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Self-discipline: how to have it?

edited July 2011 in Buddhism Basics
I wasn't taught self-discipline. Grew up spoiled silly, lazy, childish and irresponsible. Thing is, I'm so undisciplined, I don't know where to begin. Don't want to go into details, but everything someone responsible and grown is supposed to do, I don't do it. I'm a 22yo woman, but I behave like a 16yo boy. I've tried numerous times to change, and it always fails miserably. Only managed to change very few, relatively unimportant things about my behavior after nearly 3 years of trials and give-ups, one after another. I would like to speak to a therapist eventually, but I'm more interested in what Buddhism has to say so I've checked out Buddhist resources. Unfortunately that only confused me a lot. It says you can't be forceful. But you can't be too lax either. The middle way, sure. But how does that apply to becoming self-disciplined? If I try not to force myself to meditate every day, I won't ever meditate, except once every couple of months or perhaps less. If I try not to be lax, I'll push myself so hard, I will lose interest in meditation altogether. What exactly is the middle way regarding this then?

Thanks a lot for your time.

Comments

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran
    You need to do things to inspire yourself and let go of negative thinking. Be positive and don't get down because you are not as good as you think you should be.

    Meditation is an upward spiral. As you meditate you become steady in resting. And not giving power to the voices that tell you you are not good enough.

    As far as indulging in sense pleasures just try to bring awareness to when you are dulling out and wasting time. As the awareness increases it will lead you to see the disadvantage of the sense pleasure (at least the attachment) and that will free you from the pull partially.

    You need to do both at the same time. Building yourself up and encouraging and also seeing the disadvantages of the negativity without beating yourself up.

    The key is honesty yet kindness. Its a marathon not a sprint.
  • Here's an excerpt of an exchange between Bhikkhu Tissa, a Buddhist monk, and Mr. Prentice, a lay Buddhist. It may prove useful, and you can read the whole thing here.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Buddhist discipline begins and ends with self-examination. Buddhist philosophy or theory, if you will, instructs us how to carry out that examination and the efforts that follow. We can read the philosophy all we want but if we don't practice it — if we don't take the medicine, so to speak — it won't do anything for us. Now, you tell me that you've been reading Buddhist literature, and you say you have doubts. What specifically is troubling you?

    PRENTICE: Nothing specific, I think. Just general doubts keep me from taking the medicine. To put it bluntly, why should I undertake what promises to be a horrendously hard discipline of meditation and religious observances and so on? What will I get out of it?

    BHIKKHU TISSA: First of all, a "horrendously hard discipline" will by itself accomplish nothing.

    PRENTICE: Nothing!

    BHIKKHU TISSA: You should get rid of the notion of investing an effort in order to get something in return.

    PRENTICE: I don't understand.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: We've already "got" more than we can handle — namely, suffering. We follow the teachings of the Buddha in order to get rid of suffering. Most people don't understand this important point. They think that they have to try to acquire something — wisdom or knowledge or freedom.

    PRENTICE: But the Buddha does speak of wisdom and knowledge and freedom and so on. Aren't these things worthwhile?

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Certainly. But they are not objects to be grasped at as we habitually grasp at things we desire. The highest truth is not a prize to be seized. IT is here all the time. Buddhist discipline aims at removing the obstructions that prevent our seeing the truth. The practitioner must certainly make an effort, but he should not try to "get" anything by his effort.

    PRENTICE: It seems paradoxical to me.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Only because you are accustomed to the ordinary way of doing things — a way which, I might guess, has not brought you the happiness you seek.

    PRENTICE: Perhaps you're right about that. Let me re-phrase my question. I mean, even though I appreciate Buddhist thought, I don't feel motivated to actually commit myself to it. Why should I just... leap into the dark, so to speak?

    BHIKKHU TISSA: You should not leap into the dark under any circumstances.

    PRENTICE: But isn't that what Buddhism demands? A leap of faith, anyway.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Absolutely not. Blind hope of faith won't help you in the least.

    PRENTICE: Then what reason do I have to...

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Ah, there's the word — reason. You see, Mr. Prentice, the practicing Buddhist needs reason founded on direct insight. The two go together. Don't believe out of mere hope. Don't believe from abstract logic. Don't believe what you can't see clearly for yourself.

    PRENTICE: There's very little I can see. I certainly can't see enlightenment ahead, I can't see Nibbana.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: And what can you see, Mr. Prentice?

    PRENTICE (after a troubled pause): My own confusion. My uncertainty. My unhappiness.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Yes?

    PRENTICE: I don't want to sound grandiose, but I see, well, suffering — at least my own suffering.

    [Bhikkhu Tissa is silent. Mr Prentice continues haltingly]

    I don't mean to say I have any kind of penetrating vision. I just have this recognition that things aren't the way they ought to be, that I'm getting older but not any wiser, that something is wrong in the world or in me. I'd like to do something about it. I'd like to get free from this confusion, this... well, what word can I use but "suffering"? I suppose that's why I got interested in Buddhism — because it talks about suffering and the way to the end of suffering. If some kind of deliverance is really possible, I'd like to achieve it.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: I think you've found your own reason, Mr. Prentice.

