Monday Musings… The Value of Discipline

When you hear the word 'discipline' you tend to think of it in a negative way. Your mind likely goes back to childhood and the punishments you may have received to keep you 'in line'. Most children don't like discipline because they don't see the value in it, the lesson that's being taught, or the long-term gain.

In a child's mind, they simply want to pursue pleasure. Adults can be the same way. Many people also want the easy way, the lazy way that requires little effort but still gives the reward. But most of you know: no pain, no gain. You need to see recognize how much better it is for you, and what you will ultimately gain. Jocko Willink, former US Navy SEAL, tells us what that is: discipline equals freedom. This is so true.

Instead of being constricting, leading a disciplined life is actually liberating. You know what the standards are. There’s no ambiguity. You know whether a certain thought or behaviour is good for you. Your choice then determines the consequences: blessing or burden. It’s up to you. The responsibility lies on your shoulders, no one else’s.

I got to learn this first hand a few years back, when I took some training with Jocko and his team of retired SEALS. I wanted to learn from the best in order to prepare for a course I currently teach on behavioural health for first responders. I walked away from the training with a ton of knowledge but what really stood out to me was how critical leading a disciplined life with ‘extreme ownership’, is to protecting and enhancing your overall health and wellbeing.

One of the best ways to look at discipline is to view it as a lifestyle, your way of being. Discipline dictates how you go through your day and influences every decision you make. It's about self-control over your emotions, as well as the impulses you may have for self-gratification. It's having the strength of your will at your very command to do what is right for your body, mind, and soul. This is how discipline sets you free! You'll have a clear conscience. You'll overcome temptations. You'll realize that you are stronger than you thought you were ever capable of being.

No one ever said that to be self-disciplined would be easy. It is hard, and when you start, it comes with sacrifice - letting go of some of those habits that you really enjoyed but you know weren't helpful for you in the long run.

This is where most people turn back to their old self. Avoidance of any kind of pain is a 20th and 21st century pursuit. Jocko gives an excellent tactic to override this: imagine what it will feel like, when you don’t give in to temptation, when you stay the course of discipline. And then imagine the ramifications if you do! Which image do you prefer?

Think about it: when you make the effort to work out, let’s say, you never tell yourself - "Man, that was a waste of time". No, you feel great, you feel energized. You know in your head that you've done what’s right for your body to stay strong and healthy. Or if you complete a task on your daily to do list. You're relieved that it's over, you’ve checked it off, and now you have the momentum to focus on another task. Discipline enables you to free your mind from unnecessary stress that you often bring on yourself. It cuts through the excuses.

So how do you become more disciplined? Well, it’s got to come from you. The desire to be disciplined doesn’t come from an external source, a motivational video, your neighbour or friend. No one can make you into a disciplined person. You have to want it yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been taught, if you had no responsibilities as an adolescent, or if you’ve enjoyed a free ride as an adult. In other words, there are not pre-requisites. You merely have to see the importance and benefits of discipline and go after it. Think of all that you have to gain: reduction of stress, clarity of conscience, and the fruit of abiding by what you know to be right and true for your body, mind, and soul.

My students and I are putting this into practice this semester. I’m thrilled to see their buy-in and also to hear of their progress. We’ve got 12 more weeks to go together, but I’m hoping transformation will happen, positive changes that will last their lifetime as future first responders. If they can do it, so can you!

Now, know what you’re signing up for if you want to lead a disciplined life: it will still be hard and it will be difficult to maintain. You don’t slack off when you’re disciplined. BUT it does become second nature, the only way you can live. You’ve got to keep the freedom aspect, top of mind. The moment you wake up, your intention is set, with the commitment to stay true to it, in every action you take throughout the day. Discipline is your guide and it actually makes it easy to say 'No' to things you know will derail you. I say in my head, "I've worked too hard for this, to give in". That seemingly small gain of momentary pleasure, can undo days, weeks, months, or even years of a positive habit you've built into your life. So, you need to ask yourself, when you’re tempted to be undisciplined: "Is it worth it?" You know the answer.

And when you stumble, pick yourself back up. Get back on that path to freedom. Don’t lay down in the ditch! Or all that you’ve worked for will unravel. Instead, brush off the dirt, and commit once again. Don’t look in the rear-view mirror. That’s done. Look at the horizon of possibilities in front of you and move forward. The rewards of discipline are awaiting you.

To be disciplined is a choice. If you want it, grab onto it, and make it happen. A disciplined life is so worth it!

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