Discipline, Your New Favorite Emotion

More and more, clients are coming to therapy seeking help maintaining discipline in their lives. They are tired of failing at personal commitments and want to understand why they keep straying from the path to their goals. And it’s no surprise…our modern life is truly a chaotic festival of distractions that endlessly assaults our senses and beckons us to sacrifice future contentment for tiny bursts of gratification today. Sure, it can be a fun party to attend, but the more we succumb to it, the more we are left with a wicked hangover of emotional numbness.

This emotional numbness may actually be the true enemy that hinders our efforts to bring improvement into our lives through discipline. A common thought dictates that it’s our own laziness that has been holding us back. However, that may not be entirely true. The problem may actually lie with our tendency to get disconnected from our own emotions.

Neuroscientists, having already been able to identify the emotional structures of the brain connected to negative emotions (fear and anxiety), are still working on unraveling the mysteries about the structures responsible for our experience of positive emotions, such as humor and joy. There is still much we don’t know. But some are now theorizing that discipline itself should be added to the official pantheon of human emotions.

What’s already widely agreed upon is that our emotions function as the perfect superfuel to drive us to our goals. They are the critical ingredient in the creation of that “inner fire” so necessary to bring about lasting change in our lives. Thus, it is up to us to stoke that fire every day, so that it doesn’t go out. Willpower only takes us so far, habits may not always stick, but through use of our emotions we can get the momentum we need to keep moving forward.

Therapy is traditionally thought of as a place we got to find help decreasing our experience of negative emotions. When it comes to positive emotions, things like meditation, yoga and spirituality have been the typical go-tos. Let’s consider that traditional yogic philosophy identifies the “wavering mind” AKA doubt as being the opposite of discipline. Doubt is what creeps in and causes us to fall into a negative thought rabbit hole while on the road to what we are trying to achieve. Doubt opens the door to thoughts about all the ways we might fail. And suddenly we become stuck in a loop of negativity and lose focus on our path.

So what then is the opposite of doubt? The answer is: resolve. Resolve is the experience you have after making a firm decision on a course of action. It’s that sense of hope and determination you have when starting that New Years resolution that’s super important to you. But why, after a few weeks or months have passed, do we often find that we have failed at our resolutions? It’s because, as time goes on, life’s distractions end up pulling us in several different emotional directions. After a while, that original burning fire of our resolve, that which put us on the path in the first place, simply goes out.

The good news is that we can actually keep that fire going through some simple, focused effort. What that effort looks like is carving out a little bit of time every day to access our emotions and remind ourselves of the powerful reasons we had for setting our goals in the first place. The simple effort helps us to re-connect with the emotions within us that provided the first spark. And those emotions can be positive or negative. Reigniting those emotions can be done every day and only requires the space of a few minutes of personal reflection. And if one can make it a part of their regular meditation or mindfulness practice, it’s even more effective.

Regular meditation practice can help us more effectively ignore those distractions that steal our focus and numb our emotions. Things such as our technology addictions, substance abuse, unhealthy diets, toxic relationships that continue to drag us down in our lives. They keep us chasing temporary rewards that are ultimately so fulfilling. And worst of all, they rob us from our ability to truly feel. Without being able to feel, we cannot hope to keep our fire going.

So, it’s time we bring the emotional fire back to our efforts to achieve personal development. It’s time for us to get resolved, get excited, get angry…or even get sad. Whatever you do, just don’t get numb!

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