The Essence of Self-Discipline

When I first began healing from 10 years of bulimia, I despised the word “discipline.”

I thought that everything that had damaged me was due to that word.

In a sense, I was right. When I couldn’t stop my bulimia on my own, I thought it was a lack of discipline. As a matter of fact, there were many people in my life who agreed. My college boyfriend would say, “Just don’t eat so much and go running with me!” I remember reading The Road Less Traveled at some point during college. One of the first sections of that book is titled “Delaying Gratification.” And I thought “Ah! That’s it! I just need to learn to delay gratification!”

The problem there is that bulimia is an addiction. Though I can now understand and embrace “delayed gratification,” back then I was steeped in an eating disorder, and any attempt at this was pointless.

After college, I used my first years in the tiny city of Asheville to recover from my eating disorder. I worked with all kinds of practictioners to let go of this thing I had known for so long. Discipline was not an option at that point. Delaying gratification was not an option. I was not a whole person. The only agenda was listening to my body and my heart. Even though I was writing songs at the time, I refused to call that practice discipline. I called it “showing up.” I called it “courage.” But discipline was anathema to me. People who had “discipline” were – like my college boyfriend – magically able to go through life sans emotion.

Discipline Lite

If you’re on my mailing list, then you’ve read my new year’s emailers about resolutions. I don’t like new year’s resolutions. They fall under the same category as giving stuff up for Lent. This always seemed kind of dumb to me. I still have stacks of old journals from high school (yes, this is what inspired me to write Mary Catherine’s Ash Wednesday Journal Entry), and I was reading them aloud to a friend. We both couldn’t stop laughing at how each year, my resolutions (stop cussing, give up M&Ms, exercise everyday for two hours) invariably were the same exact list as my Lent list (stop cussing, give up M&M’s, exercise) at which I had obviously not been successful the first time. Apparently, the Lenten idea of giving up material things in order to remind myself of the suffering of Jesus was not nearly as appealing as weight loss and self-improvement. :)

A few years ago, I decided that rather than resolving to do things, I would choose a word to focus on during the new year. And judging by the volume of responses I get from my new year’s emailer, I think this idea strikes a chord with lots of people.

The first year I did this, I chose “gratitude” because I realized that I had a very hard time recognizing the gifts contained in this amazing world of mine. And I spent the year gently practicing gratitude. I kept a gratitude journal every night before going to bed. That practice made me pay attention to and deeply appreciate random things — an angle of sunlight on some tulips on my kitchen table; the phone call from my friend Steve instigating a hysterical discussion about the ineffectiveness of the luggage carts in St. Louis airport; the look my dog gives me in the car when she puts her chin on the console. (It tells me that I am, in fact, the best human ever to walk the planet.)

The next year, my word was “generosity,” and I never left a hotel room without leaving a tip for housekeeping (I keep up this practice to this day), I paid the tolls of people behind me (which, for some reason, freaked me out, especially in New Jersey), I looked for little gifts to give to friends. Picking a word a year has been kind of “Discipline Lite” for someone like me who had such a hard time with discipline.

Self-Discipline

Several years ago, I went to my first Prosperity Workshop.  During the second week’s class, the teacherwas walking us through the Eleven Principles of Prosperity.  One of the principles was “self-discipline.”

My entire body tensed up. “Gross,” I thought. “These people are nuts.” When our teacher introduced the concept, the first thing she said was, “When I say ‘self-discipline’ I’m not talking about getting up and jogging for an hour in the morning. I’m talking about how you talk to yourself. Do you perpetually sink into drama at the drop of a hat?”  She continued the discussion by describing all of the ways we take our minds into reactionary behaviors, and all of the ways we damage our selves and our lives by doing this. In her descriptions, I saw myself clearly. I call it my Inner Eeyore. At the end of the class we were asked to pick our weakest of the Eleven Principles and work on it. My area was clearly self-discipline.

Now, I have not been a big huge “just think positive!” kind of person. I do, however, recognize my own propensity for negativity. I call it the Crash And Burn Approach To Anything That Happens.   If nothing else, it certainly doesn’t hurt to shift out of this habit. (This is true especially if you’re an environmentalist. If you don’t like pollution, trying looking at what’s floating around in your own head.) That’s what I wanted to do.

What I learned during the coming months changed my life.

I came to understand that emotional reactions are default patters.  That’s all.  And if you are going to be disciplined enough to create new mindsets, then the work will sometimes feel PHYSICAL.  I had to work, and work hard, at keeping my mind from slipping.  It was an earth-moving experience. It felt like I was trying to rip a steel door out of one wall, and then put it into another wall, so I could enter and exit from a different space.

Each time I would come face to face with an old default pattern and write my way out of it, I would go outside for a walk. I would stay present and refuse to let my inner-Eeyore take over.  It would usually take 20 minutes or so to feel completely free of the energy that had been grabbing at me.

Now, the triumph of this level of discipline is not necessarily about the happy endings that it brings.   (Yes, many results began to shift in my life!)

The triumph is when you can let go of labeling the results at all. I had gotten myself to recognize that I get to choose how I perceive any situation.  That was a huge lesson to me in recognizing the disease of this addiction to the Crash-and-Burn-Approach and recognizing that I had an option, and it was up to me to choose it.

