Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Self Discipline


"The first and best victory is to conquer self."

Plato


"It is necessary to try to surpass one's self always: this occupation ought to last as long as life."

Queen Christina of Sweden


"We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit."

Aristotle

"Nothing is more harmful to the service, than the neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army superiority over another."

George Washington






Disciplining the thought life is probably the hardest discipline of all, but it is also the greatest discipline and the only discipline I really need.  If I discipline my thought life, then I can discipline everything else – my body, my study habits, my health, my relationships, my actions and my choices.  I can discipline my schedule and I how view events. I can discipline myself to choose joy, optimism, productivity, love, peace, kindness, trust in God, or whatever else I need.  I can even show others how to discipline themselves, but I cannot do it for them.
I have to discipline myself first.   For example, I haven’t written a blog in two days and it’s weighing on me.   So I’m going to sit here without interruption and write.  I already feel better.  I cannot use busyness as a valid reason for not writing in the last two days.  The truth is that I chose not to do it.  Some of my choices were good ones.  Others weren’t.  It doesn’t matter.  I made my choices and I have no need or room for regret.  All that matters is that I’m writing now.   All that matters is now.
I’m distracted so easily.  I need to focus.  For me, focusing means making a thousand little decisions, or maybe making one big decision a thousand times.   That decision is to not allow myself to do anything else until I’m done.  As I said, that’s a hard decision.  I have to stay present every moment.
It is crucial to stay present with my thoughts.  One way I have to stay present, perhaps really the only way, is to not let my thoughts run my life.  For example, I may have a thought that says, “You have a lot to do.  You can do this blog later.” 
What I usually do is give into that thought without thinking about it, but I need to think about what I’m thinking.  Thinking about our thoughts is called meta-cognition.  There really are no bad thoughts, not even thoughts of hatred, lust, fear, rage, greed or regret.  Instead, there are thoughts that are more productive and useful than the ones just cited.  Those are thoughts like joy, gratitude, love, contentment and determination.  Those thoughts are for more useful and productive. 
The good news is that I can choose my thoughts.  The bad news is I often choose the wrong ones.  The other bad news is that choosing the bad thoughts is far easier and takes no discipline.  Maybe that’s why I do it so often.
Let me give an example.  About two months ago, a guy I met on Facebook offered to sell me Comic Con tickets for $60 each.  To make a long story short, he dropped me from Facebook, advertised the same tickets at a lower price and ultimately, didn’t sell me the tickets.  Now the good news is that I was able to get a 5-day pass in exchange for some work and it all worked out better.  That should be the end of the story.  I got in for free thus saving a couple of hundred dollars. I should be happy.  But part of me doesn’t want to be happy.  Part of me wants to hold on to the negative aspects of his this event.  What I want to do is send this guy a very nasty message.  I want his life to be miserable.  I want to humiliate him and make him pay.  Why?  I got what I needed and at a better price, but I still want my revenge. 
This is how the thought life often works.  It focuses on what’s wrong to the exclusion of all common sense, kindness or gratitude.  It is, as Eckhart Tolle says, a pain body, feeding and growing stronger on negative thoughts.    Tolle says the pain body is not me or you, but something inside each of us, a monster that wants to destroy everything.  The pain body feeds on every kind of negativity and like all other creatures, its main goal is to stay alive.  So it will do anything to stay alive.  It does this by feeding off our blatant or subtle negativity and then keeps us in that state. 
A productive thought life takes far more discipline, consistency, presence and hard work.  Perhaps this is why so many people are negative: it’s just easier.  And the rewards are more obvious and come more quickly.   I can feel the pleasure of revenge far more quickly and more easily than I can feel any results of the disciplined thought life.  Even if I never actually exact my revenge, I can “win” a thousand times in my imagination.  Perhaps giving into negativity is a form of laziness.  It doesn’t matter, because I actually prefer and choose better thoughts.  I don’t discipline myself all the time, but I’m much more aware of when I’m taking “the easy road.”
The best part of disciplining my thoughts is the results.  Although they are not as immediate as the results of an undisciplined thought life, they are far more pleasant.  When I am self-disciplined, I am happier.  I get more done.  My day feels better.   I am kinder.  I am more loving.  There are more benefits and I will write more about this in a future blog.  For the moment, I’m happy to say I’m happy.   I’m ready to Get Started and to Keep Going…and to stay disciplined.