Croskey’s Corner: Discipline
Carolyn Hax is a Washington Post writer who gives advice on how to handle romantic relationships, parenting, and friendship pressures. I find her advice to be pragmatic and honest. Some years ago, she had a column about two co-workers. One was described as overweight, ate lots of fast food meals, and spoke openly about her frustration with not losing weight. The other, the letter writer, was slim. The thinner person wanted to give the other woman unsolicited advice on how to lose weight. Carolyn advised that just because the woman was worried enough about her weight to discuss her frustration in public, it does not mean that she is ready to accept suggestions or that she even wants advice. Rather, as Carolyn put it, “Weight control is such an individual thing.” Someone who complains about her weight while eating fast food regularly is not clear yet on whether she wants to make changes in her lifestyle.
I see a parallel between this column and the current Character Quality, Discipline: “Choosing behaviors to help me reach my goals.” See if you agree.
In terms of unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking, drinking excessively, overeating, or some other indulgence, the clear message is that succumbing to my desires is wrong and Discipline is right. That is kind of a frustrating dichotomy for me. As we emerge from the end-of-the-year holidays, we may have guilty memories of the food, drink, and celebration opportunities in which we indulged. In addition, holiday gift-buying decisions either already have come home to roost in our Monthly bills – or they soon will! More guilt about spending too much money. More obsessing about weight and appearance. New Years Resolutions in January try to rectify all of our end-of-year “sinning.” So, we feel regret, it turns into guilt, we resolve to do “better,” we sometimes fall short, and we complete the circle with new regret!
A roller coaster ride like this really toys with our emotions. We are trying to build solid habits which will make our lifestyle changes more permanent. Will power becomes our only hope, and that will get used up by most of us, often before we have achieved a permanent goal. Not a recipe for a positive outcome!
There is a different way to view this. Instead, we could find ways to make pragmatic choices that continue to seem sensible. Denial of our wants is tough, partly because we may have misidentified what is important to us. Something about being human often leads us to mistake our wants for the needs we actually have. As an example, when a person wants to lose weight to be thinner, that is a want. But maybe the underneath need is about not feeling loved or worrying about health. That deeper need is worth figuring out. I think the way we sort this out is to use that oh-so-precious Character Quality, Patience. Instead of a quick dive into some impulsive course of action, Patience says we could evaluate the situation, and figure out what we really need. Then, with that knowledge, we can begin to feel like we are in Control. Our actions will be guided by the Hope that we will get our needs met, and by the clearer path which will then emerge to satisfy those needs. We have a chance then to make a decision which will help achieve goals – we have acquired some self-Discipline!
I hope you will not beat yourself up during the post-Holiday “blues” about how you ate too much, spent too much, or in some other way “Lost Control.” I wish you Patience until your needs become distinct from your “wants.” Patience will help you wait for that clarity of goals which signifies Discipline. The Patience – Reasonable Goals – Discipline – Repeat habit will, through repeated practice, eventually come to us more easily. I hope you had a great holiday and I hope you get everything you asked for on your NEED list.