Discipline comes from disco (to learn, in Latin). So with discipline, we learn something. Self-discipline seems closer to the etymological meaning than the word by itself. Usually when we talk about discipline, we are referring to attempts to get others to learn, so it's more at teaching, but often and unfortunately with a stick instead of a carrot. Self-discipline, on the other hand, is the key to learning. With self-discipline, we train ourselves, or we condition ourselves. Most people recognize that having more self-discipline would be a good thing. In fact, some would argue that you can't have too much self-discipline.

Gaining self-discipline

We constantly rely on habit and instinct to guide our behavior. When they are sufficient, self-discipline is obviated. However, when instinct and habit are not sufficient, we are in the kind of situations that enhance self-discipline the most. The more we have to deal with a situation that continually challenges any kind of habitual relief, the more self-discipline we learn. An increase in self-discipline is a shift away from established mechanisms in the brain and toward sentience as a source of behavior. Getting into and staying in a situation that constantly challenges habit and instinct is quite bothersome, but we are sometimes forced into this as a way of life.

Some religions teach that masturbating is wrong. If a boy takes this to heart, then he is set up to learn a lot of self-discipline in order to avoid feelings of shame and guilt. Because the instinct to pleasure ourselves is a source of moral controversy, you will probably feel very strongly that this is either a good way to teach boys self-discipline or a terrible way. In fact, some boys find other ways to avoid the shame and guilt, and this is generally damaging to their faith. If you are responsible for a boy, then it's important for you to think this through and do what you feel is right for his sake. The same goes for girls, but as far as I know, boys are far more prone to this temptation than girls.

Most information about self-discipline discusses how advantageous it can be and the fact that certain ways of being require it in large amounts. Some of it suggests that activities like regular exercise or learning an instrument can help. While this is true, it is merely an effect of practicing the skill. The problem I see with these techniques is that eventually you will like the exercise or the instrument (which is a great thing), but at that point you will no longer be practicing self-discipline. Not every excellent thing you do will contribute to self-discipline. Despite the fact that these activities are wonderful and should be encouraged, they eventually lose their value as self-discipline enhancers. Fortunately, by then you will have other reasons to persist in doing them.

If you want to get your sentience to have more influence over your behavior without changing your life around or believing that some instinctive act is evil, all you have to do is find and exhibit a behavior which is clearly motivated by your own well-considered reason. This can be done whenever you think of it. Your first thought will be the memory: "Oh yeah, I wanted to practice my self-discipline..." The next thought should be to find something you don't feel like doing. Holding your breath will work. Keeping your eyes closed will work. Anything that you have no inclination to do will work. By deciding to do this thing and then doing it, you reinforce those pathways in your brain from the frontal cortex where abstract reasoning takes place to the motor neurons that execute behaviors. The strength of those connections is the physical embodiment of self-discipline. If you do this even once, you will have some iota more of self-discipline.

It will be easier to remember to practice self-discipline if you attach it to something you do on a regular basis. For example, next time you sit down on the toilet, decide to practice discipline by keeping your eyes closed until you are done. If you fail without having been interrupted, you should probably see a therapist, or perhaps you are under four years old. If you succeed, congratulate yourself in order to show your id that there's a greater consciousness to which it should yield. Saying "I did a good job!" has far more effects on a person than most of us think. Seeing results usually takes patience, but this isn't bothersome to practice, so you'll never decide that you hate it and give up.

Here are some other examples of regularly necessary things and acts you can attach to them to improve your self-discipline:

  • Holding your breath when you leave your house.
  • Lying as symetrically as you can for a while before you go to sleep at night.
  • Stepping on every crack in the sidewalk as you walk, or avoiding them all.
  • Smelling your food for a while before eating it.
  • Undoing something you just did and then redoing it again.
Some of these things are obvious signs of compulsive behavior. For this reason, it's very important to mix them up and do them with full awareness that you have decided to do it, not some subconscious little weasel.

Losing self-discipline

Here is a list of things to avoid since they can decrease self-discipline.

  • Giving up: Eliminating a regularly occurring situation in which self-discipline rewards us will allow our self-discipline to atrophy.
  • Pessimism: If we believe that we're facing a situation in which our lack of self-discipline will be a problem, there is a far greater chance that it will be true. This is one of many self-fulfilling prophecies that we conscious beings can make. It is important to believe in ourselves.
  • Ignorance: If we ignore the fact that some of our pleasure is coming from a lack of self-discipline (when that happens to be the case), the operant conditioning will cause us to internally devalue self-discipline. This may seem counterintuitive because what we're ignoring is a reward for being weak and thinking about that reward might seem to encourage the weakness. However, not paying attention to the relationship between the weakness and the reward is more damaging because it prevents us from taking corrective action. In fact, when I dwell on that relationship enough, the pleasure takes on an ugliness so severe that it disgusts me, and I end up quickly getting out of the situation.
  • Rationalization: A thousand times a day, at least, we choose to do things that are not the result of conscious reasoning. Plenty of those times, there are better choices. When confronted with this fact, we often defend ourselves. What we are defending is a lack of thought, and it ought to have no defense. The hollow confidence behind such expressions of the ego tends to contribute to the tearing down of self-discipline.
The ideas in this writeup are intended to assist without requiring any self-discipline in the first place. I recognized this bootstrapping problem and so have presented ideas which can be used at the time they are remembered. It is a great benefit to readily distinguish between a lack of self-discipline and a poor memory.

Self`-dis"ci*pline (?), n.

Correction or government of one's self for the sake of improvement.


© Webster 1913.

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