You probably have more self discipline than you think you do.
I know, I know. You’ve spent all this time convincing yourself that you have no discipline, and that you can’t say “no” to yourself.
You’ve had repeated experiences of deciding to do a thing…then caving in and doing that thing.
You’ve tried to diet…but not been able to stick to the diet (and probably proclaimed in exasperation, “DIETS DON”T WORK!” in the aftermath).
Especially in this culture, we spend an awful lot of time and energy convincing ourselves that we simply cannot do things. We can’t quit addictions, we can’t stop procrastinating, we can’t make ourselves exercise, we can’t push through difficult experiences.
But…what if we can?
What if the idea that we are powerless over our whims…is actually a trick the culture has played on us to make us feel helpless?
Because I can tell you, I’ve worked with a lot of people who have been thoroughly convinced that they are fundamentally weak…and many of them are the furthest thing from “weak.”
I’ve seen some of the strongest-willed people I’ve ever met effortfully try to convince themselves and me that they are simply helpless in the face of strong feelings, memories, or urges.
I just don’t buy it. That they— or any of us— are helpless, that is.
Humans have a really difficult relationship with the idea of pain. We very often don’t know what to do with it or about it.
We know we don’t like it and we try to get away from it, but beyond that, pain is something that tends to confuse and frighten us. Sometimes we get all existential and ask questions about what the metaphysical meaning or purpose of pain is, but in general, our relationship with pain is basically summed up in the observation that pain is that thing we do our best to avoid.
Which is a bummer, really. Because in our zeal to avoid pain, we often have to convince ourselves of things that are simply not true— such as that we are “helpless” over our addictions, behavior, emotions, or urges.
Don’t get me wrong: I dislike pain as much as anyone. I became a psychologist explicitly because I want as many people as possible to develop the skills and acquire the tools they need to have LESS pain in their lives.
As M. Scott Peck once said of himself, I’m not a pain freak. I’m a joy freak.
Convincing ourselves we are helpless, that we do not have sufficient self disciple to live our values or achieve or goals, is often not a reflection of reality. It reflects our desire to avoid pain.
The pain of trying and failing. The pain of growing. The pain of feeling awkward as we try out new skills and tools. The pain of having to deprive ourselves. The pain of uncertainty.
Let me ask you this: if you really DID have the self discipline that you’re thoroughly convinced you don’t have…what would be the worst part of that?
What would you have to do that you’re currently afraid to do?
What is the pain you’re trying to avoid by convincing yourself you are helpless?
Understand, most people don’t do this consciously or on purpose. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Hmm, I think I’m going to lie to myself today about how much self discipline I actually have.’
Most of us have actually be conditioned, day after day after day, to repeat to ourselves these unempowering messages and believe these unempowering ideas. Marketers LOVE to convince us we ARE helpless…because that’s their opportunity to sell us stuff to help us feel better.
All I want to do with this blog post is to plant a seed in your mind: maybe you’re not helpless.
Maybe you have more self discipline than you think.
Maybe you can do things that are hard.
Maybe that feeling of helplessness is about fear…not reality.
What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid?
What if you can stop smoking? Stick to a diet? Stay clean? Follow through?
What if it’s not even as hard as you’ve been brainwashed to think it is?
Just let that idea sink into your mind for a bit.