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Friday, August 29, 2008

Self Discipline And Mental Health

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Self discipline and mental health
Mark Tyrrell
"Do it if it feels good!"
"Don't do anything you don't want to do!"
"I know I should exercise/work/practise,
but when it comes to it I just don't feel like it!"
"Yeah, the money would be good,
but I'm not getting up at that time!"

Self discipline is not a new idea. There is an old story about a man who went to a tattooist
because he had always wanted a tattoo of a lion on his back.
The tattooist started to sketch the tail into the man's torso: `Ouch! What are you doing?' asked
the man. `I'm doing the lion's tail' replied the tattooist. `Well then, for goodness sake let's have
a lion without a tail!' said the man, wincing in pain.
Next the artist set about on the lion's whiskers. `Ouch!' cried the man, `What's that?' `The
whiskers!' said the tattooist, getting increasingly irritated. `Well, let's have a lion without
whiskers!' moaned his customer.
The tattooist then set about doing the lion's back. `No, that hurts too!' shouted the man. At
this, the tattooist finally lost patience with the man's lack of self discipline. Throwing down his
tools and the man out of his shop, he shouted, `How can you expect to get what you want
without a little discomfort?'
Self discipline gets you what you want
One meaning of this story may be to show how handicapped you are if you base your
decisions purely on your comfort level. If we don't develop the capacity for self discipline we
deprive ourselves of not only greater likelihood of success, but also larger and lasting
Knowing we can discipline ourselves over and above what feels comfortable increases self
confidence. We need to be stretched as much as we need comfort and rest.
"Don't have a wishbone where your backbone should be!"
Depression and self discipline
Over recent decades rates of depression have sky-rocketed but during World War II,
depression and suicide rates dwindled almost to zero.
Winston Churchill could only offer the British people `blood, sweat and tears' but victory was
the greater goal for the whole nation, and so the discomfort it brought could be borne. There
was no concept of not working because you didn't feel like it, and rationing imposed discipline
even upon eating patterns.
Self Discipline and Mental Health


TV discipline
TV shows such as `Brat Camp', `Career Boot Camp' and `Faking It' have demonstrated the
incredible changes in ability and self esteem that can come about from short periods of
imposed `self' discipline. On these shows, personal preferences are set aside in pursuit of a
longer term goal. They demonstrate that exercising the `muscle' of self discipline hurts at first
but pays dividends once it's in shape.
Long term benefits over short term preferences
We know that the quickest way to raise serotonin levels in a depressed individual (a
neurotransmitter involved in mood elevation, emotion control and the ability to feel satisfied) is
to get them moving - the quicker and longer they move, the more serotonin they produce.
However, exercise is the last thing a depressed person feels like doing. This is where the
capacity to put aside short term preferences for long term benefits comes into its own.
(Someone who is deeply depressed may need to recover from the depression a little through
relaxation and proper rest before they begin to gain energy through exercise.)
Increase your capacity
Like any capacity the more we use self discipline, the stronger it gets. Imagine your own life
for a few moments if what you did was dictated entirely by whether you felt like doing it or not!
What exactly would you do? And more importantly what wouldn't you do?
The more we do things we don't want to do, the more we are able to do: "It is the exercised
muscle that lifts the weight!"
We are bombarded by commercials tempting us with beautiful products without indication of
the effort, dedication, self discipline and time - "I want it and I want it now!" - required to
purchase such products. (Neither do the commercials, quite naturally, show us taking the
product for granted after only a few weeks and ceasing to be satisfied by it.)
Getting something is usually short term satisfaction compared to the inner rewards of the
effort applied in acquiring it.
We are told not to `overdo it!' but how do we know what `over doing it' is if we have never
used self discipline to push ourselves? The best candidate for psychotherapy is someone
who is willing to work with the therapist, to try new things and be active in their own recovery.
Otherwise, like the man who wanted a tattoo they will not end up with what they want.
Rant over, I'm off to make that phone call I have been putting off. Honest.


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