This homograph intrigues me. Discipline can be a subject of study, a routine, dedication compounded with determination, and to some, the means of changing difficult behaviour. Despite the contrasting meanings, each of the implications create energy, whether negative or positive, depends.
My early exposure to discipline, as with many adults my age, was in the form of punishments. Standing outside the class was a common occurrence for me. I made mistakes, broke the rules. I would have to write ‘I won’t talk during assembly’ a 100 times, or even run 10 rounds of our massive hockey field for chuckling during school announcements. Once, they cancelled the coupons for our weekend tuck shop — having to miss canteen was truly punishing in a boarding school. While today I attribute many of my learnings — even strengths — to these experiences, it is not one I condone or find necessary for ‘character building’. But there is one I do strongly encourage.
Growing up in a boarding school, springing out of bed, brushing hurriedly with cold fingers, and getting dressed in the dark, in the wintry mornings of Rajasthan for sports training, taught me a lot. As did the ‘shanti mantra’ before breakfast, the orderly uniform and the acknowledgement to teachers as they passed by. Studying for tests until the wee hours, with a torch under our blankets; the endless practices for matches; the dances and the drama; the several drafts for debates; the worrying over mistakes; the intention to win, and the experience of losing — everything energised me. This commitment to show up, practise, overcome excuses and work hard, gave me a direction, and sowed the seeds of perseverance. I was learning self-discipline, something that we are not born with, but have to develop.
As a mental health practitioner, I have seen people in crisis struggle with discipline. A crisis exposes us to discomfort. Something many of us want to avoid at all costs. Our ability to overcome these significantly depends on self-discipline. Whether I counsel someone who binges due to loneliness or struggles with an addiction, talk couples out of abusive language and aggressive actions or work to manage stress better, self-discipline and committing to goals is a significant part of the sessions.
An interesting thing is that discipline as a means of punishment makes more truants and causes more trouble, while if we consider the other meaning, it unleashes commitment, the will and muscle to survive. Athenian philosopher Plato had said, “The first and best victory is to conquer the self”. When the going gets harder, our actions speak of the presence or absence of this crucial life principle.
Self-discipline helps people monitor and control their own behaviours, not cop-out by blaming others or expecting from ‘destiny’. Those who are highly self-disciplined may be able to better focus on health, work and happiness goals. They make better choices related to engagement and achievement. Self-discipline focuses on one’s own ability to engage in (or refrain from engaging in) particular behaviours, rather than the reliance on others or external sources for motivation.
It is by no means easy.
Benjamin Franklin had famously stated: “God helps those who help themselves”.
Achieving self-discipline requires us to commit and persevere. While the pandemic tenaciously pushes our temperaments in terms of time and tolerance, we need to continue to push back towards preventing, educating, correcting, and growing through self-discipline. While we have torrential cloud bursts upon us with health and happiness-related news and education, many struggle with imbibing and practising the paradigms with discipline. Self-realising, self-motivating and self-disciplining ourselves takes courage, tolerance, patience and persistence.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) asserts the value of self-discipline in managing the pandemic. COVID-19 has been a global health crisis and one of the most perilous challenges we have faced. The contagion disease is ravaging human lives and the important criterion to contain the deadly virus is to respond to this health crisis effectively and to recover from it. While we may love to blame governments, public and countries, we like to dismiss the most important question: “how have I contributed to managing this crisis better?”
People must understand their responsibility in order to survive this ‘bio-carnage’. We are reminded regularly by doctors and authorities of laying down precautionary measures, namely maintaining social-distancing, frequent washing of hands, wearing masks etc. As we understandably get impatient, exasperated and possibly reckless, we need to tell ourselves to hang on and persist.
Whether it is Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “With self-discipline most anything is possible”, or Michael Jordan’s “Some want it to happen, some wish it to happen and some make it happen”, every contributor and change-maker has demonstrated a strong will with a sense of responsibility not just towards oneself but also their team, community and the nation.
Discipline comes easy to those who have clear goals. “A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at,” Bruce Lee had said. Of course, containing a pandemic is not a one-person job. It is a long-drawn, tough and complex warfare, but if we see the significance of our contribution, our tiny actions that may help, we would have our goal.
If you haven’t already spelt out a goal for yourself, it might be worth investing some time and creating a clear vision board with ‘health’, ‘happiness’ and ‘functionality’ written in bold letters and add action points under each for you to follow. In the current scenario, add action points under each for you to follow. As we find ourselves amidst this perilous pandemic, allow me to quote the definition. “A disease outbreak that fast spreads across countries and continents, affecting and taking more lives than an epidemic claims”, if this won’t discipline us, what will?
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)
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