Some lessons need to be unlearned

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Brian Kight

A Daily Discipline reader recently described their occasional resistance to discipline as an inner voice that says, “You’re not the boss of me. Don’t tell me what to do.”

I can identify with this experience. As a kid, discipline felt like something an authority forced me to do. As a high school and college athlete, discipline was a random set of rules coaches applied to test our focus and compliance. Coaches only used these rules to catch us in violation and deliver punishment, never to provide a reward or help us earn something we desired.

My experience of discipline growing up was doing something someone else told me to do that I wouldn’t choose to do if the decision was mine. When I acted with obedient discipline, it rarely delivered outcomes of meaning to me. It might have been the right thing, but I didn’t experience tangible positive results. In contrast, the slightest lapse in discipline brought swift and uncomfortable consequences from the watchful eye of coaches and teachers. For me, discipline was either punishment I received or what I did to avoid punishment. Not a compelling start to my relationship with this beautiful skill.

It makes sense why so many people react to the idea of discipline like a kid rebelling against the constraints of a faceless authority. Our core understanding of discipline is broken, built on the faulty foundation of what we experienced growing up.

It’s telling that, intellectually, people will acknowledge discipline as obvious and necessary yet resist it. That’s because emotional experience trumps intellectual understanding. If your head knows you need discipline, but your heart mainly associates it with unpleasant expectations, your heart wins that battle 9 out of 10 times, and you reject discipline like a rebellious youth.

When your intellectual understanding and emotional expectations are in solid alignment, your experience with discipline transforms. So there’s a good chance you’ll need to unwind some of what you learned about discipline and move past what you experienced to build a better relationship with it as an adult.

You are the boss of you. You tell you what to do. That’s why we work so hard on discipline. It’s the highest priority skill for leading yourself.

Answer the call. Do the work.

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