Discipline – do you love or hate it?

Discipline heading
Acknowlegement of country

Discipline, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is the quality of being able to behave and work in a controlled way which involves obeying particular rules or standards. This definition doesn’t say whose rules or standards, but I believe they’re our own.

My friend, Elizabeth Brennan, says discipline is a grace (which implies a gift). I think it falls between the two definitions and consider it a virtue we can cultivate to improve the quality of our lives. It is personal and comes from within, not something others do to us.

Why am I thinking about this now?

I’m thinking about this now for a few reasons.

  • Hot weather, especially heat waves, make me feel listless and disorganised. February has excelled itself in Perth. We’ve already broken the record for four days over C40◦ (F109◦) and the month isn’t over.
  • My life feels disorganised, even dislocated and disordered, and I want to regain some discipline to get on with important things. I want to live my life to the full again, to feel ‘fully me’.

What does discipline actually mean?

The word ‘discipline’ comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means ‘instruction and training’. It derives from the root word discere, ‘to learn’.

In this definition, discipline means to study, learn, train and to follow a system of standards.

The word ‘disciple’ comes from the same root word. It means ‘student’. It’s also used to describe a follower, especially someone who follows a particular leader and learn. For example, follower of Jesus, Buddha or Freud are called disciples.

Somewhere, the meaning got muddled so that the word ‘discipline’ now carries negative connotations. Many people think of it as something imposed from outside ourselves. Worse still, others consider discipline to be punishment.

Love it or hate it?

Like most people, I dislike the concept of discipline as punishment.

I watch with great joy as my granddaughters and their partners teach their little ones, even while babies, how to be in the world. Their methods are vastly different from my own, thank goodness.

Although they teach, they do it with kindness, compassion and modelling standards, rather than with rebuke and distance.

Here’s a photo that demonstrates learning the rules.

Discipline learning the rules

But I do love discipline as an internal choice that I apply to my behaviour. It helps to meet challenges and overcome weakness. When I am disciplined, I have more choices and more control. As Shiraz Mirza says,

Your self-discipline is a gift you give yourself.

What might discipline look like?

Discipline is a system for living well. Some examples include behaviour which can become habitual so that you no longer have to think about it.

  • To set goals and work towards what you want to achieve
  • To care for your health by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, to participate in regular health checks and vaccinations
  • To maintain regular work and sleep times
  • To learn and practise skills to maintain emotional equilibrium in the face of challenges and setbacks
  • To tune out of distractions, including digital ones
  • To work consistently on a project or projects over time
  • To finish most of the things you’ve planned for the day
  • To follow rituals and routines. These might include make your bed, clean the house, meditate, pray, keep in touch with family and friends, or visit your grandmother regularly etc. The list will be different for everyone.
discipline made bed

I agree with Aaron Lynn, who says,

Self discipline often looks robotic and regimented to others… but if you are reaping the benefits, who cares?

How do we develop discipline that serves us

Because it is a system, it does not occur all at once, but we can build it incrementally.

  • Decide on one or two important aspects you want to change. Choose things you enjoy and can do easily to start with. There’s nothing like a win to encourage yourself!
  • Start small and simply and add on over time.
  • Set the bar higher when you are ready
  • Celebrate victories
  • Forgive failures and move on. A failure doesn’t end the pursuit of discipline. Learn from failures.
  • Enjoy!

My next steps

I’ve written a blog about my goals now I’m 86.

I’m reluctant to commit this in writing but I plan to set a new goal around creativity (writing). I already write four pages in my journal every day (morning writing, thank you Julia Cameron). That is a long-time habit, spanning decades.

To achieve my new goal, however, I’ll need to overcome a mountain of tiredness and ennui. However, I plan to use the acronym SMART which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. A SMART goal will help focus my efforts and incfrease the chances of achieving it.

You might like to try…

Working with others who have similar standards provides support for everyone. I’d like to think that some of my readers would also like to improve their discipline. We might even form a support group if you are interested.

In any case, I’d love to hear your views in the comments space below.

Photo, Maureen Helen
Maureen Helen


  1. An excellent post, highlighting that discipline comes from within self first.
    I certainly need to streamline two key areas. One is to uphold my accountability with a certain person regarding my writing! The other is diet and exercise.
    I’d enjoy being part of a group!
    Perhaps, initially, I could apply the SMART approach to move forward.
    Thank you for being inspiring.

    1. Thank YOU, Susan, for reading my posts and finding inspiration in some of them. Maybe you need to be gentle with yourself, though. Diet and exercise and accountability for writing? All at once? One of the tricks, for me at least, is to take small steps, baby steps and give yourself lots of time and room to celebrate each win, and then to add another small thing. I do love the simplicity of SMART goals, and I think the acronym has been around for ever.

  2. Another fabulous blog dearest Friend. I like the quote – by Shiraz Mirza
    Self discipline is a gift you give yourself. Maybe some grace?
    Yes, without self discipline, nothing can be achieved and, as you point out, it is not something given to us, Definitely a gift we give ourselves.
    Alleluia! Thank you dear friend. I shall look for my self given gift.

    1. Yes, it’s a great quote, Elizabeth. I look forward finding out what the gift is that you give yourself. And yes, I’m sure discipline is also a grace. You are right.

  3. I’ve never thought of myself as self-disciplined — yet, others see me that way, to the point where a friend recently told me I was, self-disciplined, and I replied. No I’m not.
    She laughed and said, Perhaps that’s because you are harder on yourself than anyone else I know!
    I am using SMART goals to shift my habit of being hard on myself into giving myself grace.
    And I would LOVE to be part of a writing group as you describe.
    Thank you for liking my blog and leading me here to you today! It was -18C here this morning when I took my dog to the park. 🙂

    1. Dear Louise, Thank you for your wonderful responses to my blog about self-disicpline. It’s lovely to be in touch with you through our posts. It’s a lovely way to be in contact with other like minded people. Love that you are using SMART goals to give yourself grace. Such a nice thing to do.
      I’ll keep you posted about the writing group as it develops.

  4. Thoughtful blog post Maureen Helen. As always you have piqued my interest with this vitally important subject. The use of the Acronym SMART is such a good way to go.
    Best wishes with your new SMART start Maureen. Love this blog post

    1. Hi, Tricia, I think this may be the post you thought did not register. The problem is probably my fault. Sorry. Thank you for your comment> I’m glad you like the SMART acronym. It’s an oldie and a goodie. Thank you for your kind wishes.

  5. Hi Maureen. I read your blog on my phone and then commented, but I see that my comment didn’t register here. Not sure why but will try again now. I loved this Blog Post. How many people are such great goal setters with such resolve as you, my dear. It’s a solid post and reminds us all of the things we know, but don’t reflect on often enough. Self-discipline, yes we all need to work on that and I particularly like your SMART acronym – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Thank you for your inspiring writing Maureen. Now I am going off to run off and see where my ‘self-discipline’ is hiding ; )
    You do jog us into action Maureen, thank you so much. Love your work.

    1. Thanks, Tricia, and thank you for your persistance. I do like to set goals, and of course to somehow bring them to completion. The last couple of years have seen me lagging behind, but with my new resolve, all seems to working uich better. Thank you for your kindness and encouragement. I really appreciate our friendship.

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