Educational Psychologist
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Taking the Punishment out of Discipline

"Discipline is the prelude to freedom. Therefore, we enter willingly into discipline to gain freedom." -John-Roger

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Discipline has been a scary word for me. Maybe it stems from a childhood fear of being disciplined by my parents. Now as an adult the idea of being disciplined with myself in terms of work habits or diet/exercise or mental/emotional habits sounds so stringent and rigorous. I’m a nerd for etymology. When I looked up the origin of the word “discipline,” unsurprisingly it comes from the Old French word descepline, which means punishment. However, it also derives from the Latin word disciplina, which means instruction, teaching, learning, or knowledge. In English, these two origins evolved into the same word and I think that is quite unfortunate.

Even though I have avoided it, I am learning to embrace it because, as this quote states, it is a prelude to freedom, and freedom is what I (and many others) are ultimately after. Instead of looking at discipline from the Old French punishment perspective, I encourage all of us (myself included) to focus on the Latin root of word. By focusing on what a particular task has to teach us, we can view discipline as an exploratory learning process. And like all learning process, they take time, there will be mistakes, and, given enough effort and interest, we will master it. Being disciplined in something is no different than learning any other thing you’ve ever had to learn in your life. You have to stick with it.

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Different people have varying degrees of ease with discipline, particularly in different areas. For example, having discipline with my eating is fairly easy for me. Do I eat super clean 100% of the time? No, but I do probably 90% of the time. For some people disciplined eating is a HUGE struggle. However, I work from home and I often struggle with creating a disciplined writing habit. I tend to work in frenzied spurts, where I work feverishly for days or weeks (or, in the case of my dissertation, months) and then barely work for a little while. Some say this is actually a good way to work (that book from USM), however I’d like to feel less pressure and stress about writing so that I could develop a daily (or near daily) habit of it.

And back to the quote, discipline creates freedom. By engaging in loving, disciplined habits, we free of mental and emotional energy to spend in other, more constructive areas of our lives. If I were more disciplined with my writing, for example, I would experience less stress when deadlines loom, knowing that I had already put consistent time and effort into the project.

So how do we create more discipline and thus more freedom? 1) When building a new habit, I cannot over-state the value of SUPPORT SYSTEMS. Get an accountability buddy or join an online writing group (I recommend www.academicladder.com).  2) TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. Put a tracking sheet somewhere you will see it every day (preferably twice a day). In the morning look at the things you have to do and in the evening check off the ones you have done. Use stickers if your inner child will respond to that (see #3). 3) REWARD YOURSELF. It is so easy to overlook this step. I used to completely skip it too! However, if you fail to acknowledge and reward yourself for the small steps you take and accomplishments you make, motivation and discipline that you are working to build will not be sustainable. Rewards do not have to be physical (and often shouldn’t!). Take a minute to acknowledge yourself, smile, give yourself a hug, share your wins with a friend or partner, tell yourself that you are proud of yourself.

Annette Ponnock