Wish You Could Be More Disciplined? Here’s How.
I’ll be honest. I pride myself on my ability to be disciplined. To practice self-restraint. To do things by the book. To commit to something and finish it. Period.
But it’s not often that I’m willing to admit this. Because discipline has such a bad rap these days. And for the record, I think it’s well-deserved. It can be so black and white.
I actually looked up the formal definition of discipline and let me tell you – it ain’t pretty. According to The Oxford Dictionary, discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience” . Talk about brutal!
Discipline leaves little — if any — room for flexibility. It lives in a world of right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no. There’s no “maybe’s,” or “sometimes,” or “I’m doing the best I can.” This type of landscape breeds self-aggression, guilt, and blame. Because when there’s no room for flexibility, there’s no room for self-compassion or acceptance either. If you’re not disciplined, then there must be something wrong with you. You’re not doing what you “should” do — and that’s a problem.
But here’s the thing. We DO need some level of discipline in our lives. Because we can’t throw it all out the window and do whatever we want. Having no discipline is another type of extreme. It doesn’t serve us.
Incorporating discipline into our lives in a realistic, kind and supportive way may seem daunting. Maybe you’re like me and discipline comes (perhaps too) easily to you. Or maybe you’re not so great in the discipline department. And every time you try — and fail — you feel like crap about yourself. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
Either way, I believe it’s entirely possible to find a certain level of discipline that feels just right. That pushes us to do something different, but also supports us.
How do we do it?
Redefine what it means to be disciplined.
Because who says that we have to continue believing and applying society’s understanding of discipline to our own lives? I think it’s time we adopt a new perspective.
Out with the old. In with the new.
I say we take a page out of a meditator’s book. I learned about this view of practicing discipline during my meditation teacher training, and I want to share it with you. But first, let me tell you more about the specific style of meditation that I teach (and practice).
I teach shamatha vipassana – or mindfulness meditation. It’s Buddhist-based breath awareness technique (and no, you don’t have to be Buddhist to do it). The practice itself is very simple:
Sit quietly, eyes open.
Focus your attention on the feeling of your breath as it moves throughout your body.
When your mind wanders to the point that you notice you’ve lost sight of the breath, gently draw your attention back.
See, when it comes to meditation, being disciplined doesn’t mean that you stay 100% focused on your breath for the entire time. Never thinking, mind totally blank.
Why? Because it’s just not possible!
The mind is meant to think — that’s its job — and it’ll never be void of thoughts. In meditation, discipline is focused on the act of coming back to the breath. Not worrying or caring that the mind has wandered. Just noticing it, letting the thought go, and returning to the practice.
When viewed in this way, discipline takes on a softer, more gentle quality. It’s not about how many times we err or lose our way. It’s simply about returning to the practice. Giving ourselves the space to start again, with kindness and ease.
Yes – when looked at in this way, discipline can be joyful. It’s the feeling that blooms in our chest when we realize it’s possible to start anew. That we get a do-over. Or when we’re able to be present with what is and be okay with it. Because it doesn’t matter what happened or what went wrong.
All we need to do is come back.
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