Discipline. Most of us, when we read that word, conjure up a strong mental image. It could be a domineering father, a strict school mistress, a sports coach or even a dominatrix. What few of us think, though, is of ourselves. Let me explain.
In our hierarchical society, discipline is often associated with the father figure, the boss, or whoever is running the show. What we observe is that discipline is unconsciously felt as an external force.
Discipline is something that is imposed upon us, by something or someone external. In my vision for a new paradigm of self-healthcare, discipline is transformed. Self-discipline is cultivated as we learn to kindly impose it upon ourselves. Self-discipline, after all, is the deepest form of self-love.
Self-discipline as self-care.
In the early 2000’s, I studied Nutritional Therapy because I have a true passion for food, and it compliments my background in Chemistry and Biology. However, about halfway through my training, when I got to the practical part, I came to a stunning — and sad — realisation. This realisation made me abandon my plans to practice Nutritional Therapy. What did I realise? I saw that I was a great nutritionist but a poor coach. What people really need from their nutritionist is not a diet, but someone to help them stick to the diet. Making a clean diet is easy. Changing a diet is hard.
Why was I a bad coach? Because I am a highly disciplined person, and it seems strange to me that someone would perceive the need to change, consult a professional, pay a professional, then stick with the change for a week at most. I did not have the tools to understand that mindset. But, I was to be confronted with this observation again, in another field.
I have been practising yoga since 1999. When I first undertook a 4-week introductory course, at the Sivananda Yoga school in London, they had just published a book. My teacher said “the purpose of this course is to encourage students to practice at home.” So, me being me, I bought the book and a mat and started to practice the postures I learnt in class. I even took a short holiday in Spain, and brought my mat, and practised every day.
When I got back to London, I told my teacher that I had practised while on holiday. I remember to this day her look of surprise — amazement — her gasped “really??” Maybe I should have clued in then…
Since beginning to teach yoga in 2011, I have seen time and again people come to yoga class for a few weeks, then drift away. They have all sorts of aches and pains, sleep problems, breathing difficulties…and yoga has been proven over nearly 3,000 years to help all these things. What’s more, it stands up to a lot of scientific scrutiny. But yoga requires patience and the self-discipline of regular practice in order to perceive its benefits. It seems that a large percentage of people lack the patience and the discipline to practice enough to get beyond the momentary post-class peace.
Empowering people frees people.
What I have learned from practising both Nutritional Therapy (diet) and Hatha yoga (exercise) is that what we professionals have to awaken in our clients and students is the flame of self-discipline. It is the most sincere form of patient care, to wish them to ultimately be free of you, too. Finally, what people need is the independent will and willpower to make good decisions most of the time.
When patients empower themselves to make good decisions most of the time, they begin to trust themselves. This self-reliance is a keystone to self-healthcare. Instead of feeling deprived by dietary choices, or left out at social gatherings, the patient feels empowered by their self-discipline and positive decision-making. As we know, those little dopamine hits go a long way, and once a person feels a positive sensation after making a healthy decision, they are more likely to do it again and again, until it is a full-blown habit.
So, we professionals have to keep this front and centre: we cannot make people dependent on us. We need to be brave enough to let people walk their own path, coach them through the rough parts, sometimes hold their hands…but not carry them. I have become a much better coach over the years, and find that I am more able to motivate people without pushing them.
Self-discipline and self-healthcare
Eventually, people must loosen their association with discipline as an external, browbeating force, and begin to experience self-discipline as an internal, loving force. This is a major change: We begin to have positive, instead of negative emotions around self-healthcare. This is what will spark the change in our healthcare model — empowered, positive patients and professionals with the skills to coach them through the change.
I really do believe that this change is already upon us. It has just been speeded up by the COVID-19 health crisis. So, let’s endeavour to take our health into our own hands, and joyfully. Without health, there is nothing.
To your good health!