    PRENTICE: Yes, I suppose so! Then maybe it's just doubt or fear that holds me back. You mentioned self-examination a moment ago. Maybe that's what I have to do.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: It sounds like you've already begun. Please understand that the traveler on the Buddhist path proceeds step by step. He doesn't leap into darkness. He keeps his eye on the present moment — on the present step — observing and analyzing what is right before him, not troubling himself with what is past or what yet may come. He examines himself constantly as the Buddha taught, learning what is true and false and what is beneficial and harmful. As he learns these things he must act accordingly — by resisting unwholesome influences, by striving to cultivate wholesome thought, speech, and action, and by gradually deepening and purifying his understanding.

    PRENTICE: It sounds terrifically difficult.

    BHIKKHU TISSA: It needn't be so. The way of the Buddha is not an ascetic discipline, not some extraordinary program of penances. It is simply right living — the easiest and best way to live. We are so used to living the wrong way — stumbling blindly through pain and confusion — that we find it hard to believe there is any other way to live.

    PRENTICE: You call it the Middle Way...

    BHIKKHU TISSA: Yes. The Dhamma, the Buddha's teaching, is the Middle Way between the extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. We shouldn't torment our bodies and minds in the belief that this will purge us of evil and make us wise. Nor should we rush to gratify all our desires for pleasure. The Middle Way of the Buddha is a balanced and sensible life that avoids foolish extremes.
  • Mr_SerenityMr_Serenity Veteran Veteran
    edited July 2011
    I wasn't taught self-discipline. Grew up spoiled silly, lazy, childish and irresponsible. Thing is, I'm so undisciplined, I don't know where to begin. Don't want to go into details, but everything someone responsible and grown is supposed to do, I don't do it. I'm a 22yo woman, but I behave like a 16yo boy. I've tried numerous times to change, and it always fails miserably. Only managed to change very few, relatively unimportant things about my behavior after nearly 3 years of trials and give-ups, one after another. I would like to speak to a therapist eventually, but I'm more interested in what Buddhism has to say so I've checked out Buddhist resources. Unfortunately that only confused me a lot. It says you can't be forceful. But you can't be too lax either. The middle way, sure. But how does that apply to becoming self-disciplined? If I try not to force myself to meditate every day, I won't ever meditate, except once every couple of months or perhaps less. If I try not to be lax, I'll push myself so hard, I will lose interest in meditation altogether. What exactly is the middle way regarding this then?

    Thanks a lot for your time.
    I'm the same way. It's not just you. My parents didn't give me much discipline or direction at all. I had to seek out martial arts for that. Learning Kendo in an old school Japanese dojo for 3 years was like the military. It changed me dramatically. Since that experience, I'm always improving. In a year if I'm still alive just about everything will be better for me.

    So you too, have the ability to keep improving. You have to set goals for yourself. You may have a lot of goals, but if you try to do too much at once you might get overwhelmed and not be efficient enough at even one of your goals. So just work on finishing the more important ones, or even the ones you care about the most. The key is just do it. Like the nike commercial. Even if you feel lazy, just begin doing what you need to do. As you start doing it your motivation to do it well, and to finish, may just come in and help you finish.

    Music is a big help to get things done too, portable mp3 players. It's like energy for your body infusing you with power to keep going. I aim to do something useful/progressive everyday or at least 6x a week. You need one day to do nothing, to just rest and relax. If you don't have days like this, you could burn out and your momentum will suffer.

    Procrastination is our biggest enemy when wanting to progress. But we only need to beat it around 70 percent of the time. If we beat it 51 percent of the time we will not get much done. But 70 percent of the time is enough to feel like we're disciplined, and like we're getting things done. So we can't beat procrastination all of the time, but it is possible to beat it most of the time.
  • auraaura Veteran Veteran
    edited July 2011
    I wasn't taught self-discipline. Grew up spoiled silly, lazy, childish and irresponsible. Thing is, I'm so undisciplined, I don't know where to begin. Don't want to go into details, but everything someone responsible and grown is supposed to do, I don't do it. I'm a 22yo woman, but I behave like a 16yo boy. I've tried numerous times to change, and it always fails miserably. Only managed to change very few, relatively unimportant things about my behavior after nearly 3 years of trials and give-ups, one after another.
    It is also very common indeed for a child who has been "overcontrolled"... with every aspect of his/her life scheduled, managed, and controlled by a parent(s) to end up with such issues. The parents are often extremely successful, organized, loving, and well-meaning, but the child often grows up with a terrible residual issue of seeking to overcontrol the self (because that is what he/she learned from the parent(s)) combined with an internal out-of-control/rebellious/teenaged response/reaction to that personal attempt at overcontrol of the self. It is a terrible out-of-balance internalized duality that swings from "overcontrol" to "out-of-control" at the drop of a hat and gets one nowhere.

