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The Joy of Self-Discipline

When I was twelve years old I learned a powerful lesson about discipline that has lasted my entire lifetime. Up ’til then I had regarded discipline as some kind of punishment. “You must discipline yourself!” meant to me, “You must punish yourself.” I knew that discipline was important to learn because my parents told me so and because it was such a serious subject to them. I had never considered until that incredible moment when I was twelve that discipline could bring me joy … pure joy. I was taking ballet lessons. Ballet is a very disciplined art. It requires years of practice to master the effect of effortless movement. I had already advanced to toe shoes where I was allowed to dance on the tips of my toes in those lovely pink satin slippers. I was practicing pirouettes where I was attempting to spin around on one toe four times without losing balance or control and complete the step ending in a perfect fifth position. I had already learned how to complete one, two, and even three turns, but four had eluded me for some time. I worked and worked without much success. I really worked hard. Then one day I experienced the bliss of discipline. I completed four pirouettes “on toe” and finished in fifth position. As I whirled around I knew that I had it. I was in control. I was master of my mind, emotions, and body. I was free. In those few seconds I experienced a joy I remember to this moment. I was filled with a feeling that lifted me up out of the ordinary into the extraordinary, into the realm of bliss. And I knew that this experience came as a result of my willingness to discipline myself. From this and other similar experiences I learned to endure the drudgery, monotony, and discomfort often associated with self-discipline. In my mind behind the “work” of self-discipline was always the possibility of joy.

T he achievement of anything of value requires discipline. Consider the process of constructing a building. Not only must the site be buildable and the foundation have integrity, so must the framing, the roofing, the electrical, the plumbing, etc. If even one phase of building is compromised, it is possible for some or all of the project to fail. The same is true for human beings. Our thoughts and actions must be backed by the integrity of self-discipline.

When I see a client for therapy I ask them to tell me their goals, what they want to achieve from their therapy. I might ask, “If you had a magic wand and could wave it and you could have anything you wanted, what would it be?” Frequently I hear the response, “I just want to be happy.” It is often said as though happiness were something outside of the self that can somehow magically be achieved without effort or contribution. They might just as well have said, “I’ll do therapy if you just make all the pain and discomfort go away. You do the work. Just wake me when it’s over.” Happiness is the result of responsible thoughts and behaviors which often require work to achieve. Without self-discipline not much of value can be achieved.

We cannot expect to be happy unless we build each aspect of our lives with discipline and integrity. No one can have anything of lasting value without self discipline. Discipline is the backbone of a happy, healthy life. Discipline is where you find your freedom, your joy.

As a child you may have been exposed to discipline in a negative light. Discipline is often associated with punishment, sometimes unfair punishment. A child who has been unjustly punished may react by refusing to develop self-discipline. A child who has been pampered or over indulged may not develop self-discipline. A child who experiences undisciplined adults around him may not develop self-discipline. Such children grow to be unhappy adults. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. All of us have been compromised in our childhood regarding discipline in some way or other, perhaps by over discipline, under discipline, unbalanced discipline, or the wrong kind of discipline. It is up to us to identify the problem within ourselves and correct it.

Learning correct self-discipline can set you free. You have probably already experienced the freedom that comes from self-discipline. Think of something of value that you have completed in your life. That it was completed, how well it was completed, and how long it took to complete were all determined by your own self discipline. Remember how good you felt when you were done. That feeling of satisfaction justified all your effort and sacrifice. A person who disciplines himself with wisdom is a person who experiences freedom.

How do you develop self-discipline? Reflect on your childhood experience regarding discipline. Identify what decisions you made about discipline. Notice the patterns that developed from these decisions and how you may be acting out these patterns today. You can choose to make new decisions about how you want to be. You can choose to think and act differently.

Learn delayed gratification. Wait for what you really want. If you don’t you will be dissatisfied and unconsciously attempt to fill your need or desire again and again. Evaluate priorities and create a vision for your own personal goals. Keep your inner eye constantly on your vision and do not compromise for anything less. Look at the company you keep. Notice what you are learning from the people around you. If you don’t like what you see, take action and develop some new friends that model wise and loving self-discipline. You can change yourself for the better. It does not matter what you’ve experienced in the past. It does not matter who you have been in the past. You can change yourself now.


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