photo credit: UBC Library Graphics
“The only difference between Buddhas and ordinary beings is discipline.” – Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920 – 1996) a great Buddhist meditation master.
When you hear the word “discipline” do you think of Samurais, Shaolin Warriors and Buddhist Monks? Do you think about professional football players or perhaps members of the armed forces? Do you feel like it is something that is reserved only for a few dedicated and extremely tough individuals? Well it isn’t.
This post is the complete guide to developing self-discipline that lasts. Not self-discipline that lasts one or two weeks. Discipline that lasts your entire life. Once you have developed this, anything is possible. The guide is based on lessons and tips I have learned from many successful people who have mastered self discipline. I, however, have a long way to go.
Why we lack self-discipline in the first place
photo credit: lintmachine
What is the one thing a person needs to attain their goals and dreams? Self-discipline. Sure there might be a place for influential contacts, money and natural ability but in the end it comes down to discipline. It is the one part of the “success equation” that you cannot do without. Every great person has possessed it. So why are we lacking in self-discipline?
Well, the answer is actually pretty simple. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work it out.
We are all spoiled.
That’s right. Spoiled. Now don’t go an get all offended on me. I am not personally attacking anyone. I am saying that in general, as a culture, we are a pretty spoiled bunch. We have televisions to occupy us, internet social sites to keep us connected, alcohol to numb our depression and a fair amount of money to spend on short term entertainment. We are pretty spoiled. It is called instant gratification.
I am not saying that everyone here has it easy. You don’t. Many of you (I know because you email me) have mortgages the size of Everest and children to feed. This is not an easy life. Far from it. In fact, you might already have more discipline than you think!
The reason I say that we are spoiled is not to make you feel guilty or ashamed. It is to highlight the fact that, other than the things like work and family, we have it pretty easy. When we want to be entertained we just flick a button. When we want some food we just go to the supermarket. When we want to be satisfied we just… well… you know…
We have grown accustomed to getting things quickly. And when our dreams, goals and ambitions don’t come as quick as everything else we lose motivation. We lose self-discipline. After all, why would we work on something that is arduous and difficult when we could be watching TV? Instant is so much quicker.
Why we need self-discipline to be successful and happy
Okay, I’ll admit it. Instant gratification is pretty good. I like a good drive-through meal as much as the next person. But is it truly satisfying? Does it forever quench your desire leaving you in a permanent state of bliss?
In fact, instant gratification makes you more unhappy. Sooner or later that instant gratification will not satisfy you and you will need something bigger and better to make you feel good right away. And when that loses its appeal you are going to need something bigger again. Finally, as often happens to many wealthy adults, you have a midlife crisis because your life is so god damned hollow. The new sports car is probably the ultimate symbol of AIGD (advanced instant gratification disorder) – it’s quick attempt to recapture one’s youth, a time in your life when gratification was so much simpler.
How would our life be if we had more self-discipline and were able to work towards and achieve things that really meant something to us? Would we be happier if we chose hard work over instant gratification? I am betting so.
Sunday School and self-discipline
Before I go on I need to clear something up. When I say self-discipline I am not talking about the kind that your Sunday School teacher taught you when you were 12. I am not saying that you need to control your impulses because pleasure and gratification and the Devil’s tools. Self-discipline is not about guilt or shame or religion. Sure, the Sunday School teacher might have been preaching about AIGD but that is another story entirely.
The self-discipline I am talking about is the kind where you use your internal will power to choose something better for yourself. It is where you cognitively decide that you are going to work towards a goal and achieve that goal without being sidetracked by “instant” distractions. The self-discipline I am speaking of is all about developing a mentality where you can fix your mind on something and achieve it.
Why we need it
The reason we need self-discipline is simple. Everything that is worthwhile achieving takes discipline to achieve. Think about the most common goals that people have:
- Fat loss and dieting
- Better fitness
- College degrees and other qualifications
- Helping people
All of these pursuits take self-discipline. It is impossible to lose weight with out self-discipline. It is impossible to get a college education without self-discipline. Anything that you can think of that you would like to achieve or work towards will take a large amount of self-discipline to pull off. And that is why we need to develop more of it.
How to develop self-discipline that lasts
Now that I have talked about why we are lacking in self-discipline and why we need self-discipline I want to get on to the core of the guide and talk about how we can go about developing it. Remember, self-discipline is not something that you can whip up out of thin air. It takes a long time and a lot of courage to develop. But the results are well worth the effort.
