Have you ever asked yourself how to gain self-discipline? Is self-discipline even possible to gain? Aren’t we all born with a certain amount of self-discipline and remain so for our whole lives?
This article will answer these questions through the telling of a personal story. How I went from being totally undisciplined in my professional life to becoming centered and focused on my goals. It has been a thrilling journey, one which I believe can benefit anyone who is currently struggling with being lost in life or whether there’s a calling for them or not.
The short of it is, we either cultivate discipline, or we lead a life of dissatisfaction, mired in the bog of complacency. That’s it. You either discipline yourself or you remain miserable.
Discipline can be cultivated. What is required is a burning desire to accomplish something. We all have that burning desire, somewhere within us. What I’ve noticed is that many of us settle for lesser desires, rather than swinging for the fences and going after what we really want with all our hearts.
That makes all the difference.
Read on for the full story
My Undisciplined Life
Throughout my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood I went through stages of varying levels of discipline. As a child, I was disciplined at playing video games, but not doing school work. As a teenager I was disciplined at both. As a young adult and professional, I was disciplined at drinking, smoking cannabis, watching television and not much else.
This might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I promise you I’m not. For almost three years as a graduate student I barely did ANY productive creative work in the lab. I was great at pretending I was doing work; at looking like I was busying myself with something important. But it was all for show, so I could say I was working when in reality I was just pretending. I believe the world, particularly school, does a lot to teach us to behave this way; as long as you can jump through hoops, or pretend to do so, you can make the grade or get job.
We’re taught to wear a mask so we can fit in.
But The Mask Hides Us, Our Dreams And Our Desires
The problem with that is that you can forget there was ever someone under the mask to begin with.
While I was in graduate school, I did teach university level chemistry courses and put a lot of effort into doing that because I enjoyed it. But a graduate student’s top priority is doing scientific research.
And I hated doing scientific research; I hated wearing gloves and tight-fitting goggles while working in a noisy, smelly chemistry lab, shut away from the natural world. Every time I went into the lab the feeling of my life being wasted became deafening. I would ask myself “Why am I here?” and would come up with no meaningful answer.
So I did no scientific research. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
This might seem like a good life at first blush. I was getting paid a modest salary for playing pretend. But beneath this veneer of placidity lurked a terrible creature which was just waiting to gobble me up whole: guilt.
The Guilt Of Choice
I felt guilty. About doing no work and getting paid; about consuming resources that would be better spent on others. But the most ponderous guilt I experienced, was the guilt which stemmed from betraying the best I had in me in out of fear.
It was because of that guilt, that incessant feeling which would never leave me in peace, that I would numb myself with substances and entertainment. I felt no joy in life, so I resorted to substances and entertainment just to remind myself that I was alive.
I’m not saying this is the case for everyone. We can use substances and entertainment responsibly. But that wasn’t my case. I used them to soothe my guilt.
That only leads us to ignoring issues until they become too big to ignore.
We all know when we’re wasting our lives. Despite our best efforts to ignore it. We all know, deep inside, when we aren’t making the choices which put us on the track to live the life we want to live.
Our subconscious is always watching; always alert. It sees every choice we make and tallies it up on the board of our self-image. Every time we make a choice which betrays the hero which resides within each of us, our self-image gets marked accordingly. The same goes for every time we make a decision which is in line with the highest part of us, our soul.
From these tallied markings our self-image is derived; our self-worth, self respect and confidence. Our choices are always in line with our self-image; if we’ve dedicated years to betraying ourselves, our self-image won’t be healthy and our choices will reflect that.
Only people who don’t value their bodies and minds would fill them with poisons.
Our Habits Shape Our Identity
We are only as comfortable in life as we are comfortable in our skin. Every choice we make decides our degree of comfort. In this way our habits shape our identity.
Please note that I’m not advocating for rigid, unyielding order in our lives. We’re all human, we all have ups and downs. What I’m saying is that when we get on the track of making certain decisions habitual, after enough time passes we begin to reap the fruits of those choices; be they positive or negative.