That is the essence of discipline, and it is a great lesson.

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Comments

  1. Susan says

    Thanks for writing this. When I receive your emails about the women’s workshop that
    you present, I am always very curious as to what they would involve. I look forward
    to your entries.

  2. Lucy says

    Ever since I first heard you sing (about 11 or 12 years ago) I have felt we were on parallel journeys. The tentacles of bulimia/anorexia run deep – and, I have learned – begin gorging on your soul/spirit long, long before you ever begin to show a symptom… I never knew that had been an issue for you, as well… I am sorry. Discipline discipline discipline… I know it well… the demon at the gate.(It isn’t easy being the daughter of a marine.) And the negative voices you speak of, I know them well, too… I love the song where you say “as for me I’ve had my demons…” then you get ‘em drunk and leave them… “refuse to be the host.” I’ve never heard a more accurate description of what goes on in my head… it still makes me cry to hear it. The good part is that I am finding ways to let what they tell me sift through. Not perfectly. Not every time. But applying self-awareness and gentleness while I look for the me that is wandering lost amidst the demonic voices sometimes gets me on the right path. I don’t know that any of this makes any sense, but it is my way of saying thank you. I will look forward to your entries. And I am deeply grateful to you for sharing your journey so openly here – and with such poetry through your songs.

  3. says

    Firstly, i don’t know why my blog archives seem to be appearing as “comments.” glitch in the system i guess. Lucy, I’m working on a series now about eating disorders, so thanks for your thoughts on that. It certainly is a process. I’ll keep posting. Thanks!

  4. lf says

    So I found your blog by accident(?), a trail of links and have read several of your posts… Boy do you have my number, sister. I am on the very edge of a neutral point after clawing my way there from a much blacker place (effort akin to ‘ripping steel door from wall and putting it elsewhere’). I never understood why it took me so much more effort to accomplish certain things/& thinking, than it does others. Time to stop asking why, and work with who I am. It is somehow reassuring to read about your journey and the mental work you’re doing to get what you want out of life and become who you want to be. Thanks for sharing.

  5. says

    Dearest Christine,

    First off, heaps and heaps of gratitude to you. You have no idea…ok, actually, you DO have a very clear idea of how you’ve been helping me and many others via this blog and your life’s Work. This knowing shows in everything that you do – from this piece, to the UYL which I gifted myself on my birthday this year and simply adored all through out and now, giddy-excitedly awaiting the UYB journey beginning Aug. 23rd which I have so courageously said Yes! just last week after your F*R*E*E* tele/webinar.

    I get you. Loud and crystal. Another commenter, Lucy, said it, too. “Parallel universe” is the phrase she used. I really believe we are all connecting more meaningfully at this time. But mainly with those who are bravely putting themselves out there.

    I, too, have this CABATATH addiction. I see it more clearly now, thank you very much. As I got up and out of bed, I felt it. As I was making my coffee this morning, there it was. As I write this comment, hello, still there, I see.

    I stop awhile and asked myself, what is this heaviness inside me, and that gentle Voice inside answers: Dread.

    I remember in UYL how you shared about naming IT and shining a light on IT, whatever it is is the first step to banishing anything we don’t want in our lives. So here it is, clear as day and hello, Default Position: Dread. It’s there whenever I pursue something big, something mine, something heart/soul-centered. It’s not there in the very beginning because the clean-slate excitement washes over the fear. But when I am thick in the midst of it, I feel like jumping ship and swimming as fast as I can onto the safe old shore. Forget about the shiny, lovely things calling on the other side. Dread is sticky and loud and persistent.

    Default = Dread. I just (re)learned from you that it doesn’t have to be this unless I choose it. I can also choose another word like Clarity perhaps. Or Shine. Or even the very corny yet potent as ever Love.

    I’m relearning everyday, slowly it may be but strongly, that it’s the consistency that matters most, this sticking to it and keeping faith that the big picture will hold for me. That even if I falter in a big way today I can always choose differently the next day or even the next moment which is much closer.

    I am just filled with gratitude, Christine, for you and your Discipline Lite and for how you are choosing to shine your light in the world.

    Sincerely,
    Chiqui

Trackbacks

  1. [...] I’ve written about the onslaught of unconscious emotions and thoughts, and some of the ways I’ve learned to respond to and become more conscious of such onslaughts. This is a good practice, and is always going to come in handy. But in my own experience, a more proactive approach was eventually necessary, too. At some point, I realized that living in a constant state of reactivity wasn’t healthy. “Oh no! Here comes another emotion! Quick! Do something!” It left me feeling panicky whenever I woke up in the morning. So I began a morning practice a few years ago that has been invaluable. It’s how I shift from that feeling of always being “on guard” to knowing that my life is my choice, my own work of art. It’s how I start my day. The difference is palpable. [...]

  2. [...] This is part 3 of a multi-part series on money, prosperity, clarity, and anything else that came up as I wrote it. To see the Main Page for this series, click here.(Note: This is a long post. I know that the unofficial blogging law is to write short posts. (There’s also a blogging law (recommended by the best bloggers out there) about not using “cutesy titles,” but clearly I’ve ignored that law.) I like long posts. You can always print these out and read them when you have time later. Or email them to yourself or a friend with the link at the bottom of each post.) [...]

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