1. Find short term and long term motivation and work on it
Motivation is essential if you want to develop self-discipline. If you look at someone like Barack Obama who has been on the Presidential campaign trail for months now, you will see that a good motivation is something you cannot do without. Senator Obama would have fizzled out and quit by now if he did not have an excellent motivation. The same is true of anyone who has been working towards something for an extended amount of time.
Short term motivation is something basic like having enough money to feed your family or doing something because it is going to help someone right away. These motivations are easy to come by but they have a problem – they don’t last. If you want to develop self-discipline you need a motivation in the long term as well.
In the Buddhist tradition the monks and yogis are able to be so disciplined because they have something called Bodhicitta. This is roughly translated as the mind of enlightenment and is the motivation to use every thought, word and action to benefit other beings. It was this motivation that allowed so many Tibetan monks to endure the worst torture under the Chinese genocide in the 50’s and 60’s without fighting back. It is this motivation that allows them to stay in solitary retreat for 20 years. A motivation such as this one can get you through a lot of tough times.
Once you have found that motivation it is then important to cultivate it. If you decide you want to work for the benefit of others don’t just think about it once and then forget it. Remind yourself of it all the time. When things get tough try to remember why you are doing it. If you do this you can strengthen your mind and your resolve and stay focused on your task.
2. Find some inspirational figures to imitate
Sometimes we lose control. Sometimes the world breaks us down and we feel like we can’t go on. It is all too hard. It is times like these that we need someone to look up to. It is times like these we need to ask, “What would Buffy do?”
Okay, so maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not the best inspiration figure to pick, but, each to their own! If you are an aspiring Vampire Slayer than Buffy is an extremely good figure. It is a good idea to find an inspiration figure in the field that you are working in. Some examples might be (please excuse the excessive use of pop-culture heros):
- Ethics: Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Mother Teresa
- Martial Arts: Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Bodhidharma, Ghost Dog
- Wealth: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, MC Hammer
- Politics: Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin
- Sport: Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Johnson
Okay so not all of them are good examples either. But you get the idea. When you feel down in the dumps it is fantastic to think “what would [insert hero] do” and then rely on that judgment. Sometimes two heads are better than one.
3. Make reverse escalation work for you
Remember earlier on in this guide when I talked about how instant gratification doesn’t satisfy you but instead causes you to be more and more insatiable forcing you to look for bigger and better “hits”? Well it is called escalation and it is a common problem among addicts (coffee, alcohol, drugs). However, escalation can work for you instead of against you if you know how to do it.
It’s called reverse escalation and it is a lot like how meditation works. The principle is simple: if instant gratification makes you more likely to need some bigger form of gratification, then you can apply that theory in reverse.
Next time you are working on your primary goal and you feel like giving up and going to watch television, try holding out for five minutes longer where you would have normally just got up and crashed on the couch. If you can do that, then next time go for six minutes. Try this with every distraction that comes up.
What you will be doing is essentially escalating your good qualities instead of your bad ones. You are escalating the self-discipline. Soon “five minutes more” won’t seem that hard and you will be well on your way to developing a self-discipline that lasts.
4. Create a routine and stick to it
Routine is a powerful word. One of the best ways you can develop self-discipline that lasts is by giving yourself a routine.
I remember hearing a story from a meditation practitioner who was having trouble getting past the basic preliminarily stages. Finally he went to his Tibetan meditation teacher in sheer despair and asked him for some advice. His teacher thought for a moment and then replied, “Rou-teeeen”.
“What’s that?” he clarified with the master thinking he was about to be told the esoteric secret to meditation.
“Rou-teeeen… you know… morning and night,” the teacher said in broken English.
“Oh. Right. Gotcha. Routine.”
Routine isn’t that esoteric but it is the secret to meditation. It is the secret to just about everything. If you can get yourself in a routine that facilitates and encourages your self-discipline then you will be well on your way to victory.
Again, this is not rocket science but a simple fact that has worked for many great people. Athletes have routine training times, yogis and monks have a daily practice routine, etc. Find a routine that works for you and then stick to it until your self-discipline is strong enough that you can break it from time to time without losing track.
5. Don’t overdo it
One of the big mistakes that I think people make is to do too much too soon. It is very important not to overdo it at any stage of the game.
Take the example of my final year in high school. Our school had midyear exams in third term because they thought it prepared us better for the finals (the one’s that count) because we had studied three terms worth of material instead of two. The problem? I burnt out after the midyears. I was so exhausted after the midyear exams that I said “F$%K it!” and gave up. I did too much too soon and there was no way of sustaining it until the end of finals.
