of Discipline

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Photo by Azamat Zhanisov on Unsplash

You don’t hear much about the word discipline these days. Perhaps it’s because we associate it with getting a spanking when we were little. It sounds like something harsh, like something no one wants to do and that kids especially don’t like.*

The word discipline, however is an exceedingly important word. I’m referring here to personal discipline. In the realm of finances, for example, it takes discipline to live within one’s means. It takes discipline to set aside money for the future.

In the realm of pursuing a career in music, every master pianist spends hours and years developing finger strength, muscle memory and uncanny degrees of skill by countless hours of disciplined practice.

In sports, the very best in the game have spent untold hours honing their instincts and skills. As a boy, for example, Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera spent hours upon hours throwing a baseball at a nail-head on the back of his father’s boathouse. This exercise produced in him a throwing precision that made him one of the most intimidating closers in baseball history.

Improving one’s knowledge by reading takes discipline. Television is a mindless activity that offers a temporary distraction from stress, responsibility or other life burdens, but as a way of life it does little more than fill time.And for most it is just a habit. Leaders read. Time is too precious to waste on habits that undermine more productive pursuits.

Here’s another area that requires discipline. It takes discipline not to react to things that people say or stories you hear, until you know they are true. Sometimes we blow a fuse before we even know the facts. Our first reaction is often to think the worst. We overreact.

A better habit would be to practice the P.I.N. method taught by Dr. Edward De Bono. Everything has a Positive, Interesting and Negative aspect. By rationally analyzing things we hear, we defuse the emotion that clouds our thinking. It takes discipline to do this.

And when it comes to passing along stories you see on social media, it takes discipline to pause, reflect, and check it out to verify if it is even true. Why risk your own cred by just spreading nonsense.

Learning to control our emotions is a discipline. Self-control doesn’t sound all that fun to many people, but if you speak your mind every time you are angry you will not only wreck relationships, you can very easily lose your job. When the Bill of Rights addresses freedom of expression, this isn’t what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Another area of emotional maturity is in the realm of moodiness. “I’m in a bad mood and that means I don’t want anyone around me to be in a good mood.” It’s a mark of maturity to be considerate of co-workers and others in your life. (I am not saying we’re not allowed to get depressed. I am suggesting that we have more control over how we express it than we usually want to own up to.)

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Photo by the author.

Winners and Losers

We live in an era where the word competition is under attack. The reality is, competition brings out the best in us. When we compete in a tournament, something is at stake. That something inspires us to work harder to be better, whether it be soccer, chess or poker. If “everyone wins” the end result is to make everyone a loser. Why try when you know being better makes no difference?

In the real world, when kids grow up, they will discover that not everyone gets the job. When there are openings, there are usually more candidates than jobs. There will be winners and losers. This is the way life works.

Punctuality is a discipline. Writers who work on assignment quickly learn that deadlines are real. The publication will be going to press and your story needs to be there early in order to be edited, typeset, etc. Writers also need to develop the discipline of editing their work.

And yes, it is work. And work itself is a discipline.

Addicted to Self-Indulgence

The Nike slogan, “Do It” shouldn’t be interpreted to mean “Do whatever pops into your head.”

“I want this. I want that. I want, want want want want…. Gotta have it. Please please please please please.” That’s how little kids can be, but at some point it’s time to grow up.

One of the reasons we’re so undisciplined in our culture is that we’ve lost sight of the value of discipline as being a means to a higher purpose: to become our better selves.

THIS BLOG POST was triggered by an article I saw on The Ladders about bad habits we must break to improve our lives. The opening paragraph was right on point.

Habits define us. And nothing sabotages your creativity and productive life quite like bad habits. In the words of Samuel Johnson “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

We all know what we need to do. Unfortunately most of us are trapped into following the path of least resistance. “I’ll quit tomorrow,” we say, about whatever has us hooked, whether smoking, overeating, porn, watching TV, etc. As for building positive habits, like getting the exercise we know we need, we somehow deceive ourselves in to thinking we can wait till tomorrow, or that “next week will be soon enough.”

All this to say, it all boils down to self-talk. What’s happening in your head is where the battle is. If I may, here’s a line from a Bob Marley song you can take to heart: “Don’t give up the fight!”

Plato put it this way: “The first and best victory is to conquer self.”

Related Links

Bad Habits You Must Break Immediately to Improve Your Life
*I was spanked with a belt. My Dad was spanked with a Razor Strop

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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