Why Self-Discipline is NOT Force of Will Power


Jason and Avery, Father and Son, Posing Powerful

I haven't written in a while, but something has been on my mind lately. I was reading a book that was talking about discipline. The author told a story and drove home the message,

"You don't have to want to do it. It just needs to get done."

I get it. We're surrounded by a society of mushy, comfort-seeking and weak-willed people who complain about not having, when we don't have the will or fortitude to push ourselves to do the things we need to do. I agree. So, in a moment when I disagree, remember that I do agree with this sentiment.


I just think that force of will isn't really what discipline is. It might be the beginning of it. For example, you have to start somewhere. Getting up off the couch for the first time to start exercising will involve some level of force of will. But that's not how we maintain a disciplined life. I've heard people say Will Power is a muscle, the more you use it the more it grows. In keeping with that metaphor then, Will Power is a muscle - you can pull it, fatigue it, or hyper-extend it.


Again, I feel the need to emphasize that I'm not favoring doing nothing and staying in my comfort zone. I'm saying - Discipline isn't about forcing yourself to do X. It's about negotiating with yourself, reframing the mind to orient it to where what you need is understood to be what you want as well.


I tried this exercise with my kids, and I do it with myself as well. Reframing is such a key aspect of discipline, and in my opinion is the true high aim of mastering self discipline. We all start somewhere. Perhaps we start by just forcing it. I've been there. My mind was full of pain, and conversations internally or externally were just too much, but I could get angry and just force myself to stretch and exercise. I didn't want to let my injuries from the car accident keep me from walking as they already had for 3 months.


But the conversation and negotiation looks different as we seek to maintain discipline. My kids don't want to brush their teeth. I can tell them, "TOUGH...just do it." Or I can say, "it doesn't matter if you want to, it needs to be done." Or I can ask a few key questions to reframe it.


Do you want your teeth to hurt? - No.

Do you want to get cavities removed at the Dentist? - No.

Do you want clean teeth you can rely on? - Yes.

Then, do you want to clean your teeth now? - Yes.


The same is true about chores...

Will the plates clean themselves? - No.

Do you want to eat on a clean plate later or a dirty plate? - Clean.

Do you want to play later? - Yes.

Do you want to play now? - Yes.

Then, do you want to get it done quickly?


One of the keys to doing this is negotiating with yourself using language of reality. You can't trick yourself. You're too damn smart for that. So, you have to be brutally honest. As a parent, I'm the voice of reality for my kids since they don't know how to add that part yet. "No, mommy isn't your maid. You ate on the plate, you clean it. If we died and were gone tomorrow, this is your reality to step in and pick up."


Perhaps that's what's really in common in both of these approaches. The problem with pure will power is that it's just not sustainable, especially in the face of real problems.


When my wife and I were at wits end and our marriage was destroyed. Everything in life felt overwhelming. There wasn't enough will power to go around. Reframing my current circumstances into a mirror of reality, then asking myself what I wanted the reality to truly be and answering it with action that delivered that was the only way I transformed myself into a person worth being married to. Stepped up my game. Got a handle on my triggers. Became a provider. Became a listener and learned how to stop making it all about me.


Will power wasn't going to sustain the focus to keep me true to the endeavor beyond the moment's need for a push to get it done.

"Without vision, my people perish," is the scripture.


Negotiate the vision properly inside by clearly stating the reality of the situation. Understand what you truly want long-term. Connect that with your short-term situation. Use force of will to get you started, but use the negotiated vision to drive the results.


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