I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice Of Love, and came across the most interesting idea. So interesting, in fact, that I grabbed the closest thing I could write on (the back of an envelope, a la Abe Lincoln), and wrote “Discipline gives you a sense of your inner strength.”
When I look back at my life, I see quite clearly that there have been times when I’ve been undisciplined — and those are generally very chaotic periods. However, when I have been more disciplined, I realize, I move more swiftly through crisis.
I wondered, “If I have a coaching client who feels overwhelmed, would it be helpful to suggest they find one place in their life to exert some discipline?” By Jove, I think I’ve got something there.
Isn’t it funny that three words which were of such great importance to earlier generations — sacrifice, obedience, discipline — have been made into veritable four-letter words in this generation? Somehow, sacrifice, obedience and discipline are stodgy. They limit our self-expression. They repress us. They’re for squares, man.
But the flip side to the “if it feels good, do it” school of anti-discipline can be a feeling that resistance is not only futile, but that we are not strong enough to resist. Take away the extraneous words in that sentence and you’re left with: “…we are not strong enough…”
That’s a pretty sad way to look at life. Not very positive, forward-looking or powerful, huh? But a fairly widely held view, if you just take my clients’ word for it.
When I feel disciplined enough to exercise, I not only feel better about my body, but I feel better about my ability to stick to it. My dear cousin Joe, who is sneaking up on his 50th birthday, started an exercise program eight weeks ago. Now, I love this dear man. But he’s not the exercising type. He’s an artist, a historian, a thinker. When he told me he’d joined the gym near his house and was exercising every day at 5:30am, I thought, “Yeah, right. We’ll see how long THIS lasts.” How wrong I was. Joe is trimmer, he looks great — but most of all, he’s reconnected with his inner strength. With his ability to be disciplined.
Discipline doesn’t have to be dour. Don’t you just visualize some joyless, self-sacrificing, beige kind of person when you think of discipline? OK, there is a quartile of you who thinks of some dominatrix named Helga, but shake that off, will you?
Let’s reframe discipline. Think about discipline as making inviolable time to be with your children. To connect with friends. To build your community. How about the discipline to attend to your own self-care? To honor yourself by feeding yourself well, or taking yourself in for a flu shot, or buying yourself a gift.
I have begun taking myself out on dates. Sound weird? Here’s how it goes. I ask myself, “What would be fun to do?” Maybe I take myself to dinner and a movie. Not dinner from a fast-food drive-in window, but at a real restaurant with tables and waiters and stuff. I order whatever sounds good on the menu and a glass of wine. Then, I choose a movie I really want to see and buy myself a ticket. Sure, doing this with a friend is lovely. But doing it for myself is affirming.
I treat myself as I would treat a guest.
And I end up feeling pampered, and cared for, and… dare I say it?…happy.
Discipline gives you a sense of your own inner strength. Having discipline is all about choosing to make the most of your life. You make choices to support yourself — because you are strong enough to do that. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or oppressed, or chaotic, take a moment and find one little area of your life where you can reconnect with your own inner strength — even if you feel you don’t have any, or other folks tell you that you have no right to strength — you can find it. Then nurture it. It will grow. Then, let your inner strength build the life you are meant to have.