What Is Discipline?

Jan 21, 2014 1 Min Read

My parents used to enforce discipline on me when I misbehaved as a kid. Against my will, of course.

During school days the most feared person title seemed to always fall on the guru disiplin, further feeding my dislike for the word discipline.

For me, discipline was almost always associated with fitting into a mould, a flattening of spontaneity, a joy-killer.

Over time, however, I learned that the word actually has a broader meaning that encompasses a sense of focus and purpose, much to my surprise.

I loved sports and was very active in athletics, and these two past-time passions sparked the beginning of my love-hate relationship with discipline.

A few exceptions aside, such as rhythmic gymnastics which showcases artistic performance through grace of movement, it was never hard for me to pick up a new sport and so it was always easy going at the initial stage.

Then I’d hit a plateau and very quickly I’d be bored. I would start to show up late for practice and even skip a few when the weather was on my side.

Possibly speaking from personal experience, my sprint coach would give me a lecture which he skilfully masked in the form of rhetorical questions: “You want to run or just plan to fill up the starting blocks? You want to win or waste my time?”

Sometimes the rebel in me wanted to tell him that he could choose to stop coaching me, but eventually the coward in me would win and I’d hang my head and promise to show up for the next training practice.

And herein lies the stark difference in perspective: the person who understands discipline welcomes it in expressions of commitment, dedication and excellence, compared wtih the other who sees it as an inconvenient burden to be endured.

It wasn’t until later that I finally came to understand the value of order and control in competitive sports, and impress upon myself that natural ability and interest can only take one so far in any field, but with discipline, it can bring about a change in ineffective habits and practices, and more importantly enjoyment in the pursuit.

Of course, knowing is merely the first step. Then there’s the applying of the knowledge.

As a friend would retort: Abuden, Sherlock. As with other matters in life that are comparable to a smartphone, converting the user app into system app is where the challenge lies.

Experts recommend taking baby steps. Zen Habits blogger Leo Babautu advises cultivation of self-discipline in starting small with a simple but unbreakable promise to yourself to do one small thing every single day.

Maybe the practice of discipline also incorporates mindfulness here.

So I ask myself where am I heading, what do I hope to achieve and arrive at, at the end of the day.

Or better – what kind of person I am becoming and hope to become in order to contribute to the well-being of the communities which I am a member? And I wonder what this would mean for me and us.

Could it be starting the day with breakfast, using the car indicator signals, greeting our colleagues at work, performing our prayer obligations, doing a random act of kindness for our neighbours, having a meaningful chat with our spouse or children before we retire to bed at night? I wonder.

A friend once reminded me that working on something every day is akin to working a field.

One doesn’t get to see its immediate rewards but if we work with consistency and a sense of purpose, over time we will get to enjoy the fruit of our labour – provided the weather conditions are also good, if not accommodating throughout.

However, if I miss a week of work, I may put the crops at risk.

In short, one word. Discipline.

And now I shall let the word lead us to two other questions for our consideration: what is my field to plough and am I ploughing it?

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Keat Lim is formerly the director of coaching and executive development at Leaderonomics.

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