Lucky for me I did well in the finals despite not doing a day of study. Literally. Ask my friend Alex who reads this blog and he will tell you I was down at his house playing basketball everyday. Looking back I don’t know how I even passed. But there is a lesson here for anyone who tries to do too much too soon. You run the risk of burning out. It is a much more intelligent idea to go slow and steady when it comes to long term self-discipline. It is a marathon, not a sprint race.
6. Use rewards (and maybe punishment)
Let me tell you a story. My first management lecture in business college. I sat down in the dark hall with 600 other nervous kids and the lecturer booms out over the mic, “How do you get workers to work harder?”
“Come one. How do you get employees in a firm to work harder?” he repeated.
“Give them more money!” one brave kid answered.
“Brilliant!” the lecturer replied. “And soon you won’t have a firm left.”
The teacher went on to explain that there are two loose schools of thought on the matter and it depends heavily on whether you are American or not. Studies have shown that Americans are so used to being told they “worthy”, “good” and “capable of anything” that they work harder when they are given positive reinforcement. Almost every other country, on the other hand, works harder when you tell them they aren’t capable!
“If your firm is in America,” the lecturer continued, “tell them you can do it! If your firm is anywhere else, tell them they can’t.”
While I have doubts about the practical application of this theory in a business setting (I’m not sure about telling a room full of workers they suck!) it is a really good lesson for developing self-discipline. Are you the type of person who responds to punishment or rewards? I’ll give you an example. Would you be more likely to work for one hour on your personal goal if I gave you a $50 note or if I threatened to take away your car for a week?
Think about which one you are and then put a system in place to help you develop the behavior that you want. Self-discipline, in my opinion, happens quite easily when there is a nice carrot at the end of the stick.
Developing self-discipline is one of the most rewarding undertakings you will ever embark on. It is only through self-discipline that your dreams and goals can be attained and as such you should give as much attention to it as possible. Use the tips I have outlined in this guide but make sure you only apply what works for you. Routine, rewards, etc. are all simple and effective ways to help you develop self-discipline that lasts a life time. Good luck!
Hi! I stumbled upon your blog via Zen Habits. Timely post for me: all weekend I’ve been trying to get motivated to do some work (that I love) but have been finding it extremely difficult to start. Thanks for the tips!
The Daily Minder
Thanks for leaving a comment Darlene. Did you subscribe by email to enter the iPod contest?
This is a thoughtful post as we all need reminders from time to time to maintain our focus on the task at hand. I am a strong believer in the carrot vs. the stick method. Remember it takes 12 positives to 1 negative to teach a new behavior.
This is a nice site.
The Daily Minder
Thanks Al! Nice analogy at the end there.
Re: point 6 I’ve found [the hard way] that you really need to get to know your people if you’re trying to motivate a bunch of people/staff. I managed a travel agency and had a mix of different personalities in my office. I originally managed them all by using reward based motivation and then switched my methods after around 6 months to much more of a punishment style, to the point where they called me ‘Gordon’, ala our Michelin star winning king of profanity. After all of this trial and error I found it crucial to understand each personality ‘type’ and most of the systems [DISC, animal analogys etc] generally pigeon hole them into 4 brackets. However, I would suggest Myers Briggs for anyone keen to really understand the different personality types of which they say there are 16. This greater understanding of how your staff or team ‘click’ can help with what we used to call ‘carrot vs the stick’. As in finding a balance of reward and recognition. I think it’s more complicated than if you are from the US or not but one thing is for sure, your ethnic background and upbringing can play a major factor. Understanding your own personality and what makes you tick can make a huge difference in learning how to be a better self starter.
The Daily Minder
Hey Mark. Long time no see!
Nice comment mate – I remember speaking to you about something similar to this a while ago.
It is interesting how different people respond to different things. What is even more interesting is the thought of you getting all “Gordon Ramsay” on those lovely people you worked with! Must have worked though as the firm sure did sky-rocket after you became manager… impressive.
It’s funny – I tend to think of “managing” people in more of a situational basis. For example, you interact differently with a potential client than you do with a business partner and so forth. There really are so many factors to consider.
Thanks for dropping by.
The part I find especially true is the idea that we are spoiled. So true! Most of us, myself included, don’t understand hardship and how hardship builds discipline. This generation may get to experience some of that, though some folks are hoping we get bailed out. 🙂
The Daily Minder
LiveWellSimply – thank you for leaving a comment. I think it is so important to realize that sometimes hardship can be a good thing.
Great post. Thanks!
