Mindful Self-Discipline is about doing what is good for you. The challenge is, what is good does not always feel good; and what feels good is not always good. Therefore, we need to make decisions based on how things are, regardless of how they feel. For that we need to separate the search for what is good from the search for what is comfortable.
A recurring theme of self-discipline is the willingness to go through discomfort—be it physical, mental, or emotional. It’s the ability to experience uncomfortable emotions, without letting it stop you from doing what you need to do. This is key. In the words of a friend and podcast guest, Dr. Rick Hanson (PhD), “the limits of our life are the limits of the emotions we are unwilling to feel”.
If you are willing to feel everything, without resistance and without running away, self-discipline becomes easy because you then have the superpower of “acting regardless”. You can choose to act regardless of fear, boredom, laziness, tiredness, doubt, etc. You just keep on moving forward, no matter what.
You can train yourself to be like that. One of the ways to do that is to practice what the Stoic philosopher Epictetus calls voluntary discomfort. It is deliberately putting yourself through uncomfortable situations so that discomfort no longer holds you back. You basically schedule a form of sacrifice into your daily routine, until it ceases to feel like a sacrifice. This builds great willpower and emotional resilience. Another Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, called it voluntary hardship.
If the fitness adage of pain is weakness leaving your body is true, then we can also say that discomfort is weakness leaving your mind. Move toward meaningful pain, not away from it. This will make you stronger.
(Note: please don’t go overboard with this, and don’t do anything silly. It’s about developing strong willpower, and not becoming a masochist or hurting yourself. Be mindful.)
Choose one difficult thing to do every day. Once that becomes easy, then choose something else. Always exercise your willpower muscle, and never fall into inertia. (See the list here for examples. And again: always keep things balanced so you don’t burn out.)
Once you overcome attachment to comfort, your life becomes much easier. Whether you feel comfortable or not doesn’t matter that much anymore. As a result, you need less stuff. You complain less. You fearless. You are more content with everything. And you are naturally more disciplined.
Paradoxically, choosing discomfort makes your life more comfortable. You become more carefree, and your threshold for discomfort becomes much higher. What used to be uncomfortable in the past will now feel like nothing.
Many people seek to become financially independent—and that’s great. Even better, though, is to become comfort independent. For true wealth is not endless money in the bank, but endless contentment in your heart.