Discipline is not a word that generally brings joy to a room or a smile to a face. No matter the context, discipline is rarely received warmly. “Discipline” can refer to a corrective measure or to training yourself in a controlled or habitual way. It is teaching someone do the right thing or it is doing the right thing even when you may not want to. Either meaning brings with it reservations.
The reason that discipline causes such angst is because there are certain things associated with discipline that make us uncomfortable. If we can understand how these things affect discipline, it may allow us to follow through with the things that are needed in our lives. Here are a few things that you can expect no matter which approach to discipline we may be taking.
Pain is almost always associated with discipline. Many people correlate the word discipline with punishment, though I would argue they have different outcomes. When we discipline our children we both feel pain. Many parents tell their children before spanking them, “this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you”. But even without physical discipline, there is mutual pain. When my car was taken away from me while I was a teenager it was painful for me. It was also painful for my parents because they suddenly had to be my transportation.
Pain is also present when training ourselves to be more consistent or habitual. Regular exercise can be painful. Letting go of certain habits or routines can also be painful. Either way we view discipline there will be some sort of pain. Sometimes it is just the pain of change.
The thing that we often miss is that there will be pain without discipline. We do not remove the pain from our lives because we remove discipline. Pain is often worse in situations where we failed to exercise discipline. When corrections are not made or new habits are not formed, pain and devastation often follow. We often buy into the myth that discipline is too painful when lack of discipline is usually even more painful in the long run.
Both types of discipline require change and no one likes change. We want to pretend that we like change, but change does not come naturally to anyone. The sole purpose of corrective discipline to to bring about change. We offer correction or we are corrected because someone sees the need for their to be a change. It may be behavioral. It could be a skill change. It might be a change in attitude. There are numerous things that correction attempts to change. We even call prisons “correctional facilities” because we want to believe they bring about change in behavior. If we are offering corrective discipline, change has to be a big part of the process.
Change also plays a role in discipline where training or doing the right thing over time is involved. If we are improving our health we may have to change our routines or eating habits. If we are working on a relationship, the things we say or the actions we take may need to change. If we are applying discipline to our finances, the way we budget our finances will be different. Change plays a role in both types of discipline.
When we have discipline we get to drive change, but when we don’t, change drives us. The question is not whether change will happen. The question is, will you influence the change.
There has never been a time when instant gratification was more a part of culture than it is right now. Part of the struggle with any type of discipline is that there is rarely an immediate reward. When we use discipline to correct, it takes time to see if it was effective because we are usually seeking long term change in behaviors. True correction is attempting to bring about long term changes. People want to know you are sorry for a problem, mistake or error, but they also want to know that it will not happen again. It takes time to see how that will play out. When parenting, you appreciate the apologies of your children in the moment, but you really want to know whether or not your discipline brought about change. No one likes waiting, but discipline takes patience.
This is also true when applying discipline to our own lives. Sometimes we do not see immediate results when we change our diet or begin exercising. It may take weeks or months to see a significant difference. Dessert, however, tastes great immediately. It takes time to get out of debt, but it feels so good to buy what we want right now even if on credit. Almost all lifestyle discipline requires us to be patient for the benefits.
The myth of waiting is that somehow we believe the reward now is better than the reward later, but it isn’t. Immediate rewards are often short lived but come with long term consequences. Delayed gratification comes with short term consequences or pain but with long term rewards. Good discipline with your health when you are younger will lead to many years of a good quality of life as you get older. Poor discipline with your health when younger will often give you short term joy but usually leaves you with many years of pain and suffering as you get older.
Don’t allow these stop you from doing what is best for your life. Apply corrective measures. Practice long term habits of doing the right thing. You will experience some pain, some change and some delayed gratification, but it will bring much greater rewards in the long run.
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