Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

~ Abraham Lincoln ~

More Self Discipline? Yes And No

February 24th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 32 secs

Is self-discpline the answer to finding fulfilment?

Discipline will get you a lot in life. It can make you financially rich, give you amazing status, and win the praise of admirers. But, for all its benefits, it’s not enough on its own to create a satisfying life.

You could probably mount a strong case for people’s lack of self-discipline these days. Folk failing to use their time well, not working hard enough, and not going the extra mile, all take their toll to reduce achievement.

Athletes, entertainers, artists, captains of industry, scientists, medical pioneers, and more besides all demonstrate the power of self-discipline to do what cannot be achieved by any other means. Thanks to the might inside us, we can all do far more than we’ve ever done before. If we don’t, there’s always the possibility that someone else will instead.

Daily endorsements by bulked up gym giants or svelte instructors demanding us to “get off our butts” and “do what it takes” seem convincing. But when inertia takes hold, it’s hard to get the traction they matter-of-factly talk about, let alone keep it going.

Brat camps, competitive adventures, and “you can do everything” power meisters insist on discipline, and if you have it, you can do it. But you know, it’s still not enough.

Beneath the achievements of a disciplined mind and well-controlled body, there is more to life than can be had through will. Despite its energy, willpower, for all its might, cannot bring you happiness.

The gap between achievement and happiness might seem slim to some. But it’s there. All the gold medals, cash, titles, and honors we can achieve with discipline are remarkable. Yet we need more than all of that to be happy. Ultimately, we also need a context: the satisfaction of loving, being loved, and belonging are the essentials to making life feel worthwhile.

I know, plenty of people will immediately say, “Ha! Not me. I’ll have the cash thanks. That will do me.” But money is merely an amplifier not an answer. Once you have food on the table, shelter, and clothes, cash can only intensify what’s within. So, insecurities, anxieties, and petty resentments don’t go. They merely find new ways to thrive, and even self-discipline won’t make them all go away.

It’s kind of ironic, but the more you try to kill off anxiety and hatreds, the more you stoke them up. That’s why people who are always complaining about the excessive wealth of others are frequently the most materialistic people you’ll meet. The act of repeatedly despising merely feeds projected jealousy. Discipline alone won’t answer that ugliness. It just makes us more focused and tougher.

So it’s our thinking that counts. Meaning behind our actions is the engine that drives us. A triathlete pushes forward because she keeps her eye on the prize. She may or may not know what she is forgoing to do it. But it’s the meaning underpinning her decision that drives her to it. Discipline is a tool to make things happen. But it will only take us as far as the strength of our integrity lets it.

To find happiness in life we need to unhook the notion that action makes us more valuable. It never can and it never will. I believe you and I were born with all the value we will ever have. But the meanings we make and what we discipline ourselves to choose and act on do matter too. While they won’t make you any more precious, they certainly can make life all the more sweet.

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