Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I know what you're craving.  Some cold, hard facts that will set you on the pathway to a more disciplined life.  

What if you could determine what was important, best, and just plain right for you to do, and then could move into making that a reality?  Is a lack of self-discipline the only thing keeping you from saying to yourself:  Body, you're overweight and need to lose 20 lbs. and then effectively go about reducing your caloric intake and/or increasing your exercise?  Is there anything you couldn't do with the right amount of self-discipline?  What are the roles of willpower and motivation in this?  Are the concepts synonymous?  This issue permeates all aspects of life either positively or negatively.  In fact, this concept has already been part of a couple of posts here:  The Will and Physically Speaking.

I can still clearly recall a moment in my life when this idea intruded into my mind:  Discipline is good.  The reason I say intruded is because that idea was so foreign to me prior to that evening, walking across a yard outside some army barracks at Ft. Gordon, GA when I was 19.  Prior to that moment, I had understood discipline to be a negative.  It was restrictive.  It was punishment.  But after going through boot camp and advanced training in the military, I began to see a different side of discipline.  Let's be honest, discipline can be punishment.  Even self-discipline.  There's an interesting saying used by bodybuilders:  Pain is just weakness leaving the body.  I think that's a useful way of looking at this issue.  We don't want to force ourselves out of comfort.  But the 'pain' we feel from self-discipline is accomplishing the very thing we truly want or need, namely change for the better.

I wish cold, hard facts could set us on the pathway to a more disciplined life.  Unfortunately, facts alone don't motivate us very well.  I think that's where willpower comes in.  We do first need to understand the issue, and then plan our course of action.  But how will we be consistently successful at accomplishing our goals?  Our will enables decisions to be effective.  Where does our willpower-enhancing motivation come from?  I would say that, generally, my 'will' to eat too much good-tasting food is stronger than my 'will' to be healthy (long-term Important/Non-urgent goal, see Time Matrix) or to have a slim physique.  However, I think I could be effectively motivated to achieve that goal if my doctor told me that I will have a heart attack in the next year if I don't make serious changes.  It would be my over-arching will to make this happen.  Why can't I apply that discipline now?  I don't see the urgency?  One theory says that our will serves various motivations aside from reason.  Maybe my will is unreasonable.

I'm sure there's much more to be said on this subject.  What do you think?


  1. That's an interesting example you use, and it would seem that the variable that is being adjusted in that example is urgency.

    How would you define urgency? Written as a mathematical equation, could you say that (urgency = importance / time available)?

    In other words, the more time you have (or THINK you have) to get X accomplished, the less urgent it is?

    I know that I've procrastinated on things more times than I could ever remember. I've had 2 weeks to get X done, and waited til the last daggone which point it becomes urgent!


    Also, you said "One theory says that our will serves various motivations aside from reason"...I'd like to hear more about this theory.

  2. Right, Steve, urgency is time related (see Time Matrix). I would only see the 'urgency' in getting in shape if my doctor told me that not doing so would be potentially terminal in a short period of time. Maybe 'pain' fits in here too (or as you said earlier 'ease') The pain of a heart attack outweighs the pain of eating right. Right now, I perceive it more as a comfort thing. I'm uncomfortable (rather than concerned about health issues) with my weight, but comfortable with eating mostly how I want to.

    I guess that could even be considered procrastination. I'll wait until I have to do it. Knowing all along it's not the smart or right choice.

    However, time in the gym is important to me. Not maintaining strength is not acceptable to me. Even cardio is important to me. Why would I be disciplined in that area and not the other?

    That theory about the will is a philosophical one. There are several controversies out there surrounding will and volition in the philosophical realm. We generally think of the will as being good, but it's worth considering that our will is flawed and contributes to our problems.

  3. At the time nobody likes discipline...yet...God disciplines those He loves (ok, I'm sure I've taken these out of context, but I want to see where it goes :). Now, your thought that discipline isn't always punishment is great! Being self-disciplined isn't punishment, or at least it's voluntary punishment (sacrifice) giving up one thing, so that we can have something we deem worth the giving up of the other.

    Now I'm going to make a random statement.

    All sin brings about discipline.

    Either we sin and God disciplines us (that is if He loves us) so that we should desire to stop sinning (because sin leads to death, both physical and more importantly spiritual, and God doesn't want us to die) OR we self-discipline ahead of time by saying no to the "attractive" sin (because we love God and do not want to break our relationship with him and with others, which is at it's core what sin does"

    So to write that without having to interpret through the parentheses. Either we sin and God disciplines us OR we self-discipline ahead of time by saying no to the "attractive" sin.

    What do you think?

    P.S. I really liked that self-discipline/pain is just weakness leaving the body thing...picking up your cross is just sin leaving the body...haha I don't know :)

    1. Not sure I ever saw this originally Micah. Just happened to be looking over these posts today. I totally agree that what we need to do is get to the point where we value and realize that our relationship to God is of such importance that we view the attractive sin as less desirable than maintaining that relationship. Of course, thankfully, God continually gives us additional chances via grace and forgiveness to make the right choices. Not for us to sin freely, but to get back on track with our relationship to Him and understand that relationships importance and go about maintaining it and deepening it. It's the same for all other relationships. We need both grace and truth. The truth is the reality we align our lives with, and the grace is the ability to get back on track with reality when we fail.