Discipline: A Misunderstanding in Weight Loss and Health

I always appreciated a particular quote by Jim Rohn from the first day I heard it back in 2005: “We must all suffer one of two pains: either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.” I heard it at a Tony Robbins event that I participated in that was held in Orlando, Florida.

This particular quote is more than words; it is indeed a particular way of thinking. A doctrine so to speak. A mentality. It helps fuel our desire for working harder, doing the right thing. A self-help mantra, perhaps. I’ve heard this quote at banquets, seen it all over Facebook and other social media outlets, and even used it in several of my own lectures and articles.

And then I had an epiphany, and realized what I believe to be the truth. Discipline, in the case of health, is an erroneous concept. I think discipline itself is completely misunderstood and is a destined track for failure when pursuing health.

Let me explain:

The word discipline comes from two roots: (disciple + ine)

Disciple: “one who adheres to doctrines or beliefs”

ine: a suffix meaning “pertaining to” or “the nature of”

In today’s culture, here’s what discipline really means: doing something you don’t want to do because someone else believes it’s right, or doing something you don’t want to do in the absence of love.

A daily adherence to brushing my teeth takes no effort for me. It has become routine to brush my teeth in the morning and evening. I actually want to brush my teeth. In fact, if you told me I couldn’t brush my teeth anymore, I would fight you so I could. Would you say I’m disciplined because I brush my teeth daily? I also eat food every day. Because of that, would you say I’m disciplined? No, of course you wouldn’t. Why? Because eating food everyday is no sacrifice to me, and neither is brushing my teeth. In fact, these things are the opposite of sacrifice; I want to do these things. They don’t exhibit some sense of discipline in me.

In the end, we always end up doing what we want. Why we want to do it, on the other hand, is another story. Discipline in health and nutrition is doing not what you want, but what you should. Either what you think you should, or what others think you should.

When somebody says, “I should start exercising,” that pretty much means they’re not going to. Agreed?

Let me challenge you with my observation turned into understanding: a lean person with a good diet has no more discipline than a fat person with a poor diet. The difference between these two people isn’t discipline. The difference is values—or priorities—and love.

I recently read an article by Charles Poliquin, the world’s authority on strength development. He’s trained more Olympic athletes and world-record holders than all other trainers combined. He is the cream of the crop in the fitness and strength industry. In his article, he wrote the following: “There is no such thing as discipline. There is only love. Love is the most powerful creative force in the universe. You are the result of what you love most. You either love finely etched muscular abs more than donuts or you love donuts more than wash board abs you could do your laundry on. It is as simple as that.”

This quote struck a chord with me. Suddenly I could see all my current and past clients flash through my brain and quickly deciphered why some are so darn successful and others aren’t. They’ve received pretty much the same teaching. They were given the same guidelines to follow. They had the same shoulds to adhere to. And interestingly, the people that were successful didn’t think it was all that hard, while the people that weren’t as successful can fill your ear on a Sunday afternoon about how hard it was/is. The difference was not discipline.

Self-love may indeed be reflected in many different ways. I suggest it is possible that self-love may be reflected in our physical stature. Certainly there are more ways self-love is reflected, however, but for the scope of this article, we’re talking about health and body composition.

Does an overweight person who drinks eight sodas a day have less discipline than a person who doesn’t really drink any, or one very seldomly? I don’t think so. We could argue that maybe it’s education. But honestly, at this point, I don’t think anyone isn’t educated enough to realize that maybe drinking eight sodas a day isn’t good for their waistline and may perhaps be contributing to their obesity. While education plays a role, I don’t believe it is the difference. The difference is love. One person loves excessive soda more than being of normal stature and feeling good, while the other person loves feeling good and being of normal stature more than excessive amounts of soda.

It has nothing to do with discipline. Discipline is for moments here and there, but it’s no way of life.

Alcoholics don’t become non-alcoholics because of discipline. Drug users don’t get off drugs because of discipline or even education. Are you going to suggest that if you take an alcoholic or a heroin addict and tell them it’s bad for them and spend an appropriate amount of time detailing why it’s bad (education) they will turn around? Of course not. They already know it’s bad. An effort of discipline or a lesson in education isn’t going to dig them out of that hole. What will dig them out is a new belief and a new sense of self-love. A new self-identity.

Discipline, in our society, is attempting to do something you don’t really want to do. You can do this from time to time, but in the end, what you really want will always win. This is why so many people who try to lose weight struggle, or lose weight and gain it all back again. Discipline is temporary. It goes against what one wants. It’s not congruent.

It’s not hard for people to work out if they love to work out, is it? They are not disciplined because they work out, and they don’t work out because they are disciplined—despite what others might think. They work out because they love to. They love the benefits more than they love the consequences of not working out. Therefore, it’s easy. It requires no willpower. It requires no discipline.

Working out for me, for example, takes no discipline. I love it. I love myself enough to really believe it makes a positive difference in my life, more so than if I didn’t. Now, if you ask me to read a fiction novel…the chances of me being successful are pretty much zero. Why? Because I don’t want to read that novel. I could discipline myself to get through a few paragraphs or maybe a chapter, but as soon as my discipline runs out, I’m going to run away from that book as fast as I can. Kind of like after the first two days of a diet, people make up for their strict discipline on day three by completely binging.

Discipline is temporary.

Doing something over and over for the betterment of yourself isn’t discipline, it’s love.

The greatest of human achievements were not fueled by discipline. Their efforts were fueled by an enormous sense of love, or self-love, to accomplish something magnificent.

Discipline and self-love, or purpose, are inversely related. As one goes up, the other goes down.

The best athletes in the world appear to have discipline. But at the end of their careers, none of them talk about how they had more discipline than the other players. They do, however, talk about how they wanted to win more than any of the others. They loved winning so much; they would do anything to make sure it happened. Not driven by discipline, driven by love.

So, is excessive weight and obesity nothing more than a problem of self-love or purpose? Maybe. It’s definitely worth taking the time to discover the root of your motivation or lack thereof.

One Comment On “Discipline: A Misunderstanding in Weight Loss and Health”

  1. Your insight is novel and has the potential to be a breakthrough for many overweight or unfit people. But there’s a logical flaw, a kind of blurring of two concepts that works against your main point and might keep the concept/insight from working as you hope it will. You blur love for an activity (working out/brushing teeth/reading) or a product (soda/donuts) with self love. Yes, a person might stop drinking sodas or start a walking program, motivated by self love, but there’s an extra step in that equation you don’t account for. That person has to come to equate stopping soda or starting to walk with some sort of eventual benefit to herself. That’s not the same thing as starting to walk because she loves walking itself. What takes this person from loving the taste of soda to giving that up? In one place in the article, you suggest the love of flat abs. Fine. That’s a concrete, identifiable, namable thing to love. “Self love” is an abstract concept. To say “I love myself and so I’ll stop drinking soda” takes us straight back to discipline, because there isn’t a thing to love to put in place of the love of soda. Maybe I eat wonderful four course meals because of self love: I want to give myself the sensual pleasure of good food and wine, bread and cheese. That’s a legitimate form of self love. So I don’t think it’s helpful to your argument or to a person wanting to put your insight into practice to elide concrete objects of love (slim hips in a new pair of smaller sized jeans) with a nebulous, vaguely New Age spiritual concept like self love. Do I love bread and olive oil more than I love slim hips in new jeans? Maybe. But it’s a real, objective choice I can think through instead of acting on impulse and habit. Do I love bread and olive oil more than I love myself? What does that question even mean?

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