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Are Willpower and Discipline just Self-Hatred in Disguise? Why Getting Leverage on Ourselves Usually Fails.

Every time I hear someone say that they’re not disciplined enough, lack willpower or obviously just don’t want it badly enough, I can feel my heart break a little. This is not because discipline or will may not be factors, but because what is carried with it is a form of aggression that undercuts the potential for motion in the desired direction. How we organize around the meaning we form matters. How we view ourselves and the world will cause us to move in particular ways and fail to move in other ways.

For self-proclaimed undisciplined people, trying to become disciplined usually turns into a series of moves that reinforces a self-perception rather than moves that enable the behaviours they really want to exhibit.

In trying to be more disciplined or will ourselves through something, it is common to create rules or restrictions, something to cage the unruly beast. Our focus is on our shortcomings or inabilities as though we should be better. We relate to ourselves as untrustworthy and in some way flawed. And so our resistance to the action we know we need to take increases, since it now represents our deep fear that we are inadequate. Failing confirms our fear. Prevailing and taking action will show that we’re whole and worthy.

Yet since it is the very nagging belief that there is something missing within that has us ‘trying to be more disciplined’ to begin with, the belief gets reinforced when inevitable failure ensues.

The cruelty that lurks within the interior of a human being can be so insidious as to shape our identity with such fullness that when we hear its continual critical commentary, we think it’s true.

‘Trying to be more disciplined’ is less about the qualities we’re trying to bring forth than it is about trying to grapple with the qualities in ourselves that we find insufficient. Rarely, when trying to muscle ourselves into being more disciplined do we bring tenderness and curiosity to what we’re grappling with.

Relating to struggle as our own failure to be disciplined is a form of aggression that must be slaughtered at once. While laziness certainly exists, what’s beneath it is generally a mountain of pain that takes incredible strength to slog through.

Some things come easily to you. Others do not. Some things come easily to others and that may seduce you into thinking that you’re in some way inadequate, even though other things are difficult for that same person.  Typically if there’s something we know we want and we know what to do and we’re just not doing it, there is so much complexity at play. Saying ‘I lack the willpower’ both reinforces your sense of inadequacy as well as turns out the light that may be shone on the real factors that keep you feeling disabled that could be a juicy place to explore. Sometimes we really do need to buckle down and get something done. But what strategy are you using to do that? Are the voices in your head demanding, cruel or authoritative? Is getting leverage on yourself in that way energizing or depleting?

How often do you lure yourself into getting something done by speaking sweetly and with a vote of confidence? Here, let me get you started….

Dear Me:

“ You’ve got this.” Give yourself the gift of certainty.

“Everything you need to get this done, you have within you.” Remind yourself of who you are and what you’ve got.

“I trust you completely.” It’s time to pay attention to that you can be counted on, not where you’ve ever let yourself down.

“Of course you feel resistance! And you can put one foot in front of the other as a gesture of self-love” Validate your own experience; don’t diminish the magnitude of a small step.

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Chela Davison is a professional Integral Coach™ with a fierce commitment to abolishing suffering. She’s most interested in a world where we each get to express our deepest purpose for the sake of our collective growth, expanding hearts and ravenous spirits. Her writing and coaching, aims to connect deeply and intimately with fellow humans to bring the fullness of who we are forward. Follow her on twitter and like her facebook page!

  • Sarah

    I also think that *sometimes* if we have to really work hard/exert massive amounts of discipline to do something, it may mean that thing is not quite right for us. The things I’m passionate about, I am drawn to doing, and whilst I exert some discipline by scheduling them into my calender and making notes over how I can improve, I certainly don’t feel like i’m ‘forcing’ myself to do it. In my experience, I’ve come down hard on myself for not ‘doing all i can’ when i’ve been working on things that actually aren’t in my best interests. 

  • Elizabeth

    What a beautiful and insightful article. Thank you for sharing! A good lesson for me and a great lesson for a dear friend who was just beating herself up and her view of being ineffectual. This couldn’t have come at a better time, Chela. Thank you again.

  • Mr Cadfling

    Thank you my sister I so needed this. What a bles
    sing. Im copying and pasting in my phone notes the encouraging self letter.thank u again.

  • AP

    Amazing.  This is so beautifully written, so articulate.  And is exactly what I am struggling with now.  Thank you for such loving kindness and understanding.

  • jp

    I think this video by Danielle LaPorte is a great complement http://youtu.be/cITNveY-kig

  • Ane

    SO true!
    There is so much misunderstanding in the area of willpower and self discipline.
    I have accomplished so much more since I gave up this ‘violent’ behaviour towards myself.
    And also, as someone said below, resistance is there for a reason, so always start by questioning the motives for what it is, that you are trying to accomplish.
    You can trust yourself!