Cultivating Inner Discipline

People often remark how disciplined I seem as if I woke up one morning and it just happened. It didn’t. And truth be told, I’m not equally disciplined in all areas of my life (who is?).  I, like everyone else, am a work in progress.

No Victory is Too Small
Being disciplined is the result of daily effort – but not Herculean effort. For me, the smaller, the better.

I take baby steps. I may not accomplish everything I want today, but I can be accomplished today. I can move forward today. I do this by finding the one, small, specific item I know I can do. I set my self up for success by making sure I have the time allotted to accomplish whatever that small, specific thing is. With a clear understanding of the task, I go for it.

Keep Moving Forward
Spending time and energy lamenting what you aren’t doing, doesn’t magically cultivate inner discipline. In fact, I find it to be a deterrent. Beating myself up (known as self-slander in Buddhism) is a sure-fire way to sabotage my forward motion. An oft-heard retort: “But you can’t move forward without self-criticism.”  No, you can’t move forward without taking a step forward.

You can, however, be reflective and honest, without being negative to yourself. After that honest reflection, you can decide on a small action, take that small step, and praise yourself for a job well done.

Praise is Karma, Too
We can devote plenty of time and effort to complain about what we aren’t doing, but for some strange reason we can’t spare a high five for our accomplishments. Especially something we view as small. We equate small with inconsequential. We shouldn’t.

If you think you’re too small to make a difference,

try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.

~African Proverb

It’s so easy to recognize the significance of small steps when babies take them. But suddenly they “don’t count” when we expect we should have mastered self-discipline {or insert topic here} by now. The inner you is starting from the beginning! We don’t yell at the toddler taking her first steps, “that doesn’t count!” We say “yay!” We give smiles and hugs. We are full of congratulations. We offer encouragement for the baby to continue because she’s doing something right! She’s on the right path. When you’re taking your small step, so are you!

People often characterize karma as negative. It’s something bad that happens in response to our bad deeds. This is inaccurate. Karma simply means action. To that end, every thought, word, and deed count. What kinds of actions are you accumulating? Your negative self-talk? It counts. Those baby steps? They count, too. Every action is of consequence.

Where Are You Now?
Cultivating inner discipline means starting from where you are and taking a step. And then doing it again. And again. There’s no need to lament last week or yesterday. Don’t be overwhelmed about next week, or even tomorrow. Start from the current moment. Move forward today.  And that small step you’re planning? Congratulations in advance!

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9 thoughts on “Cultivating Inner Discipline

  1. Yes! I’m constantly trying to remind myself that the baby steps count also and not to get caught up on how I’ve previously failed. A lot of mornings, the first thing I tell myself is that today is a new day…and if I get off-track in the middle of my day, I remind myself that now is a new moment and everything can be changed. I’m still struggling with discipline but I’m also learning to be forgiving to myself. Thanks for the post

  2. I’m still struggling with discipline but I’m also learning to be forgiving to myself.

    What a beautiful sentiment, and soooo important. I think forgiveness counts as a forward step too. Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Excellent post that I needed to read right now! I need to accept the baby steps and recognize the small movements toward being a more disciplined person!

    Thanks for this!

  4. Great post! I often have to remind myself that those baby steps are just as important as reaching the final goal. I believe these steps get us there. Your post makes me think of something author Daisaku Ikeda mentions in his book, “My Dear Friends in America”. He writes (I’m paraphrasing) that fulfillment is one of the keys to happiness and continues that it occurs after we’ve completed a task we’ve set out to accomplish, which of course takes discipline.

    Thanks for your inspiring post!

    1. hi stacy! thanks for that encouragement from Sensei. :-). i have been doing some thinking about things as of late. we’ll have to catch up some time soon. i have new goals.

  5. “Every action is of consequence.” I’m letting this sit with me. I appreciate the analogy of the baby taking her first steps. It brought your point home.

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