Discipline vs. Commitment

I want to make an episode today about discipline and commitment. I’ve just come out of a lot of conversations I’ve had recently where people are talking about wanting to be more motivated and needing to be more disciplined in order to reach an outcome that they’re striving for.

I think the word discipline has a lot of negative connotations for so many people. They imagine this carrot and stick approach where they have to be hard on themselves in order to achieve something.

Think about that concept for a moment.

How does it make you feel?

In this episode, we’ll cover

* Comparison between discipline and commitment
* What does the word discipline mean to you?
* What can make someone commit?

What does the word discipline mean to you?

I was thinking about this the other day while coaching somebody. We were talking about how hard it can be to do new things and that you may have to make yourself do something you don’t enjoy for a period before you finally do it regularly.

Using the word discipline – if it has a negative connotation for you – can make things feel harder!

Take exercise for example. You may not like getting sweaty and feeling puffed, so when you start exercising after a long break, it can feel a little difficult and you may not feel very disciplined about your exercise sessions.

Your brain starts coming up with all of the excuses why you can’t exercise, and you may not be very consistent for a period as you fight with yourself.

This is where we think ‘discipline’ is required to do the exercise.

So the work of doing the exercise is potentially much less pleasant than it could be. So change and consistency probably take a long longer!

The interesting thing is that at a certain point, you learn to love the exercise and you look forward to it every day. You have made a decision to do it, and you. are committed to it.

This happened to me with teeth flossing a few years back. I found it fascinating to think that I had struggled with so-called discipline for several weeks and then I got to enjoy the feeling of commitment. I had decided not to break my record of flossing daily and I was totally committed to that. I tapped into my competitive streak to get to this point.

And I thought to myself, why can’t we just get the decision and commitment up front?

If we could do that, then we wouldn’t need to keep going back to this idea of discipline.

The adoption of flossing as a lifelong commitment took me about 14 weeks. That’s quite long, and imagine if I’d been committed to it in week 2?

What might have gotten me committed earlier?

If I’d had a coach who had tapped into my competitive streak, that definitely would have helped. As it was, I didn’t realise and use that strength to help me until about week 10 of my flossing journey.

This is why I love health and wellness coaching so much because it’s such a strong component of our work and we can help people get there faster.

Health and wellness coaches are trained in positive psychology and we do a lot at the front end of a coaching program with someone in helping them to tap into their whys and develop that decision and commitment to a new habit that they’d like to form.

I think this is a golden opportunity to take some of the pain out of developing or upgrading habits, and to rather focus on why we want them and why we are committed to them.

Some people need a lot more work in this area than others.

For example, it was only after several coaching sessions examining all angles of a relationship with exercise, that my client was able to finally decide it was a non-negotiable activity and that she was ready to commit to it.

But the fact that we had those conversations week after week about all of the things that were important to her, was a key part of her arriving at the place of commitment.

Once a commitment is in place, once you have made the decision to do something no matter what and you are totally committed to it then it becomes easy. You don’t have to rely on the easily fatigued muscle of willpower any more.

You’re doing something because it is important to you and you want to do it, so the discomfort involved in doing the thing is minor compared to the sense of achievement and reward of doing it.

There is one caveat in this conversation of discipline versus commitment. In some cases, you might think that you want to do a certain thing and it may actually take a journey of experimenting and trialling and testing to figure out that you don’t actually want to do that thing. So if you are in this situation, then perhaps it is more relevant for you to focus on experimenting rather than trying to gain commitment.

On the other hand, if you are sure that you really want to commit to something and you have some very good reasons, then perhaps there is a language there for you to gain that commitment much easier so that habit is more enjoyable

I challenge you now to think of a habit you are trying to form or be consistent with.

What could help you just decide to do it?

What could help you commit to it, no matter what?


Today we compared discipline with commitment.

We discussed the fact that discipline may have negative connotations for some people, and it may make a journey to form a new habit or be more consistent with a habit a little bit harder.

On the other hand, if you focus on the benefits, the strengths that you can use, and the reasons why you want to make the change right at the front of the journey of change, and the more likely to make a decision to continue and gain commitment to that habit so that it becomes much easier and more enjoyable to continue.

In any case, that commitment to the habit is where sustainability comes in.

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