15. Self Discipline
When we have done what we need to on the inside, the outworking will come about automatically.
Goethe (18/19c German writer and statesman)
Self-discipline or self-regulation refers to our ability to control and direct our own faculties (if these terms do not sit well with you, think of ‘will power’ instead; there is some evidence that this can make a difference21). Self-discipline has many benefits but is not very popular nowadays – mostly because it is misunderstood. So, let’s start with why self-discipline is important and what it is, and then we will turn to how to develop this skill.
Why self-discipline matters
Many cringe when self-discipline is mentioned because they imagine something rigid that restricts their freedom. Yet, as the famous philosopher Aristotle, among others, realised a long time ago, a lack of self-discipline and self-control does not increase freedom or make you more spontaneous. Quite the opposite, it makes you vulnerable to being enslaved by your urges, affects, instant desires, habits, addictions or obsessions. This creates insecurity and anxiety because you feel that you are not in charge of your life and it can be self-destructive.
On the other hand, self- regulation enables you to act upon long-term goals and values (instead of being compelled to follow your urges) and in this way, in fact, increases your freedom, choice and control. Consider this for a moment: are you really free if you are controlled by your immediate impulses? ‘Ok’, you may say, ‘but self-discipline is boring!’ It may feel so at the beginning, but in the long run self- discipline is more fun than self-indulgence. Football players have far more fun than couch potatoes who watch football on the TV. And to play football well, you need self-discipline. Of course, this does not apply only to football. It may be easier to stick a ready- made dish in a microwave oven, but cooking a nice meal (which requires some self-discipline) is more fun and ultimately more satisfying. If still not convinced, this is perhaps because you have in mind the wrong type of discipline.