Quick Look

“Discipline” – both the notion and the word – has acquired a negative, almost judgmental hasn’t it? (Something I have to do, but don’t want to do.) If so, throw it out! Trust your distastes! (Of course, you may have to go to that drag‑of‑a‑job for a few more months, but start planning your exodus.)

Three Tales

I joined a gym. I was excited! It felt great to sweat, and I slept better, and I even ate better.

But the drive was about twenty minutes. And after work, sometimes I just wanted to get home, right? (Actually, most of the time. Well, just about all the time.)

I haven’t been in a month. I’m searching for a better reason to work out. I guess I’m not disciplined. But wait! Could it simply be a discipline not suited to me? Might I forgive myself?

Second story: I once asked a successful pianist how he brought himself to practice so much every day. “Really,” he said, almost conspiratorially, “I actually like it, almost all the time. But if I tell people, they treat me like a weird alien!” We both laughed; I promised not to tell. (His name.)

One more story. I asked a star Peabody trumpet player, how much he practiced every day. “About four hours,” he answered, matter-0f-factly.

“Good Lord,” I said; “doesn’t that get boring?”

“Sure,” he replied, rather patiently. After all, I was his pastor; HE had come to ME for counseling! But I could tell he was beginning to wonder if I might be dangerously ignorant.

I couldn’t drop the topic: “Well . . . what do you do with that?”

I don’t think he’d ever been asked that question. He thought for a moment. “Well . . . I guess . . . I just . . . HAVE . . . my boredom.”

This happened about forty years ago. As you see, I have never forgotten his answer.

The Tale Wagged

So. Does your discipline actually work? If so, great, keep it up.

But if it doesn’t work, study it – or at least your attitude about it – closely but calmly, honestly. Without shame.

Of course, to get something you really, really want, you may have to do something that is momentarily unpleasant. You do it anyway and, lo‑and‑behold, you get a little closer to that something. It works! You do it again; it works again! You’re throwing off some kind of old husk, and you’re feeling lighter!

That’s the only kind of discipline you want. Don’t let all those self-styled gurus talk you into doing stuff that doesn’t work for you, just because it makes you think (or makes you think someone think) that somehow you’re better than someone else!

You’ve heard this famous little metaphor: a good discipline is like a raft to be left behind when you’ve crossed a river and won’t be back.

Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?

Try doing something regularly for yourself.

  • Don’t drink any soda or coffee maybe, or
  • ponder a poem or a sacred text every morning, or
  • walk a mile or two

Do anything that settles you down deep inside, and do it regularly just for a week. Do it even if you don’t feel like it; it’s only an experiment. Then, at the end of the week, see if it’s worth doing for another week. Your experience is the Boss (not your partner’s experience or evidence from a weight scale or approval from your boss). The main point is to be doing it for you, not some “Should-er” outside (or inside) of yourself.

Don’t tell anyone how disciplined you’re being. Keep it a secret with yourself. Don’t tell anyone: it’s just an experiment, and it’s too early to know.

Echoes on Discipline


About RayMunn

Husband, father, Zen guy, web designer, film-maker.
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