How can discipline lead to freedom?
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Many people ask me, how do you stick to things? Maybe I appear (key word!) as someone who naturally persists at things, just settles down and gets on with it. But this couldn't be further from the truth. There is no magic formula. So I wanted give my advice from someone who used to (...) be a master procrastinator and still occasionally falls off the wagon. How do we approach this so that we can be disciplined for the long-term? And more importantly, why is this a necessity?
Discipline has a bad rep
I think when we hear the word discipline, it conjures up many negative connotations. We think of discipline like being scolded after doing something bad. But it is so much more than that. When I changed my perception of discipline and its quiet strength it slowly changed my life.
Initially, it was someone else who told me about this. They said, to train the discipline muscle, just everyday without fail do something simple. For me it was 15 minutes of just sitting still (before even starting with meditation!). Let me tell you, for some reason it was very hard. I kept having these thoughts of 'what is the point' and 'I can't be bothered today'. Continuing past the initial enthusiasm, and when you can't reap the benefits yet is hard. But as it was more straightforward task, I could build up this discipline muscle.
As many people always say (which we ignore!) habits are everything. What I have learnt, is that these small, 'insignificant' things really do matter!
You'll look back two months later and find yourself in a completely different place. It will feel like second nature. Discipline turns into routine. No extra effort needed. But till you get there you must remember that every time you build your muscle discipline you will reap the benefits later.
The all-or-nothing trap
But I need to mention that sometimes we can get caught up in a trap. We go all out, and if we miss one day, we berate ourselves and suddenly a single day turns into weeks and months. The reason for this? Generally, this is also just a form of procrastination. All or nothing. But we need to realise, there will be the odd off day! This is fine. It does not mean we have to pack our bags and leave. Whatever habit you're trying to cultivate, get back to it, whenever you can, for as much time as you can give it. Even if it feels haphazard. This quote explains it well:
"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself" (Max Ehrmann).
Discipline are the wings to set you free
It's kind of like re-wiring yourself. These little habits that seem like no big deal, can transform your life. When we think about changing ourselves to become better, this is too broad and therefore challenging. But by focusing on little habits to stop or start doing something, it's a slow but powerful way of changing yourself.
The freedom is gained because you are no longer trapped in your own learnt behaviour and habits. You choose what you will be.
This discipline of simple things, will build your confidence, persistence and set you for even bigger things. Let's say for example, 15 minutes of writing everyday. A beginner who sat down and told themselves: 'I will work on my novel every Sunday for 4 hours' will definitely struggle more. There will be more hindrance in terms of their own mind or excuses (genuine or not) stopping them. A higher risk. A beginner who consistently built the discipline to continue small parts every day, will have ingrained habits and skills that will stand the tests of time and will with patience become effortless.
The best part about this, is that when we start with simple things, we can start to work on bigger and bigger things. It gives us a focus and persistence from many months of habit building (which literally re-wires your brain!) that mean we can tackle something on a bigger scale.
Those unconscious things or set ways, the things that we 'just are', don't have to be this way. Discipline can give us the keys to reach our potential.
Build the discipline muscle!
It's not all or nothing! Every little bit helps. Always get back to it.
Discipline sets you free, you are not controlled by your unconscious, you choose your behaviour.
Changing ingrained habits mean you can improve your current skills or wellbeing but most importantly build persistence.
Don't think the little things are pointless. In fact, they are the things that matter the most.
“Discipline yourself to do the things you need to do when you need to do them, and the day will come when you will be able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them!” (Zig Ziglar).