A large number of us set New Year’s Resolutions, or at least decide to start the New Year with better habits and lifestyles… Most of these intentions for improvement call for “Discipline.”
In recent years, the concept of “discipline” has taken a new twist for me. Previously, when I heard the word discipline, I would think of something unpleasant, of having to force myself to do something I don’t want to do, but do it anyhow, since I believe it is good for me, or I will like the end result.
In some areas of my life, such as in my work, I have thought of myself as relatively disciplined, in the sense that if I say I will do something, it will get done. In other areas, my ‘self discipline’ is inconsistent. For example, I would decide to exercise on a regular basis and do so for a few weeks. At some point, the activity I had planned disappears from my life. In the past when I dieted, I would be very “disciplined” until I reached my target and then I would put the weight back on.
As I looked at this pattern, I realized that in the areas that took what I perceived as ‘discipline’, I had to FORCE myself to do something I didn’t want to do. For example, with dieting, I would want to eat something that was not on my diet, I would reach for it and stop myself. I would struggle and tell myself no, that I would not like the consequences on the scale if I ate it. With exercising, I would dread being cold as I got in the pool, or dread the tired feeling, the backache or sore muscles after my walk or workout, and I would struggle and tell myself that I would feel worse about myself for not exercising.
I came to see that with this pattern, I was expending a LOT of energy resisting myself. It felt like I was running a marathon, just pushing myself a little further, then a little further, always with the finish line in mind. I was willing to expend that amount of energy for a finite amount of time, but I couldn’t do it indefinitely! I couldn’t run a marathon every day for the rest of my life!
One day as I was walking, I noticed that as I felt the discomfort of being out of breath and my legs and back hurting, I would take my attention off of my body and distract myself with thoughts about a presentation I was doing. An alarm went off inside!
One of the things I have been working on is to stay present and connected to my feelings. I have many ways that I used to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings such as overeating, being too busy and overwhelmed, getting caught up in drama in my life, etc. All of them are quite effective in allowing me to disconnect from what I am feeling in the moment. Here I was doing it while I was walking! I suddenly understood that the mechanism I used to ‘discipline’ myself was the same one that I have been trying to eliminate in my life! Now what? Was I to give up the idea of having any discipline at all? (I have to admit, that was a tempting thought!)
As I was writing in my journal, I remembered an experience I had during my Bungy Jump. (yes, I did it, it was great!) As I stood on the platform 140 feet above the river below me, I felt a very visceral fear. I took a few deep breaths and imagined diving off of the little platform and immediately grabbed the railing and knew I wasn’t ready to go. Then my attention shifted to my memories of all the times I had been up high somewhere and dreamt of flying freely through the air. As I focused on the desire to feel exhilaration of flying the fear disappeared. Then I thought about diving off of the platform and the fear welled up again, then I focused on flying and the desire and exhilaration flowed through me again. When I finally dove off of the platform, I was completely connected to my desire to fly and felt no fear at all. Not only was it exhilarating, it was thrilling, empowering and I felt high for two days afterwards!
The significant part of this memory, was that I did not RESIST or fight my feeling of fear. Instead, I chose to focus on my DESIRE to fly! This took no ‘discipline’ on my part, and instead of distracting myself from my fear, or ignoring my discomfort, as I tended to think was necessary, for discipline, I stayed very connected to my feelings and chose to focus on my desire!
My new perspective on discipline is not to force myself to do something uncomfortable and detach from my discomfort, but rather to stay very connected to my feelings of desire for the outcome. For example, instead of fighting my desire to eat more than my body needs and feel deprived of the pleasure of my food, I can focus on how good it feels to be light and energized without feeling hunger. When I choose to exercise, instead of focusing on the discomfort or dread of the activity, I can focus on being in the fresh air, being present and gentle with my body and enjoying the sensuality of movement!
So now, for me, discipline is simply a matter of focus – finding my desire in the activity and its outcome and focusing on what I can enjoy in the process! Discipline now becomes another exercise in awareness, rather than a struggle!! What a relief!