This is the time of year when we traditionally make resolutions to change something about ourselves or our lives. After all, if we want to be happier and better versions of ourselves, then we have to be committed to doing things differently. It’s a nice idea and makes logical sense. But can we stick to it? Have we given up by now? Sticking with resolutions or any kind of commitment takes discipline. What is discipline? Here I want to talk about the idea of self-control or “orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior” which is one Merriam-Webster definition.
When I say discipline, I really mean balance. Because we live in a society that is surrounded by convenience and indulgence it’s so easy to let ourselves go, to let ourselves off the hook, to forgo things we know we should be doing even if they’re good for us. I also say “should” with a very loose sense of obligation. It’s up to each of us to gauge what we should and shouldn’t be doing for ourselves on an individual basis.
Life today is a lot easier than it was two hundred, one hundred, fifty or even ten years go. Does easier access to convenience automatically mean that we are becoming less self-discipled? Sure, there are tasks that are just outright time consuming and more difficult. It’s undeniable that the development of technology has helped in many ways, like doing laundry has been made easier by washing machines, traveling has been made more convenient with automobiles, and countless other tasks are possible because of electronics and Artificial Intelligence. Case in point, Alexa can turn up your thermostat with one verbal command in stark contrast to collecting fire wood and maintaining heat in your home via wood burning stove. But does this trickle down all the way to letting the process of self-development fall by the wayside? What I mean is, if we get used to driving cars long distances to work, should we drive down the street to the store to get bananas, or should we take the 10 minute walk, which helps maintain physical health? Because we can video chat or text with our family member eight hundred miles away, does that mean we shouldn’t write a letter or send a thank you card to connect interpersonally in various creative ways that develop our expression of emotion toward one another? These are just simple examples of ways our lives have changed through recent years.
What does it mean when we neglect our own well-being just because we can? We’ve been doing it for a while now and getting away with it in that humans have a pretty long life expectancy compared to decades ago, thanks to medical advances, improved technology, hygiene, and nutrition. But what about the smaller ways we seem to be losing ourselves through lack of discipline. Do we take advantage of a snow day and go outside into the cold for the benefit of experience, exploration, creativity, expanding our understanding of the world around us, or do we stay in where it’s warm because it’s just too much discomfort and effort to go outside? According to the EPA it is estimated that the average American spends 90% of their life indoors. Even with the gigantic amount of evidence that states being outside, even in reasonably cold weather, has significant benefits for our physical, mental, and emotional health. Click here for one example of a blog discussing several other references about the benefits of going outside in the cold.) We can apply this in so many area including, managing the clutter at home (doing 5 minutes of straightening a day), limiting technology time (set a timer on your device to remind you when your screen time is up), spending more time self-reflecting (let yourself sit quietly and daydream), following through with a healthy nutrition and exercise regimen to maintain physical and mental health that fits each of us individually (add one fruit or veggie to your day, take the stairs instead of the elevator), more face-to-face time with people we care about (do it!), addressing issues in front of us rather than squishing them (it’s ok to cry or get angry, talk it through), continuing to seek information and knowledge to expand our understanding of our world around us, following through with being committed to becoming the best versions of ourselves using methods that work for each of us. This all takes discipline: continuing to make wise decisions to do what is good for yourself even when you don’t feel like it. This sometimes means giving up what we want in the now for the sake of gaining something great later. Again, the idea is to use discipline to find balance. There is a lot of evidence that shows that there are health benefits, both physical and mental, to having some level of discipline in our lives. Check out this blog about discipline and happiness and this blog that links self-discipline to overall health.
I’ll state the obvious and say, no one else can say what’s right or wrong for you, only you can know that, so finding the right level of disciple for yourself is personal. That being said, it’s up to you to actually do the exploration to figure that out on your own time in your own ways. Starting with small manageable goals usually helps get things in gear and the more you practice the easier it gets. So let’s be disciplined in our commitment to consider what self-discipline looks like to each of us.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and balanced beginning to 2019.