Thursday, December 15, 2011

Self-discipline can change your life in any way you want it to

By Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
During my early years, I heard from my parents about the Puritan work ethic, but every time I heard the phrase it was connected with working hard.  Never did I know that it was a biblically based teaching on the necessity of hard work, perfection, and the goodness of labor.
Only when I was in college and pursued research on New England preachers, did I realize that it was protestant preachers who preached on the goodness and the necessity of labor for its effect on humans, of course, but more broadly, for its effect on Christian society.
Although the term was coined by Max Weber, the phrase “Puritan work ethic” was part of 1800s American culture, and it was seen by some Americans as one of the cornerstones of national prosperity.  The Puritans may have personally defined it by saying, “I am to be honest, hard working, reliable, sober, mindful of the future, appropriate in my relationships, successful, and thereby give glory to God,” but, I am certain my parents used it strictly as a motivational tool: “You’ve got to work hard son, if you want to make anything of your life.”
Perhaps it was the philosophy or maybe it was just good genes, but I was never one to shy away from hard work.  I have always thought of self-discipline as the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state, and I have come to use the words “self-discipline” in place of the Puritan work ethic, because I want to be in control of my life.  In my mind, it is exactly as William Feather said: “If we don’t discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us.”  Self-discipline puts the control in our own hands.
Now we know that self-discipline can be a stronger predictor of success than IQ (Psychological Science, Vol. 16:12 (December 2005), p. 939).
Just as I was told that the Puritan work ethic was a vital characteristic of successful people, I make the same claim for self-discipline.  To face the challenges and problems along the path to success and achievement, you have to persevere and be strong.  It is self-discipline that helps you control your actions and stay on track.
It doesn’t take much reading or observation to acknowledge lack of self-discipline.  Problems such as being overweight, procrastinating, debt, poor relationships, excessive stress, poor work performance, laziness, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, negative habits, poor appearance, and many others can be traced to our tendency to justify our words, actions, and behaviors.  Self-discipline along with passion and planning can wipe out these problems.  Within the domain of problems it can solve, it is unmatched.  Although the problems we face and the methods we use to deal with them will vary, the underlying solution remains the same.
Self-discipline affects your confidence, because being in control will boost your confidence and esteem.  It affects how you see yourself, because your self image will be better when you know you can succeed and change.  It affects your ability to see projects through, allows you to stay focused, and it can change your life in any way you want it to.
Self-discipline is like a muscle.  The more you train it, the stronger you become; the less you train it, the weaker you become.  Just as most people have weak muscles compared with how strong they could become with training, most people are weak in their level of self-discipline.
There is an old story about a man who went to a tattooist because he had always wanted a  tattoo of a lion on his back.  The tattooist started to sketch the tail into the man’s torso: “Ouch!  What are you doing?” asked the man.  “I’m doing the lion’s tail” replied the tattooist.  “Well then for goodness sake let’s have a lion without a tail!” said the man, wincing in pain.
Next the artist set about on the Lion’s whiskers.  “Ouch!” cried the man, “What’s that?”  “The whiskers!” said the tattooist, getting increasingly irritated.  “Well let’s have a lion without whiskers!” moaned his customer.
The tattooist then set about doing the Lion’s back.  “No that hurts too!” shouted the man.  At this, the tattooist finally lost his patience with the man’s lack of self-discipline.  Throwing down his tools and the man out of his shop, he shouted, “How can you expect to get what you want without a little discomfort?”
You become handicapped when you base your decisions purely on your comfort level?  It is too easy to have a wishbone where your backbone should be.  It was Beverly Sills, the opera singer, who said, “There are no short cuts to any place worth going.”
The more you use your muscles, the stronger they get.  It is the exercised muscle that lifts the weight.  Mastering self-discipline can be learned, and with it you can accomplish anything.  Without it, nothing worthwhile or lasting can be achieved.
If you want greater self-discipline, start exercising your self-discipline muscles.  How?  Work first, then play.  When doing something new, resist the fear of being a “phony”; as you improve, the feeling lessens.  Keep company with disciplined people; often, we imitate those with whom we associate.  Tolerate discomfort gracefully.  Take advantage of high-energy moods, knowing they won’t last.  Imitate those you admire.  Divide large tasks into smaller ones.  Take risks knowing that life without them is safe but boring.  Practice your new skills and exercising on and off all day, if not physically, at least mentally.  Often, mental rehearsal can be as good as physical as long as it is directed and purposeful.  Finally, sleep on important decisions knowing that it prevents impulsive actions.
If you tend to be undisciplined, use the little discipline you have to build more.  The more disciplined you become, the easier life gets.  Challenges once impossible will seem like child’s play as you learn new skills, overcome difficulty and hardships, and improve your life.  Because we are what we repeatedly do, self-discipline will not be an act, but a habit.
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Remez Sasson’s essay, “Self-Discipline: Its Benefits and Importance,” at the website SuccessConsciousness, offers specific steps for developing self-discipline and, too, ways to make acquiring it easier.

 SpiritLeo at HubPages, offers an excellent essay that offers guidelines for developing it in your personal life and on the job.  Also, he discusses three systems that will help offer guidance and direction.
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Copyright December, 2011, by And Then Some Publishing, L.L.C.



  1. I want to know if there was just a blob on the tatooee's torso!

  2. Boy howdy. The part about self discipline is so very true. I find that so many times I hear others say if only.... which translates into I want an easy way. There is no easy way for anything worth working towards. Great post, Susan Cooper


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