As the new year rolls in, many of us are looking to set goals and develop the discipline to achieve them. At the same time, most of us find discipline something very painful. How can we then go about developing discipline?
Discipline is the natural flowering of living a life aligned with our true nature. We need not force discipline on ourselves. We must rather ask ourselves, what is currently preventing us from being disciplined.
Many of us feel that we must develop good habits. This involves some amount of willpower. Will power is the ability to endure what is painful in the short term (example: exercise) but brings us long-term benefits (example: good health). However, all of us know from experience that willpower runs out pretty quickly. After one point, we just do not have the energy to push on. This is particularly so when we have had a bad day. On such days, we easily placate ourselves by saying, “I’ve had a horrible day, I am entitled to binge-watch Netflix” or “I am entitled to have a couple of drinks”.
On examining nature, we find that nature needs no discipline, and yet, everything is achieved. Nature achieves whatever it wants, by being itself. When the seeds do not sprout, we need to ask what prevented them from doing so. Was the soil not fertile? Was the water inadequate? Was it too much sunlight? When the conditions are apt, then a seed need not be coaxed to germinate. That is what it does naturally.
We humans are no different. We are a part of nature. And each one of us is unique in some way. While it is obvious that no two humans are physically the same, the same is true for the inner world. Each of us has a unique emotional, mental, and intellectual makeup that distinguishes us from the rest of humanity. And this uniqueness is precious. This is evolution’s way of expressing diversity. All of us are a creative expression of nature.
In order to develop discipline, we must first and foremost, connect to these unique traits in us. Something that is unconditioned by society. What makes us tick? What brings us joy and natural enthusiasm to do things? When we connect to this part of ourselves, we realize that doing it is easy and requires no discipline.
Our task, therefore, becomes clear. Find and align with our true nature. In order to do this, we must develop emotional intelligence – a fancy word that basically means ‘the capacity to feel’. It is impossible to find your true nature when we are used to constantly running away from our emotions. Running away from our emotions has become the default state for most of us. This is because the healthy expression of our emotions is discouraged in both professional lives as well as our personal relationships. The denial of emotions on the pretext of ‘apt social behavior’ is so pernicious in our societies that we think of being emotional as being weak. This is a grave mistake.
Connecting to our emotions – both good and bad – helps us develop a truly beautiful capacity. The ability to witness our emotions. This witnessing comes about when we can take a nonjudgemental attitude towards our emotions. When we do this, we realize that we are unaffected by the emotion despite its presence in our minds and bodies. It’s okay to have them.
When we take the position as this impartial witness, we gain the ability to understand which emotions rise up as a reaction to society and which of those emotions are born because of a natural resonance to things we love. Usually, the way to detect this is that those innate emotions come as peace and joy. There is a sense of deep connection and a feeling of ‘this is right’.
This feeling of warmth and peace and ‘this is right ‘ is a beacon to guide us towards that which we love. Most of us grow up to be 30 or 40 and are still in search for ourselves. This is an indication of not being connected to who we are emotionally.
The words of the great American psychologist Carl Rogers:
One of the basic things which I was a long time in realizing, and which I am still learning, is that when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing. Put another way, I have learned that my total organismic sensing of a situation is more trustworthy than my intellect. All of my professional life I have been going in directions which others thought were foolish, and about which I have had many doubts myself. But I have never regretted moving in directions which “felt right,” even though I have often felt lonely or foolish at the time.
It is fallible I am sure, but I believe it to be less fallible than my conscious mind alone.‘On becoming a person’. Carl Rogers. Kindle edition. Page 21, 22.
Always remember: ‘who we are’ influences ‘what we do’. Once this is found, our actions automatically align with this recognition. No discipline is necessary. Of course, one may still have goals, targets, and processes. But these are tools and aids that help us express our innate potential through whatever activity we choose. They aren’t something that we begrudgingly have to do. This shifts the focus from our actions being a means to some illusory endpoint after which happiness is obtained, to enjoying the action because it is in our nature. We simply are ourselves and it feels great.
Always remember, if you are struggling with discipline, ask yourself what is it you want. Is this who I am? Am I developing the discipline because I truly want it? Who am I? What resonates in the deepest chambers of my psyche? Knowing this, discipline becomes a natural, effortless expression of our being.