Discipline is a Habit

When people think of discipline they think of a particular instance of not acting on an impulse. Discipline is treated as a special force we use to do what we know is right. And it is! But like most things in life, discipline has to be cultivated and practiced to thrive. Theoretically discipline has no limit, but in practice it does. For example, let’s say all of your friends and family are obese. Would it be possible for you to be fit and healthy? Of course! Is it likely? Definitely not!

Discipline and Environment

Our environment can be conducive to our goals or counterproductive. In the example above, being fit has so many micro-goals associated with it, that the amount of discipline needed to turn the tide would be Herculean. Not only would you have to eat separate meals, you would have to go to the gym (probably alone), and endure questioning and heckling from your loved ones. Some would say that’s no excuse for failure, but if we put away our virtue signaling for a moment, we can admit that it is very likely a losing proposition.

It isn’t always feasible to dramatically change your environment. Sometimes you can’t just quit a job, or leave a bad situation. But what you can do is be aware of the consequences of an unsupportive environment and take reasonable action to change it. Perhaps you can find an online fitness community. Maybe you can invite your mom to walk with you every other day. The key is to make discipline easy. We don’t win an award for making things harder than they need to be. If the path of least resistance aligns with your values, why make things harder on yourself?

People who seem to have a lot of discipline usually have a lot of systems in place to make doing the right thing easy. I was a vegan for five years. I quickly learned that if I wanted to stick with it, I would need to plan for being around non-vegan food (essentially always haha). This meant making and bringing vegan dishes to Thanksgiving, and lugging vegan treats to parties. I didn’t just go to these events and resist eating animal products because of an iron will, I made it easy on myself. Interestingly enough, I became almost completely impervious to non-vegan food, and very little discipline was required to stick with it. Later on, I decided to give up veganism, and I went back to eating animal products with no sweat lol.

Discipline is a Muscle

Once you do what you can to mold your environment, you begin to find more ways to be disciplined for your benefit. With each small act of discipline you become stronger. Partially due to increased will power, but also due to (as we discussed above) making your environment conducive to discipline. For example, once you begin living within your means, the next step of aggressive saving becomes much easier. You begin to think about the ways to automate it and make it easier on yourself. You become better at identifying potential difficulties and planning for them.

Of course we want to make sure that we live lives of balance, so make sure not to be too disciplined. Remember to stop and smell the flowers along the way and splurge every now and again. What are some of the ways you make discipline easy? Thanks for reading.

The Pitfalls of Thin Skin

When I was a teenager, I did a lot of general home improvement and maintenance projects with my father. My dad is a no nonsense kind of guy. If he asked me to nail up a piece of drywall and it wasn’t done right, he would literally tear down the wall and make me do it again. If the lawn wasn’t completely free of leaves, I could look forward to an afternoon of raking. While these experiences were frustrating in the moment, they taught me valuable lessons. And not only do I not hold my father’s stern discipline against him, now that I am older, I thank him for it.

Thick Skin Comes from Difficulty (Real or Self-Imposed)

Nature gives endless examples of what happens to living things if they are never challenged. Take a human body and stop giving it exercise (challenge) and it will atrophy. Take a taxi driver and retire him, and his brain physically shrinks. Alternatively give a good amount of exercise (not too much, not too little) and you create a robust (and attractive) human body. Challenge the mind with learning city streets and you can physically grow the brain.

Life in the 21st century is a life of limitless ease. And that’s good! Never before have we had so much available to us with a minimum of effort. But interesting things start to happen as challenge leaves our lives. Our lack of physical exertion has created the proliferation of chronic disease. Our lack of deep, meaningful (and challenging) human interactions has made our minds weak as evidenced by growing mental illness and stress. Our intolerance to opposing viewpoints has made our egos fragile.

In a great irony, never challenging yourself leads to even greater challenges because you are weak. If you can lift 200 pounds, when you are presented with a 100 pound lift, you barely feel strain. But how did you become able to lift 200 pounds? You continually challenged yourself. Alternatively, if you are lazy and never challenge yourself, those 100 pounds will seem insurmountable (and may in fact be so). This metaphor extends into our relationships, dealings with money, and our spiritual lives as well.

