The Key to Discipline

discipline Jan 30, 2024

Be honest: when you hear the word DISCIPLINE, what comes to mind?

Is it positive or negative? Is it constantly having to say "no" and having to avoid pleasures (like your favorite foods)?

As children, we were disciplined when we didn't follow the rules or made poor choices. As adults, we use the phrase in a variety of situations, such as trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It's just human nature to keep associating the word DISCIPLINE with less-than-pleasurable situations.

But did you know that the word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina, meaning “instruction and training.” It is actually derived from the root word "discere" which means ”to learn!” The concept of deprivation or punishment isn't even part of the definition!


Exploring the Concept of Discipline

Knowing that discipline isn't all about missing out on life's joys, I wanted to share a new definition of the word discipline (I wish I could credit the original author, but I couldn't find who it was):


"Discipline is explaining to your brain that you need to sacrifice immediate pleasures for greater rewards in the future."


Let's start with the word discipline because I have a confession: I actually had a really, really bad relationship with discipline growing up and through my twenties. I looked at discipline in a negative light because I was conditioned that it was all about withholding things I enjoyed.

When I became an adult, I started to see that there could be some good things about discipline––but I still wasn't great at it.  Oh the irony of this, seeing as how I coach for a living and habits are my specialty! In the end, I realized that discipline is so important, but it goes against our wiring and our nature. If our brain did it naturally, you wouldn't have to explain it!


The Brain's Desire for Instant Gratification

Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It's a survival mechanism! When we encounter something pleasurable, like indulging in a favorite snack or scrolling through social media, our brains release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. This reinforces the behavior and makes us want to repeat it.

That's why we love things that are quick and fast-tracked. We're drawn to phrases such as "do this in a week," or "in 30 days, you can change your life!" And don't get me started on two-day Amazon shipping. We are so conditioned for immediate results.

But that's why this new definition is so great. It reminds us that we have to explain it to our brain because it doesn't realize it (thanks to all the conditioning it had over the course of our lives). So instead, we have to explain, recondition, and re-program our brain so that it can accept sacrificing immediate pleasures to get greater rewards in the future.

Does that mean we can't have any pleasure in our life now? Of course not! But we do need to recognize that sometimes the future holds more pleasure for us than right now if we're willing to make a sacrifice.

If we can reframe the conversation in such a way that it recognizes "the reason why I don't want to do this right now is because I'm truly wired for pleasure and this isn't pleasurable," we are on the right path!


Overcoming Habits in the Pursuit of Self-Discipline 

 Wouldn't it be easy if we just told our brains to stop seeking immediate gratification? The truth is, we are people of habit and sometimes those are rooted in years of behavior. Here's a thought:


Where we plant ourselves is where we develop roots. The longer we stay in places that aren't where we want to be, the harder it is to uproot ourselves. Plant wisely!


When we plant ourselves, we develop roots where we are planted. The longer we're there, the deeper the roots go. That is just how plants work!

We can be so hard on ourselves, and I've seen this to be true with some of my clients. Some will come to me saying "I've dealt with this for years! How much longer am I going to have to deal with this decision I made or this habit I have or these actions I do that I don't want to do?"

You know what I tell them? "It's going to be a while because it's been years of putting down roots. Give yourself grace, be compassionate with yourself, learn about yourself, get to the root of why you're doing it! Give yourself the time it takes to dig and uproot those things that have been planted for so long."

Knowing how deep roots can go, choose to plant the things that you want to see grow and that you want to take root. Take the time to uproot the things you don't, give yourself grace for as much time as it takes, and then decide to plant the things that you do want to take root in your life. Plant wisely. 



I hope we can all agree at this point that self-discipline is not about depriving yourself or relying solely on willpower. It's a constructive dialogue with your brain, where you explain the necessity of sacrificing immediate pleasures for greater rewards in the future. Are you ready to start the conversation? 

If you're looking for support along the way, I'd love to be your guide! Book a complimentary coaching call here.

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