I strongly believe that in order to develop real self-discipline, self-discipline that is useful to us in the everyday world, we need to behave toward ourself with radical, unrelenting self-compassion.
I believe the self-discipline is the core skill that supports essentially any other skill you want to develop.
Self-discipline is the ability to place your focus where it needs to be, when it needs to be there; and to get yourself to do what you need to do, when you need to do it.
In my mind, the second half of that equation— the ability to get yourself to do what you need to do, when you need to do it— follows from the first half of the equation, the ability to place your focus where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.
Intentional, voluntary behavioral self-discipline only ever follows mental and emotional self-discipline, in other words.
It all begins and ends in our heads.
And that’s why radical, unrelenting self-compassion is key in getting ourselves to do ANYTHING— but especially things we don’t, for whatever reason, feel like doing.
Self-discipline can be thought of as the art and skill of persuading yourself to do what you want yourself to do.
When it comes to persuasion, there are only two basic types— cooperation and coercion.
And one thing we know about behavior change in the long term, is that coercion simply doesn’t work.
If the goal is long term change, bullying doesn’t work.
If the goal is long term change, threats don’t work.
If the goal is long term change, coercive shame doesn’t work.
If the goal is long term change, deception doesn’t work— at least, it doesn’t work after the first time someone figures out they’ve been lied to.
In the end, if we are to persuade ourselves to do things we’re not naturally inclined to do or enthusiastic about doing, we need to give up the fantasy that we can just repeatedly strong arm ourselves.
Those tactics don’t work out in the world— they don’t work in employment settings, they don’t work in politics, they don’t work in relationships— and they fail equally miserably inside your own head.
We are only ever really persuaded by someone who we believe understands and empathizes with us.
“Compassion” means “to suffer with.”
To feel compassion for someone is to feel their pain.
If we don’t empathize with our own pain…why would we want to do anything that we tell ourselves to do?
If we bully or strong-arm ourselves into making a change, why on earth would we stick with it for the long term?
Trying to change our behavior in the absence of self compassion is asking ourselves to captivate to a cruel, chaotic relationship with ourselves…and that only leads to depression, anxiety, and internally-directed hate.
Such tactics will eventually make us so miserable that we will simply quit playing along, because who can be bothered?
Self-compassion is the key to getting ourselves to take action.
Acknowledging your own pain and needs is essential if you want to build real motivation within yourself— however slowly.
There is a reason why politicians have realized that they need to say things on the campaign trial like “I feel your pain”— because it’s been shown, time and time again, that it’s virtually impossible to motivate behavior unless someone is willing to suffer with someone else.
Be willing to suffer with yourself.
Be willing to acknowledge, empathize with, and express your own pain.
Commit to honest persuasion with yourself— not coercion.
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