Your section on why we lack self-discipline is so spot-on. We don’t hear enough people – especially in personal development circles – saying that instant gratification actually works against happiness.
The Daily Minder
Instant gratification is one of the biggest cause of a lot of our problems. It really won’t bring happiness.
Thanks for dropping by.
Great article. Self discipline has always been something I’ve struggled with, and now that I’m in college, it’s something I’m really having to get used to. I will definitly take these tips in mind, and keep reading! I’ve really enjoyed the quality of the articles I’ve seen here – you’re my new homepage!
The Daily Minder
New homepage! That’s awesome! Thanks Jonathan.
Long time reader, first time commenting.
This post really touched me. I’ve been trying to cultivate discipline for many years and have experienced disappointment in myself again and again. I think the key, for me, is apply the steps you’ve mentioned. I’ve overdone it many times. I’ve also selected carrots/sticks that weren’t truly motivating to me. Your writing has allowed me to take a truthful look at myself and my behavior. I sincerely appreciate your guidance and I look forward to a much more disciplined life.
Thanks so much for doing what you do … you’re inspiring people you don’t even know.
The Daily Minder
Thank you for taking the step from reader to commentator. It is always nice to get some feedback.
I’m sure these steps will help you somewhat but it is important, like you said, to find something that really works for you. If traditional methods like the one’s I’ve outlined don’t work maybe you need to go really far outside the box to find your own comfortable and effective way of developing self discipline?
Good luck! I know you will get there!
Most importantly – don’t give up. Pick yourself up and try again. I have tried many times to make the habit of meditating a part of my daily life – and I have failed again and again, for a lot of the same reasons as you, Elle_sf. One day I reached a point when I was fed up with just trying, and simply decided to DO IT. This is several months ago, and I still exert self-discipline and just DO IT, every morning! I will congratulate myself in a couple of years or so (putting the carrot far ahead in the distance is working for me…)
TDM. Thanks a lot for this post. The timing is perfect for me, as I am working hard on self-discipline issues these days. I have actually written a draft for a post about something similar (although not nearly as good as this) myself. Would it be OK if I make a link to this post there?
The Daily Minder
Of course Miss Attica – you can link away!
You had me until using Barry Obama as an example. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were motivated, BFD. Of the six billion people alive, several billion that have died, the best example you could come up with was that? Sorry I do not believe such things are accidental and I do not like lying socialist.
The Daily Minder
I never said Obama was the “best” example but he is an inspiring current example that many people around the world identify with.
Thanks for leaving a comment.
This is one of the best articles I’ve seen about the daunting subject of discipline! The way you tell it makes it seem achievable…and puts it in a new light as I grew up with the Sunday School version….thanks!!
I look forward to the daily emails since I’ve been subscribing …keep up the great work.
The Daily Minder
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it a lot.
Thank you for the excellent article. Ive recently felt like Ive been losing focus and spending too much time in front of the tube – wondering how I could get back into my groove. I’ve Stumbled Upon this at precisely the right time!
The Daily Minder
Thanks Will. Glad it helped!
Thank you for the article! I have been losing focus on my workouts, and it was timely advice for me. I like the approach you took and appreciate that you did not just rehash advice i’ve read before. : )
The Daily Minder
I tried very hard to come up with some new ideas Lola. Not all of it is new though! Thank you for your kind words!
Hi! The hardest part is to create a routine and stick to it. I have started running several times, but eventually, after a week or two, three I fail. Because it is raining really hard, or I have to work overtime, or …. Perhaps I should prepare better, re-examine my motivation (What should my routine be when it rains?), and use some rewards. Thanks for this post.
The Daily Minder
Raining is the BEST time to go for a run! It is so raw and energetic and soothing! I swear this is true – quite often when it starts raining I will go for a run in the park. It is an odd but strangely revitalizing experience.
If you let external circumstances influence your internal goals they will never get done. There will always be “rain” in your life! Beat it John!
Thanks for stopping by.
I’ve found your blog via a Zenhabits advertisement. I really like it overall, and the whole concept your blog is about.
But I didn’t like this one too much, I mean the advises are little like repeating the question (i.e. how to learn self-discipline –> discipline yourself…)
But the quotes are brilliant 🙂 I love them
The Daily Minder
Thanks for your criticisms. I wonder though; how else can we develop self-discipline?
Oh, I guess I was a little harsh there, sorry for that, I didn’t mean to hurt you at all. It’s a great article and I’m sure it’ll help a lot of people.
