On Discipline

The way I relate to self-discipline is changing—significantly. I still value self-discipline, essential as it is for a wide array of life skills ranging from achieving goals to paying taxes to being punctual. But my relationship with discipline is shifting from having a militaristic inner drill sergeant (whom I either obeyed, avoided, or rebelled against) to consulting a more thematically-oriented internal counselor (whose friendly reminders of my over-arching intention orient, soothe, and motivate me). Put simply, the shift is from the discipline of Doing to the discipline of Being.

I need to say up front that the Being form of discipline—though far more pleasant than interacting with the stress-inducing Czar of Doing—is no less rigorous. It’s not a get out of jail free card, an exit ramp, or a sneaky trick to avoid having to enlist discipline. Vigilance, commitment and hard work is still required. It’s just that, for me at least, I find The Counselor of Being inspiring. Engaging. Clarifying—because the Counselor of Being cuts right to the chase, to the ultimate purpose. And remembering my over-arching purpose helps me recognize what to focus on, and what to let go. Where to say Yes, and where to say No.

Let’s look at a common area where many of us seek to enlist self-discipline: exercise. The Czar of Doing will say something along the lines of, “Wake up an hour earlier everyday and go to the gym.” If you do what the Doing Czar instructs, you feel good about yourself. If you don’t, you feel like a failure. You may start to resent the Czar, or worse yet, resent yourself.

On the other hand, the Counselor of Being will ask a few questions in the process of goal-setting. Such as, Why do you want to exercise more? Answers might be, To have more energy, or, To counteract my high blood pressure, or To lose weight. Whatever the reason, the wise Being Counselor encourages peeling back a layer or two, inquiring: “And what would that give you?” Your answer may be, Better Health, or, Well-being, or, Self-Respect. You’ll know when you have it: your intention for your state-of-Being. Which becomes your guiding principle around which to enlist your discipline.

Let’s say, for example’s sake, your Being intention is to increase self-respect. Now self-respect becomes your gatekeeper, and discipline has a job—a full-time one, at that, which is to only allow in that which serves your self-respect, and to keep out that which does not. Discipline is now engaged externally and internally: activities that enhance your self-respect are sought out and undertaken; thoughts that erode your self-respect are O-U-T out. That means if you don’t make it to the gym and some inner thug voice starts to tell you something unkind (that is hardly self-respectful), you need to marshal discipline ASAP. The discipline not only to notice the inner thug’s message, but to replace it with a message that engenders self-respect—like: “You’re worthy of respect for who you are, whether you go to the gym or not.”

Does this sound like an EZ Pass to becoming a slacker?

Many people fear this, that invoking Being discipline versus Doing will allow you to go soft. To give up on all sorts of goals, becoming a factory of excuses. But guess which part of you fears this? The Czar of Doing. The Czar of Doing is very concerned by this nuanced, foreign approach, because it has one and only one strategy to try to help you which is to come up with To Do Lists. And to do whatever it can, including bullying you (in your best interest) to Do your Doing. Because it cannot comprehend the world beyond tasks, the Doing Czar does not care about the actual end state you wish to achieve. And does not understand the fact that the Counselor of Being is far more likely to lead you towards success—even in the realm of Doing.

Consider what happens when you get down on yourself for not doing what you intended to do. Does self-berating motivate you to get out there and try again? Perhaps it does, and if so, stick with the Doing Czar. Seriously. It works when it works. The whole origin of the Doing Czar in our psyche is to motivate us—and for some, the fear of failure and the desire to avoid both our own inner criticism and the specter of external disapproval keeps them jumping through hoops, performing, realizing goals, which in turn keeps them feeling good. But for others, whether we succeed in the Doing realm or not, the climate of self-criticism wears us down. The fear of external disapproval and humiliation makes us balk and give up—sometimes before even trying. Rebelling against the tyranny of the Doing Czar can backfire into self-sabotage. Using the exercise example, this might be feeling so much debilitating pressure to go to the gym that you go straight to the freezer for a carton of ice cream instead.

The Counselor of Being steers you away from cultivating the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol that can so easily backfire. By remembering your Being intention, you orient around a higher purpose, enlisting your higher mind. To stay with the example we’re using, engaging with the inquiry of “What would give me the most self-respect right now?” is likely to start creating the feel-good hormones of endorphins and oxytocin (given the positive nature of the inquiry). Whether your answer is to write a list of what you respect about yourself, to do a good deed for someone else, or to tackle a long-avoided task that has been weighing on you, you are cultivating the state-of-Being you sought to attain through the original Doing goal. And with this form of discipline, you are likely not only to get to the Doing goal at some point anyway (because maybe after doing a good deed you might organically feel like going for a walk or a run), but to do it in a state-of-Being that was what you ultimately wanted in the first place.

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