A Disciplined Life

What do you think of when you hear the word discipline? Do you think of parents spanking their children or a course of study at the university, or perhaps martial arts? Has the word become obsolete for you? There is a lot more to this word than corporeal punishment and academics. The word discipline means “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.” (Merriam-Webster). While I’d love to chase the etymology of the word down the proverbial rabbit hole, I won’t. (You welcome!😊) Let’s just say discipline is a necessary part of life. We can usually all agree on this point.

We admire people who demonstrate discipline. We honor them with medals, awards, scholarships, and other means of recognition. Excellence in sportsmanship, musicianship, academic achievement, military prowess, and other life pursuits happen because of personal disciplines. These types of discipline may include practice, exercise, time management, and lifestyle changes. Disciplined individuals focus on the end goal; they will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals. People like Serena Williams, Yo Yo Ma, Michael Jordon, and the U.S. Olympians are just a few individuals whose skills and high-performance levels depend on how they live and handle themselves, we call that self-discipline. These persons have demonstrated world-class achievements because of their willingness to lead a disciplined life, but what about the rest of us? Do we need personal disciples as well? How much more could we accomplish if we led a disciplined life, personally and professionally? I have no doubt that I could produce more as a writer if I were more disciplined about writing, such as scheduling time to write everyday.

Sometimes discipline is a matter of priority, and believe or not writing isn’t my highest priority. This accounts for my missed deadlines. Different priorities/goals may require different strategies and disciplinary habits. We may have to start off with small changes to build up the necessary disciplines for achieving our prioritized goals. (I certainly did.) I am not saying we all need to go out and hire a life coach or a trainer (although it may help to have an accountability partner), but I am saying we need to become more intentional about who we want to be and what we want to achieve. Then we can set the perimeters for what we must do to achieve our goals and dreams.

I recently read an article by Jennifer Cohen, a former contributor of Forbes. According to her “self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy.” (Google: Five Proven Methods for Gaming Self Discipline, Forbes.com, June 18, 2014.) Like Jennifer, many believe (and so do I) that people who practice personal disciplines are not easily swayed by peer pressure, emotional impulses, conflict, or failure because disciplined people are focused on the end game. They make decisions and adjustments based on factual information and personal objectives, rather than peer influence or the latest trends. On a daily basis they chart their progress and revisit their targeted short and long term goals.

Your goals may not be, nor do they have to be compatible with anyone else’s goals. Personal disciplines are self-imposed changes to your lifestyle and personal habits. According to the article mentioned above, there are five proven methods for gaining better control of your habits. (If you get a chance read the entire article.) “1. Remove Temptation. 2. Eat Regularly and Healthily. 3. Don’t Wait for it to “Feel Right.” 4. Schedule Breaks, Treats, and Rewards for Yourself. 5. Forgive Yourself and Move Forward.” I would like to add just one more to this list: Don’t expect others to understand or agree with all of your choices.

Here is an example from my own life. I have to stock sugar free products for my consumption and avoid the temptation to overindulge in carbohydrates. I can’t remove the temptation by forcing others in my home to eat like me, but I can remove myself by having high protein choices easily available. I also have to resist eating out of boredom or depression. I can’t award myself with food. Substituting fresh fruits and raw vegetables is a healthy choice for me rather than my favorites: chocolate cake and ice cream. When I fall off the wagon, I try not to dwell on it. I admonish myself and start again. I revisit my short term and long term lifestyle goals (to lower my A1C and eliminate the need for certain medications). Living a healthier life is my true motivation. Others tell me that I should give myself a break. After all, they say “sugar free products aren’t very good,” but my decisions aren’t based on the opinions of others, nor do I expect them to understand.

Monitoring carbs is just one of my personal disciplines for living a healthier life. Some of my other disciplines are journaling (for personal and spiritual reasons), meditation and prayer, spending time in nature, solitude (my husband calls this being anti-social) and practicing gratitude. (You may remember my gratitude jar from a former blogpost.) Why do I need these disciplines? They help me control my emotions, my actions, and my thought life. They help me stay motivated and grounded. They help me examine my motives and my desires. They help me focus on the person I’m want to be. They stimulate my creativity and establish a sense of contentment and peace. Career and professional achievements are only a small part of the whole picture. My objectives encompass my entire life because I try to see myself holistically rather than compartmentalize each factor of my life. (Check out What is Your Net Worth from 8/22) Lastly, these personal disciplines are checkpoints, they help me to have a realistic view of my progress or regress as I seek to be the best me I can be.

Years ago, I read a book about spiritual disciplines. (Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster) It included forming intentional habits such as: retreat, fasting, simplicity, celebration, silence, academic pursuit (studying), and service (in the community or abroad). I can’t imagine how many disciplines there may be, and I’m not suggesting that we try all of them. I am suggesting that all of us have an opportunity to improve ourselves if we consistently practice self-discipline. Much of the media world around us appeals to our base instincts of self-indulgence and compulsion. Just watch three consecutive commercials on your favorite TV station or live streaming platform, commercials appeal to our appetites for temporary pleasure. They want us to act or react without thinking. They offer us temporary happiness. But don’t we want more than temporary happiness? (Actually, I prefer the word contentment to happiness because of its lasting value. Happiness seems to depend on something happening.)

What if we were motivated “to achieve our goals, live a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy” as Jennifer stated? Would that change the world? Would it change the marketplace? Who knows? The real question is would it change us, and how would it change our immediate world? It starts with introspection. Where am I and where do I want to be? Who am I and who do I want to be? What steps can I take to reach my goals? What habits do I need to get there? What habits do I have that hinder me? What kind of habits do I need to develop? What personal disciplines are the best personal disciplines for my dreams and goals?

I’m grateful that I was introduced to personal and spiritual disciplines early in my life. They guide my life decisions. They make me more self-aware. Achieving my personal, spiritual, and professional goals is viable. Being healthier in mind, body, and soul is in reach, and experiencing happiness (contentment) on a daily basis is attainable. How about you? Are daily habits and routines leading you to a better life or hindering your accomplishments? I would love to hear about your personal disciplines and how they are helping you achieve your goals.

Stay safe. Stay Sane. Stay on your game! Practice joy!

Powerful lessons in Personal Change (Amazon)

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