It’s just the advices you gave were a little too general for me. Maybe it’s because I’m focusing on personal development for a time now, and I’ve heard them too much 🙂 and that’s why I think it’s gonna help a lot of readers.
But regarding your question, self-discipline is a skill, and we can develop it only by practice, you’re right, but saying “practice self-discipline!” is like when someone asks how to lose weight, and you say: “just lose weight!”.
The root of our misunderstanding can be simply because we refer to different things when we say “self-discipline”. What I mean by self-discipline is the ability to act regardless of your mood, emotion or physical condition. When you do something even if you’re tired, depressed or something like that. That’s why it is one of the hardest skills to develop, and that’s why it’s so precious, because it can be so powerful when mastered.
So my problem was simply that these points you list here is not really help to develop self-discipline, rather to get things done. And for that, the post is excellent.
By using motivation, inspiration or gifts, you can’t develop self-discipline but you can learn how to do things so you enjoy the process, which is an other important thing to learn.
I’m also moving into that direction rather than self-discipline, but these are the things that can be very fragile, and don’t work in particular situations, while self-discipline always works.
What I’ve found that working on self-discipline is more like a process of thinking of things from another aspect, reframing the current situation, so you can go on and do what you have to do. I use certain sentences or thoughts in particular situations when I want to get myself over something hard, like getting out of bed early 🙂 I’m still a novice in this, but sometimes it works out just fine.
Steve Pavlina has written a series on self-discipline, thanks for reminding though, I have to read it again, cause I’ve just realized I’m also not very clear on the subject…
I hope we can agree that it was probably only a semantical misunderstanding, sorry for the long comment, and keep up the good work!
The Daily Minder
Hi Jani. No your comment wasn’t harsh at all. Don’t sweat it!
I guess the article was mainly supposed to be on how to develop self-discipline that lasts. That implies one already has a certain level of self discipline.
Secretly, though, I wanted to express my views about instant gratification and how I feel that is the main obstacle to self-discipline.
Yes, Steve Pavlina is a great writer; someone I could never even compete with.
Thanks for your super long comment – I enjoyed it.
I also found you through Zen Habits.
I thought you brought up some very good points with your comparisons of America to the rest of the world…We are defiantly spoiled here…
I know for me personally…If you tell me I can’t do it, I’ll have to prove you wrong…But if there’s money at the end of that tunnel, that’d be alright too.
Looking forward to more posts.
The Daily Minder
Thanks for leaving a comment! Glad you liked the post.
i tried out the practice of reverse escalation this week during a heavy midterm week of studying and paper writing. it was very helpful…i’ve been able to accomplish a lot more in a shorter period of time rather than procrastinating through tasks. thanks!
The Daily Minder
Awesome stuff Mel! Good luck with those midterms!
I “Stumbled” to your website today and I’m glad I did. I’ve been searching for answers and assistance concerning my lack of self-discipline. I need some badly.
Most of what I read here I was aware of , especially the establishment of a routine. I know this would help me with my self-discipline because it did in the past when I dropped 85 pounds off my frame. I had a heck of a routine then! But that’s another story.
My problem, in my mind, has been that I can’t take that first step, and if I do try, I don’t complete it. I think it may be because in my mind, I’m thinking too far ahead(trying to do too much), instead of focusing on that first step.
Reading what you wrote about instant gratification was somewhat new to me and kicked me in the head. I think that is partly how I sabotage any self-discipline efforts I attempt, as well as trying to do too much (thinking too far ahead).
The exercise of reverse escalation is completely new to me. Wow, what a brilliant and simple tool! It is something I am definitely going to try to improve my self-discipline. I think it will be very helpful because it will allow me the time to focus on each step, and not think too far ahead. I won’t be too hard on myself either, which I believe is important also.
I wanted to thank you for the info about instant gratification and the reverse escalation exercise, but I got carried away and wrote this long post. Sorry for it, it must be my lack of self-discipline! Thanks again and take care.
The Daily Minder
Thanks for leaving such a great comment! I agree the first step is the hardest. Remember though, it only gets easier. It is always hardest in the beginning.
Thank you, this is great information!
I think the article could be great but it lost my interest as soon as you used Obama as your example. I will admit he is a good con artist to have fooled so many Americans into following a Muslim that wants to run our country but aside from that he is a moron and a very poor example for Discipline. He cannot even decide which religion he chooses to follow on a consistent basis, hie political trail is far from disciplined, its patchy at best, as well as his observations. He regularly contradicts himself in the media as well as his past service. All in all, using any politician for an example of discipline clearly shows you have no idea what it entails. No politician has ever walked the trail of discipline as a Buddhist Monk has.
