Monday, March 6, 2023

Whatever Happened To Discipline?

To borrow an observation from my 92-year-old mother, "It's funny the things we remember."  This morning I recalled two books I read four and five decades ago. One was called The Disciplined Life, by Richard S. Taylor. The subtitle for this book is The Mark of Christian Maturity. You don't have to be a Christian to resonate with many of the messages in this book. Though written to help Christians reach their full potential, Taylor's observations and advice apply across the board. 

Lack of discipline has many negative consequences in our relationship and in our work lives. Over-reacting to tense situations or criticism has cost more than a few people their jobs. Erractic (undisciplined) emotions can interfere with one's productivity. Tardiness is often due to lack of discipline with one's time. 

The second book is John Hersey's Too Far To Walk. This is a lesser known book by the author of Hiroshima, Hersey's powerful study of the aftereffects of the first atomic bomb. Too Far To Walk is a 1966 novel about the turbulence of the Sixties. The main character is John Fist, who one day decides to skip a class because it is across campus and too far to walk. The novel details his slide into lack of motivation and self-indulgence. 

The benefits of living a disciplined life are many. Do you want to be happy? Change your behavior and you won't have to beat yourself up all the time for your follies.

Here are some of the other advantages of living a disciplined life.

  1. Increased productivity: When you follow a routine and discipline yourself to stick to it, you are more likely to get things done efficiently and effectively. You'll waste less time and have a clearer sense of purpose and direction. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity. We put off doing what isn't "fun" and get less done, because things like getting up in the morning or doing taxes aren't always that exciting.
  2. Improved health and well-being: Increased productivity rewards us with a feeling of accomplishment which can boost your self-esteem and confidence. When you feel good you have more of a spring in your step and it lifts those around us as well. Discipline can help you develop healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet. It can also help you avoid unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking or smoking.
  3. Greater self-control: Living a disciplined life can help you resist temptations and make better choices. You'll be more in control of your impulses and less likely to give in to immediate gratification. To learn more about the benefits of deferred gratification read this article about The Marshmallow Experiment.
  4. Enhanced focus and concentration: A disciplined life can help you eliminate distractions and focus your attention on the task at hand. This also can lead to increased productivity and better outcomes. Tip: How much screen time do you allow yourself each day? How about your kids? 
Writers working on assignment know how important deadlines are. It takes discipline to stay organized and on task, whatever size the project. 

When I was a senior in high school I heard a classmate explaining why he was joining the army. He said that he had no personal discipline and his life felt out of control. He felt like he needed an external force to change this or he would never amount to anything and very likely would self-destruct. It was apparent he had spent a lot of time thinking about his behavior and what he wanted out of life. He knew his future was in his hands.

If your life is out of control, do whatever it takes to turn it around. You only live once. 

Photo Credit: AI modified version of my Portrait of John Cage

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