And as a young adult I made it a habit to betray my true desires and callings. I did this out of ignorance, of course, I didn’t know what each of these choices was costing me. It was costing me life.
We’re each here for a limited amount of time, every second which passes is gone for ever, never to return. And our deepest part knows that! Which is why it keeps track of each of our choices. If we lived for ever, what would be the point of anything? It’s our finite nature which makes life a wild roller coaster of thrills, spills and chills.
These habitual betrayals of my highest self led me to a dark place. It happened slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the course of years. That’s how choices work, they add up slowly and steadily, building up on each other until a monolith of consequences spears itself into our lives.
And oh how my life was speared.
My Lowest Point Was At A Wedding
I touched bottom at one of my best friend’s weddings. I was his best man and it was up to me to give an impassioned, witty, eloquent speech extolling my friend’s virtues. Instead, I was completely plastered when the time came to give my speech. I shambled up to the microphone, took it clumsily in my right hand, babbled a string of incoherences while angrily pointing at people. Then I swore at a couple of the guests. My friend had to step in and yank the microphone away from me before I could muck things up even further.
I then went outside of the venue, where I started cursing at the sky. I was so loud the neighbors called the police, who we about to take me in for drunken disorderliness, had it not been for my friend who came to the rescue. After arguing with the police officers for a few minutes, he convinced them that he could handle me and there would be no need to throw me in the drunk tank. The officers left and my friend took me to his apartment, where he left me in the care of another of his friends while he went back to his wedding reception.
There, accompanied by my friend’s friend, whom I didn’t know too well, I let out my frustrations and regrets in a torrent of tears matched with sobs which racked my body. This sounds dramatic, but life is drama, so deal with it, dear reader. I cried and cried and cried, until I reached the very pit of my suffering and realized that it had all been my choice.
I Had Chosen To Be There
I. Chose. Everything.
This sudden realization didn’t shake me to my core, there was no astonishing flash of enlightenment, I didn’t turn my eyes to the sky and thank the Creator for the lesson I had learned. It was more an acknowledgement of a tiny feeling which had taken root within me. The feeling that I had control of my life. That I was the creator of my life. Just like I had made the choices which led me to be where I was, I could make others which would lead me somewhere else. Somewhere better.
After that day I began, ever so slowly, to take charge of my life. To make the decisions which my highest self called on me to make. To live a life true to my values and to accept no compromises when it came to my integrity, peace of mind, professional satisfaction, health and happiness. I was done with compromising. Done with myself.
My Journey To Discipline
I began to take charge of my free time. Things didn’t change from one day to the next, they rarely do when it comes to our habits. I started meditating for a few minutes every day. I started reading more of what I enjoyed. I still drank myself into a stupor periodically and still did no work in the lab. But the seed had been planted for me to make the big decision of leaving the graduate program. Which I did do, a few months later.
I then headed to Mexico City, which is where I grew up and where my parents live. I was broke; financially, emotionally and professionally. I had no direction, no plan, no responsibilities nor expectations. It was a challenging time. I handled it by reading. I would enclose myself in my room for entire days, reading. Trying to make sense of the world, of myself.
My Home Life Was Broken
My relationship with my parents was in upheaval. My father and I weren’t close. We barely talked before I was home and while I was there.
My relationship with my mother was a different story. I have always been close with my mother. While I was home she told me that they (my parents) had made a mistake with me. That somehow they had raised me wrong. That she didn’t know what she had done to deserve a son who would throw his life away like I was doing. That I had all the opportunities in the world and I was squandering them. She couldn’t understand why I had made the choice to leave the graduate program. I had everything there. But I knew it was all pretend. That’s why I left.
I ask you to not judge my mother too harshly. She and my father where going through challenging times themselves. Today, my relationship with my mother is even better than it was before. Things improve if you just keep going!
I Lived In Mexico City For 6 Months
It was a time which changed my life completely. That’s when I picked up a habit which would show me a level of peace unlike any I had ever experienced. It was a time of transition, of healing, of beginning to get clear on what I wanted and how to go about getting it.
That will all come in the next part…
To our wealth and success.