I wish I knew the answer to this because I would have cracked the code a long time ago. The daily ritual of promising myself that I will- and here is a grand list: eat better, drink more water, do my yoga practice before anything else, have only one coffee a day, mediate, do at least one generous thing each day, have only positive conversations and so on is becoming meaningless and I rarely manage to achieve one thing on this commendable record.
Stoicism an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy is a good place to start because as with the Buddhist, the Stoic shows complete equanimity in the face of adversity. Equanimity, the ability to show calmness and composure especially in a difficult situation, is a key component to self discipline. Its the voice of reason and truth so when the gremlins start suggesting that you put off any or all of your admirable intentions, your equanimous self will say, “why, how does that benefit you. It will be harder tomorrow -start now and stop being flighty with your excuses”. Adversity is the natural habitat of gremlins - they encourage and whisk it out of thin air because of course there isn’t anything to stop us doing anything positive.
The virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance are those of Stoicism and the latter is subdivided into self-control, discipline and modesty.
Discipline is the code that unlocks the rest. Imagine how differently ones life would be with self-discipline. Not a discipline that was hard, painful and undertaken at great cost but instead manifest itself by actively changing ones life. Eating better gives boundless energy, exercising clears the head and leads to relaxation and focus and another major upside is one can eat more. The cherry on the cake would be that each day there would be a sense of achievement rather than feeling that yet again one had to rewrite the plans for tomorrow. The effort in making plans and avoiding sink holes that stopped all the good intentions is immense. So discipline is the foundation of action, mindset and philosophy which keeps one in a routine and making progress towards whatever one is pursuing.
The teachings of Stoicism are there to encourage the development of will power and these are 4 lessons I’ve taken from The Daily Stoic, a wonderful newsletter to which I subscribe. In developing self discipline we see a positive effect on our health and quality of life. I wish to make clear that I am starting from a very low base- my own self discipline bumps along like a tin attached to a car bumper- sometimes there is a bit of height as I get off the ground but the length it is sustained is dismal and each time I crash down I sustain another dent to my motivation.
SEARCH OUT WISE PEOPLE TO EMULATE
Seneca wrote: “Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make crooked straight.”
The importance of having wise people in our lives is crucial. It provides inspiration and a steer to guide us especially when things are not going well. We can look at their lives and try to find ways in which we too can live like they do. Writers like Prema Chodron, Chögyam Trungpa and Jack Kornfield are a good place to start but there will also be people living locally who do much for the community who are examples.
Start to see the person you wish to become and find someone who is one step ahead of you. Seeing how they speak to others, how they live and more importantly, pay attention to what they don’t do. What is motivating this person’s actions, their ambitions, why are the consequences they experience happening to them.
Begin to think differently - flip negative thoughts about yourself. This builds confidence and more importantly trust in yourself to stay on track and become more self-disciplined. If we don’t trust ourselves to stick to things then we won’t. And if we don’t trust ourselves how can we expect others to trust us - so when I announce that I am going to do 1 1/2 hours yoga practice every day, my dear friend S will arch her brows and say ‘yep’. She doesn’t believe me and nor should she as I have ’’I don’t believe it” branded on my forehead.
GO OVER YOUR DAY
Before you go to sleep make a mental inventory of the implications, lessons and knowledge you gained throughout the day. Evening retrospections were what many people did in the past and today we call it journalling. I don’t journal as I am lazy but I do have a quick review of the day. Try not to use this time to beat yourself up for not doing something. There is a lesson there instead. You can ask: What did I do well today?Where were my discipline and self-control tested, where did I do well? What did I do less well, why did this occur? How can I improve?
Dig out the weak spots. Shining a light on these is a way to become honest with yourself and recognise that you and you alone are responsible for your actions. Nobody made me eat an entire tube of Jaffa cakes. This is time to connect with our subconscious. Practicing evening retrospections on a regular daily basis will cultivate greater self-aware because we will be actively gathering information to formulate and articulate constructive answers to the latter questions. I often find myself bursting out with laughter because I find myself so ridiculous. Looking at the avoidance tactics I use is often like reviewing a comedy script. You couldn’t make it up. These derailments are what train companies use to explain why things aren’t running properly. Its a human condition and as with everything the easier it gets the harder it is to change. Seeing oneself in this light can be very motivational because ultimately its rather disappointing to remain as we are. Never regret your actions or words and most importantly strive to never make the same mistake moving forward. YEP. TOMORROW.
YOUR DISTRACTIONS ARE VERY CREATIVE AND THEY ARE YOURS ALONE
Marcus Aurelius said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Mental Gremlins feed on sowing distress. They bother us about insignificant things as they know this is a dead cert for pulling the rug on discipline. Sweat the small stuff they cry. I often wonder what a being from another planet would make of us as they observe our stress at running late or getting a parking ticket. Don’t distress about something external [meaning it’s out of our control] -its a ploy to de-rail us. If we realise there is little we are in control of- focus on this if we must and embrace what is out of our control and accept it. The result is a feeling of tranquillity.
Refer to the following wording next time you’re distressed and distracted:
Do you have a problem in your life?
No? ► Then don’t worry.
Yes? ► Can you do something about it?…
Yes? ► Then don’t worry.
No? ► Then don’t worry.
EVERY DAY IS A NEW LIFE
Seneca said: “Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” A bad day is just that. We go to sleep and a new day dawns and how fortunate that we awake full of life and promise ……every day. So a bad day doesn’t populate into a bad week, a bad month and then an unfortunate life. Thats our doing. If we wake up and immediately remember that this is a new day, a new life we are in the present. Of course we reflect on the past, its important and part of who we are but its not something that stops us from doing things. Its past and those actions are no longer in our control, if they ever were. Dragging them around with us like a ball and chain only scores a deep groove of insecurity and perhaps shame and guilt. Maybe it was a stupendous week/day and keeping that at the fore is also a form of holding back as again we have it isn’t in our power to replicate this and thus our expectations will be dashed. Step forward by opening your eyes and focusing on what’s in front of you, which is life itself.
If like me you binged on a particular make of ginger and chocolate biscuits yesterday (silly small packets and not worth saving any as there wont be enough to share) it doesn’t mean I have failed and now there is no need to buy another packet to repeat the action. If you didn’t exercise when you know you should have, this doesn’t define your character. Your ability to keep going is what moulds you into a disciplined and strong person.
So now thats all clear, we will go forth and stick to our intentions. Please write and let me know how you get on.. Any tricks and devices warmly welcomed.