Protecting Ourselves and our Loved Ones from Ease

I try not to name problem without a potential solution. If the problem is being weakened as a result of a cushy life, the solution is controlled difficulty. Obviously we don’t push ourselves so hard that we cause damage, but we push ourselves hard enough to gain adaptations.

  • To beat relational fragility, seek out and form human relationship with all types of people.
  • To beat physical fragility, exercise (weight lifting and cardio) consistently.
  • To beat financial fragility, practice frugality.
  • To beat mental fragility, seek out opposing viewpoints and challenge yourself with new (and perhaps even controversial) information.

I hope you found some valuable insights for how to beat the effects of fragility in your life. Thanks for reading!

Seven Ways to Increase Self-Esteem

There is a lot of talk in personal development about building self-esteem. For our purposes, I will define self-esteem as feeling good about yourself as a person. There are many ways we can feel good about ourselves, and I think most of them fall under the umbrella of contribution.

Who’s to Blame for Low Self-Esteem?

When we are young, we are most impressionable. In fact, one may argue that the younger you are, the more impressionable you are. If you were fortunate enough to have mindful parents, they would have made every effort to assure you when you did something “bad” that you were not a bad person. Shame is a very intense tactic to use on a child, and can result in a child interpreting your disapproval with them being a bad person. I would argue that much of our self-esteem when we are pre-school age comes from our parents.

When we enter school, things begin to change. Now people are asking us to do stuff. No longer do the adults in our lives congratulate us for existing, they want us to produce. And they should! I believe that it is around this time that we learn a very important lesson: “people will like me if I do a good job”. Luckily for our little selves, there are many ways to do a good job: you can be polite, funny, interesting, good-looking, cheerful, helpful, fast, strong, and so many other things.

As a teacher, one of the more peculiar things I see happening in education is how lax we are becoming with discipline. I see the good intentions. We want every child to have the opportunity to reach their potential. But I think a lack of discipline may reinforce the anti-thesis of self esteem which I call do-whatever-i-want-itis.

do-whatever-i-want-itis (noun): thinking that you can do whatever you want and people will still not only accept you, but celebrate your questionable behavior.

I see many young people completely confused when they are faced with discipline, because the apparent message they have been sent is that everything they do is okay. There are no boundaries. If someone is hurt by what they do, it is their problem.

Recipe for Disaster

So now we have a recipe for disaster. A person who thinks they can do whatever they want and are also resistant to discipline. Trust me, these people are not pleasant to be around…you know why?…because their self -esteem is low or inappropriately high.

If their self-esteem is low, they feel bad. And they want to make other people feel bad too (of course they won’t admit this). Depending on the person’s personality, this could result in anti-social behavior. If their self-esteem is inappropriately high, they are at a high susceptibility for catching do-whatever-i-want-itis because they think their actions should have no consequences.

Seven Ways to increase Self-Esteem

I would like to make the hypothesis that self-esteem is about what we can contribute. Those ways to “be good” that I listed above make us feel good because humans are social creatures and we want most people to like us and think we are good.

Some of these suggestions may sound trite, but here are some ways we can increase our self esteem:

  1. Be easy to work with (assertive vs. aggressive)
  2. Pick up trash you see in your neighborhood (if it is sanitary to do so)
  3. Be kind to strangers
  4. Speak up if you see someone being mistreated (if it is safe to do so)
  5. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and apply the skills
  6. Help those who are in need
  7. Leave places better than you found them

By developing small habits like those listed above, we will develop a respect for ourselves, and it is very likely that others will respect us too. When we make a contribution to our community, nature rewards us with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters not only make us feel good, but make us attractive to those around us.

So, the next time you are feeling down, a good question to ask may be, “How am I contributing to my community?”. Finding a way to contribute may just be the answer you needed. Until next time…

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