    How you get out of it is to go easy on both aspects of the self and look at the hours of the day and come up with a very simple do-able, workable daily/weekly/monthly routine that the internalized overcontrolling parent within you and the internalized rebellious teenager within you can honestly both agree on, and gently, patiently work on making it a habit, just one day at a time.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran
    "How you get out of it is to go easy on both aspects of the self and look at the hours of the day and come up with a very simple do-able, workable daily/weekly/monthly routine that the internalized overcontrolling parent within you and the internalized rebellious teenager within you can honestly both agree on, and gently, patiently work on making it a habit, just one day at a time."

    This is admirable advice. I have to remind myself of that. Every drop in the bucket adds up.
  • lotuspadma, are you trying to follow the Five Precepts? Or only trying to meditate? The former might provide some structure in your life on which you can build.
  • genkakugenkaku Veteran Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    Recognizing the downside of indiscipline and irresponsibility is a good first step towards a fruitful discipline. If you aren't yet really convinced of that downside, the best advice I can think of is, "Go out and sin some more." Get a good grounding in thoughts, words and deeds that bear sorrowful fruit. This will help in establishing a determination to stop being an uncertain twit.
  • AllbuddhaBoundAllbuddhaBound Veteran Veteran
    When I think, I should have more self-discipline, then I am not accepting myself. I can begin negative (suffering) self-talk. When I feel I should have more self-discipline, I begin to think others should have more self-discipline too. I can begin poking my nose in others business and find them lacking. Or finding those with a lot of self-discipline as somehow superior to me.

    What if I accept myself for where I am today. Does that mean I cannot grow stronger? Does it mean there is something "wrong" with me? What if I didn't worry about being self-disciplined enough at all? Would I be happier? Would I have this overwhelming self-doubt? Would I feel pressure lifted?

    Maybe I am where I need to be in this moment. It must be true because, this is where I am. Not perfect but striving. Being who I am got me to this place and that is not a bad thing. I also don't need this pressure and self-criticism in order to become stronger. I need encouragement and belief in myself.

    Namaste
  • @Mr Serenity

    Great advice man.
  • You can't "force" yourself to do anything. And in fact, if you are like most people, especially us westerners, the more someone (or ourselves) tells us we HAVE to do something, the less we actually want to do it. And if someone tells us we are NOT to do something, well, then we want to do it that much more! Lol.

    Basically, it is all a matter of choice. If you make the decision that you want to become self disciplined, all you've done is made a decision. It is only by taking the action that you will actually achieve anything. If you find that you are incapable of taking the action, then there are other things you might need to work on before addressing your lack of self-discipline.

    My suggestion would be to start gradually - commit to meditating (or at least your best attempt) once a week for 20 minutes. If you can stick to that for a couple weeks, then up it to twice a week, and so on. If you don't think you can meditate, then dedicate that time to learning how to.

    And if you find that you cannot stick to once a week for 20 minutes, then perhaps you are not ready to attempt this at this point in your life. Like the old adage says - "when the student is ready, the teacher appears".

    Namaste'

    Kwan Kev
  • LincLinc Community Instigator Detroit Moderator
    Discipline is the things we do to compensate for our lack of discipline.
  • newtechnewtech Veteran Veteran
    I wasn't taught self-discipline. Grew up spoiled silly, lazy, childish and irresponsible. Thing is, I'm so undisciplined, I don't know where to begin. Don't want to go into details, but everything someone responsible and grown is supposed to do, I don't do it. I'm a 22yo woman, but I behave like a 16yo boy. I've tried numerous times to change, and it always fails miserably. Only managed to change very few, relatively unimportant things about my behavior after nearly 3 years of trials and give-ups, one after another. I would like to speak to a therapist eventually, but I'm more interested in what Buddhism has to say so I've checked out Buddhist resources. Unfortunately that only confused me a lot. It says you can't be forceful. But you can't be too lax either. The middle way, sure. But how does that apply to becoming self-disciplined? If I try not to force myself to meditate every day, I won't ever meditate, except once every couple of months or perhaps less. If I try not to be lax, I'll push myself so hard, I will lose interest in meditation altogether. What exactly is the middle way regarding this then?

    Thanks a lot for your time.
    Hello Lotuspadma:

    "The middle way" means not abusing oneself and not indulging in sensual desire. Doesn´t mean moderation in striving.
  • lotuspadma, this isn't a buddhist answer, but the way I see it, self discipline is about habit. If you want to change a habit, or install a new one, try breaking it down into smaller steps.

    When i feel resistant to meditating, I set the timer on my iphone for two minutes. After meditating for 2 mins I can either stop, or more often I end up meditating for longer. As it becomes more of a habit, you can make the sessions longer, but in the mean time it's easier to convince yourself to meditate for 2 mins at a time, rather than trying to force yourself to sit for longer and end up giving up or struggling with resistance.

    Same deal with other habits - small incremental changes over time rather than trying to change things all at once. The Japanese call it Kaizen.
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