Why self-discipline is massively overrated
When it comes to making lasting personal change and self-improvement, it is common for people to have a really unhelpful metaphor in mind to represent this journey.
Typically, people imagine success in this area is like climbing to the top of a snow-capped mountain to capture the flag. Looking up from the foot of this mountain, they can barely even see the peak through the clouds. To get to the top means trekking through dense forest followed by rocks, ice and snow. To make matters worse, its super windy and steep and they wonder if even on their best day they have what it takes to make it. If they were to get half way up, there is no guarantee they’d make it any higher. The moment they stop climbing they could fall back down the mountain. It is such a demoralising picture that causes many to continue putting off the trek all together.
This change metaphor also feeds the unhelpful myth about success being totally connected to how hard you are prepared to work. There are always so many people banging on about the need to try harder, be better, have more discipline, energy, focus, commitment, drive and passion. The implication here is that only possible reason why you haven’t succeeded yet is that you haven’t been trying hard enough.
Yet using self-discipline as a self improvement strategy is terribly ineffective even though for most people it’s the only tool in the shed!
The problem is that this approach NEVER works long term. It cannot possibly result in lasting change. Self-discipline may give you some short term success, but will power is like a muscle and inevitably you get tired and stop.
Fighting against yourself
The real problem with self-discipline is that works on a presupposition you must fight against yourself to win. It’s as though people imagine they have a fat lazy person inside them who loves mars bars and hates exercise and the aim of the game is to kill that part. Therefore more punishment judgement and cruelty towards that part of themselves, the better!
The deep fear is that if you take the pressure off yourself that you’ll revert to doing nothing. If you stop fighting, the lazy guy wins. The intention to want to do your best is good but take a moment to consider how cruel and unfair to yourself that approach really is. Imagine trying to motivate someone else by micro managing them, doubting their ability, believing the worst about them if left to their own devices or never trusting and listening to them. That is incredibly low level!
There’s got to be a better way.
The great news is that growth, success and happiness is actually nothing like mountain climbing. A far more accurate metaphor to describe the personal change journey, is that you are sitting on top of a hill in a parked car with the handbrake on, and the flag is at the bottom of the hill. All that is between you and the goal is that brake. You actually have all that you need already you are just holding yourself back through doubts fears and limiting beliefs. Growth and success is actually about the internal work involved in releasing the handbrake rather than fighting your way up the mountain.
Self discipline v self permission
All lasting change comes through self- permission rather than self-discipline.
Rather than trying to get ahead by fighting against yourself, it requires you to understand how to work with yourself. Making peace with yourself ultimately allows you to be at your best where it matter most. Through self permission, you are able to recognise that all the parts of you (even the ones that feel like they are at war) actually want the same thing. Everything is driven from a sense of protection and love and wanting the best for you.
While it is far more counterintuitive definitely counter-cultural, self-permission always beats self-discipline as a motivation strategy. It is the only strategy that truly allows you to access your full capacity as a human being.
Self-permission is about valuing the beauty and gold that lies within you. It is to honour your own wisdom and intuition. It requires you to develop a beautiful relationship with yourself and deal with the doubts fears insecurities acting like a handbrake.
It is to build great rapport between your conscious and subconscious so that you find a way to work with yourself rather than against yourself. You get the best out of others when you love and trust them and the same is true in when getting the best out of ourselves.
Self permission is about realising that ultimately you are the only one powerful enough to get in the way of your own dreams and hold yourself back, and you are the only one with the power to cause you to succeed.
When you give yourself permission to flourish there is nothing strong enough or big enough to get in your way.