The Daily Minder
Thanks for your comments but I don’t really appreciate racism here. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, this has been shown repeatedly. But, so what if he was? Where in the United States Constitution does it say that a Muslim cannot be President – especially when he is a 1000 times better choice than a George Bush repeat.
I appreciate you sharing your thoughts but I won’t allow racism on my blog. I think it has caused too much damage already.
WOW, what an awesome reply. thanks TDM!!!
I’m in no any way trying to fuel the fire, but clearly your new friend Jello Biafra was more interested in your post than he/she thought. Typos aside, bigots will be bigots, and those who are ill-informed will go out of their way to convince people that they have all the right answers – the ONLY answers. We’re all entitled to our opinions, of course, and it was generous of you to allow that particular one to appear on your site, but it’s a shame that some people need to draw attention to their closed-minded, contemptuous attitudes – especially when their rant had nothing to do with the purpose of your original post.
Keep sending that positive energy out there – thanks!
The Daily Minder
Thanks for the encouragement BJ.
Great site with fun design!
Just StumbleUpon it +_+
wow , great post thanks!, I just stubmldupn it 🙂
Hi, Thanks for your tips. I have been trying hard to wake up early and prepare for my CMA exams. But some how I have never been able to do. I have a clear goal and know how drastically that course could alter my life. But I have never been able to do it.. Hopefully with you tips I would be able to Change all that.
Hmmm, pretty decent post with some sound ideas.
Trouble is, where I fall down – repeatedly – is with the sticking to the routine and sticking to the ‘punishments’. ‘Oh, it won’t matter this time’, ‘take a breather until Monday’ and so on are the norm.
However, I love the 5 mins more, then 6 mins.
I wonder if a UK workforce would respond better the ‘you can’ or ‘you can’t’?? There’s a PhD in that somewhere. Shame I’d never have the discipline to stick to doing it!!!!!!!!!!!=)
Thank you for this. I think you outline some useful advice and common pitfalls in the pursuit of self discipline. I’ll incorporate your advice and let you know how it goes in a year.
Thank-you for this post. Maintaining self-discipline I struggle with constantly. The sticking to a routine part is where I always seem to have a problem, I just get easily bored after two weeks of doing the same thing over I tend to just stop doing it.
My first thought on reading the opening question about what we think of when we hear the word discipline, is being shouted at and spanked by parents, and I think this poses a big obstacle to discipline for Westerners (of a certain age anyway — I hear that Gen Y and millenials don’t get beaten up so much by parents!). If discipline was always something imposed from outside then it’s difficult to learn it for oneself: routine isn’t learned because we just do whatever the task is when our mother screams, for example.
As an Australian, let me tell you that bosses don’t need to tell whole rooms full of people they suck. When I was in primary (junior) school, a common taunt was, “You think you’re really good, don’t you?” because thinking you’re really good in Australia is “getting above your station” in life. Aussies love to be the underdog and to win from that position. It’s a national inclination to cut down the tall poppies. (eg Many Aussies generally think Americans are a bit show-offy and over-confident 🙂
OK, so on the discipline thing, I disagree that our lack of discipline is from being spoiled – although I think the Western sense of entitlement to instant gratification is what keeps the habit in place. I believe we lack discipline because we seek reassurance. Enlightenment being the great emptiness, an unknown void is not reassuring — it’s not meant to be. Holding our ego-concept of ourselves is reassuring, safe, what we know and understand. To pull that apart is very NOT reassuring.
Those common goals you listed as to why people need discipline are actually ego-reassurers: everything will be alright when I lose weight, get fitter, more qualified, enlightened or just a generally better person. Then I will be who I think I should be: this is surely the ego talking. So the activities that seem like lack of discipline habits, eg overeating, watching TV, etc are not the habit — they are just symptoms of the habit of seeking reassurance.
If enlightenment is the total dropping away of that ego-self, then it’s not going to be anything that we think it might be. We literally won’t know our (old) selves!
But because the whole thing of enlightenment is so unknown, like jumping into the void, or jumping into a dark ocean at night, we cling to the edges, seeking reassurance. Every day we only have to swim in that dark ocean of non-thought for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, but every day it doesn’t look any safer, easier or more pleasant. So wasting time reading blog sites and writing long comments looks easier and more interesting, (she says to self).
So I’m going to try my best Aussie underdog and say, “You can’t even do 5 minutes morning and night.” And then go prove myself wrong!