Recently, I reconnected with a fascinating women who I hadn’t spoken to in years.
With great interest I listened to stories about her family life with three kids, a husband, a career that she loves alongside several passion projects she has ‘on the side’.
I was taken aback and impressed by what she had managed to cultivate and continue to invest in throughout her life. But even more so than her stories, I was deeply inspired by her energy and attitude. She radiated a sense of grounded confidence and acceptance as she talked about both the ups and downs she’s experienced since we last connected.
Her life wasn’t without its struggles and grind, yet there was something in the manner that she spoke and reflected that felt so nourishing to witness. It was a sense of unwavering commitment to what really mattered to her and the discipline she had to prioritise it again and again and again.
This got me thinking a lot about my own relationship with discipline and commitment. As an over-achiever and perfectionist, these are words that I have often felt connected to, but not always in a way that actually served my highest good and wellbeing.
In other words: there are ways in which self-discipline works against what you really wish to achieve.
Here are 3 ways to do it right.
Discipline is about committing to what you MOST want long-term, above what you feel you need in the moment.
If you are familiar with my work, you’ll know that I am a passionate advocate of an intuitive approach, which means listening to what our mind, body and spirit needs in any given moment.
But here’s the caveat, every ‘want’ isn’t necessarily coming from the purest source of intuitive knowledge that we all hold inside. So much of the instruction we receive from within comes from the source of our fears, resistance, self-sabotage, conditioned beliefs, subconscious patterning and the cravings that arise from the highs and lows of an unbalanced diet or body.
When resistance arises, be honest with yourself. Can you really trust it? Is the choice to break a commitment coming from a deep knowing that you need to adjust your goals, or simply you inner critic or defiant child saying ‘I don’t want to exercise!!’ or ‘I don’t care, I want my sweets!’
In those moments remind yourself that discipline is about choosing things that align with what you MOST want long-term, above the more fleeting temptations of your everyday life. The clearer your vision of your desired outcome is, ideally charged with plenty of positive emotions, the easier it will be for you to stay on track.
Discipline that consistently works against your body is damaging and ineffective.
To add further context to the point above, remember that what we MOST want for ourselves and our life ought to feel good. That doesn’t mean that the commitments we need to make to get there won’t be challenging, or that sometimes we really have to force ourselves to do it. But it does mean that once we get over the initial resistance that the commitment we showed up for makes us feel really good.
Exercise is an easy one to bring this point home. We often hear the comment that we never regret a workout; meaning that the feel-good sensation we get afterwards always makes it worth it.
But what if we don’t feel good? What if we’re in pain? What if our muscles and body are so sore that we can’t really function? Go gentle. Forcing ourselves to maintain a commitment would be damaging to our body.
The same goes with goals that are related to other aspects of your life, like mindset shifts, work achievements, spiritual and wellbeing regimes etc.
If we consistently feel bored, uninspired or burnt-out from what we have committed ourselves to, then discipline for the sake of it can never be the answer. Instead you’re better off getting really clear about what you actually want.
This brings us nicely to point number 3.
Let go of who you once were, or the image of who you think you should be.
Discipline is only healthy and effective when we’re committing to things that help us be more of who we are. No amount of discipline can bring us happiness and fulfilment when we’re effectively trying to force ourselves to be someone who we’re not. Any attempt to put yourself into a box that is not your own, will fail.
A key part of personal growth that isn’t often spoken about, is the challenges and emotional pain that comes along with letting go of who we think we ‘should be’. The other side of this coin is releasing the inauthentic personas or ‘people’ we’ve put a lot of effort into playing/pretending/being in the past.
This can be very painful, as it takes us into the shadowy parts of ourselves that we often don’t willingly recognise or uncover. It’s also a process of grief and loss. We grieve for all the times we denied, suppressed and betrayed our true selves. We grieve for the idealised person we realise we will never become, and we grieve for the things or the relationship that we know must shed away in order to reclaim the person we really are inside.
As you get clear on the things you most want to commit to, remember to be kind to yourself, take rest and allow the emotions of self-awareness to be seen, felt and listened to.
With these 3 approaches you can nurture a relationship with discipline that not only serves your highest wellbeing, but actually helps you to succeed in showing up for what you’ve chosen to commit to.
And remember, discipline should also be flexible. What you commit to must be responsive to how you’re growing and changing. You also don’t have to do it all by yourself. Recognise where self-discipline is only half of the story. For example, when trying to nurture the relationships you desire, you cannot do it alone, especially if the other person isn’t really committed to the same goals or desires.
The question to ask yourself is: Are my commitments truly helping me to be my truest, most thriving self?