As I sit here after my final weekend of holiday break, my thoughts keep going back to the importance of discipline. My last Friday and Saturday of freedom were filled with friends, food, and alcohol. This makes for great memories and satisfied taste buds, but stepping on the scale this morning sent me right back into the harsh realm of reality and spurred my current contemplation.
This weekend was not a weekend where I practiced discipline at all. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that I ran gleefully into the arms of sloth and then maniacally danced a jig with gluttony. But why should I care? I had fun, right? I spent time with old friends and made new friends, right? I got to eat delicious food and indulge in all the wine I wanted, right?
But here’s the thing. My weekend may have been a “fun” weekend, but for the majority of the time, I felt like shit. I woke up exhausted on Saturday, and severely hungover on Sunday. I didn’t do anything productive the entire weekend (minus my workout on Saturday). I severely torpedoed my diet, and I’ll have to work my ass off this week just to undo the damage before I can actually start making progress again.
Had I just evoked even the slightest bit of discipline into my weekend, I could have saved myself a lot of headache.
But, what exactly is discipline? Websters online dictionary defines it several different ways:
2 obsolete : instruction
3 : a field of study
4 : training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order
b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
c : self-control
6 : a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity
The definitions I feel are most applicable are numbers 4 and 5. If you re-read those definitions, you should notice a couple of things: one, there is a big emphasis on control, and two, the application of these definitions is not fun.
It is not “fun” to correct your personal thoughts and admit that you are wrong. It is not “fun” to enforce self-obedience to a gym routine. It is not “fun” to tie yourself down to a set behavior pattern for work and productivity. And it is definitely not “fun” to say no to a moist, fudgy, warm piece of chocolate cake.
BUT, discipline gives you things a lot more valuable than “fun”.
Discipline gives you self-respect. I have been a card-carrying member of the Weekend Regret club more times than I can count. However, the weekends where I have allowed myself some slight indulgences but largely practiced discipline with my time and diet turn into Mondays where I feel amazing. The momentum from the weekend propels me forward rather than pulls me back, and the resulting feeling of pride gives me the extra oomph I need to completely dominate the week. There is no replacement for self-respect, and practicing discipline is a essential piece that must be in place for this to manifest.
Discipline gives you opportunities. Having discipline in the workplace, the gym, or with your relationships is rare and will not go unnoticed. If you have the discipline to knock out the little, annoying stuff successfully at work, this gives off the message that you can be trusted with the bigger, more important projects. If you have the discipline to make it to the gym on a daily basis, you will connect with people who can give you invaluable knowledge and motivation towards your fitness goals. If you have the discipline to not compromise on your values, improve yourself constantly, and be loyal to your friends and romantic partner, you will find that people with these same qualities will be attracted to you.
Discipline gives you quality of life. While it seems counter-intuitive, there is nothing that sabotages your overall happiness faster than giving in to your every whim. If I ate a donut every time I craved one, bought a shirt every time I saw a cute one, and kissed a boy every time I saw a hot one, I would be fat, broke, and very single with a tarnished reputation. Self-denial gives you the stamina and resources necessary to build a life that is enviable.
Discipline gives you hunger for more. Everyone knows someone who wastes their life eating McDonald’s, playing video games, and working a minimum wage job all while swigging cases of Mountain Dew and heaving themselves off the couch only when absolutely necessary. These individuals completely lack discipline, and as a result, they don’t have any desire to do better. When you start disciplining yourself, the bare minimum is no longer an option. With every goal you reach, your desire to do more and be more burns hotter.
And most importantly, discipline gives you results. The weeks where I am completely on point with my diet and gym routine are the weeks that I can see dramatic improvements in my physicality. The days where I don’t allow myself to get distracted or off-task are the days when I get more done than I had planned on. When I don’t grant myself permission to step onto the slippery slope of self-indulgence, I am able to keep climbing up the ladder to success rather than constantly pass by the same three rungs in an endless cycle of desire vs failure.
It is human nature to resist discipline. Our brains work on a very strong ‘immediate rewards’ based system, and in a world where we can access almost anything we want with a click of a button, the ability to delay gratification and train our minds to focus on rewards that manifest in months, not minutes, is sorely lacking. In order to truly optimize your life, discipline needs to be one of your top priorities. As with anything worth having in life, there are simply no quick-fixes or substitutions. You have to work for it, you have to want it, and you have to tell yourself ‘no’.
My own self-discipline comes and goes in waves and it is something that I need to hone in on and perfect. However, I also know that the more I practice, the easier it becomes. This weekend made me take a step back and refocus on the plethora of benefits of discipline that my inner two-year old would rather deny. Going forward, my Optimization Operation will capitalize on my areas of discipline that are already strong while simultaneously targeting areas of weakness because at the end of the day, I have no excuses and I will reach my goals.