SELF-CARE OR SELF-DISCIPLINE?

Like many who will read this post, I have thinking about changes I would like to make as we begin another New Year. I’m not making a list of resolutions as such – they never seem to last very long for me – but I have been thinking about the two concepts of self-care and self-discipline.

Obviously I’m not a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a trained counselor; but at the age of 68 I’m experienced enough to know that it would be in my best interest to make some changes. I’ve been asking myself if I need more self-care or more self-discipline; and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need more of both.

Self-care and self-discipline are not exactly the same thing, but they do have a lot in common as they overlap in many ways. Let me share some things I’ve come across as I have been reading about both.

One observer defines self-care as “activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” For those who might think of self-care in terms of something negative, Agnes Wainman explains “it is something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” Neither is self-care being selfish. We take care of ourselves so that we can care for and contribute to our loved ones and others.

Serious self-care involves practices and activities that we include as well as those we exclude. To take care of ourselves we have to identify those things that do not contribute to our well-being and cut back on them or totally eliminate them. At the same time we need to incorporate activities and practices that do contribute to our well-being.

The three practices that are most often mentioned in connection with physical health include healthy eating, getting adequate sleep, and physical exercise. (Of the three, the one I most need to pay attention to is healthy eating. Having diabetes ups the ante when it comes to healthy eating.)

But self-care is not just about our physical health, but also about our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Specific suggestions for these other three avenues of health are not as obvious or talked about as much as those for one’s physical health. Most of us know what would be helpful for our spiritual health, it’s just a matter of doing it. My sense is that for mental health we should regularly read to feed our minds and challenge our thinking. In terms of our emotional health, I’m thinking we should make sure we spend time with people who are encouraging and uplifting rather than just those who are negative and depressing.

A basic definition of self-discipline is “the ability to make yourself do things when you should, even if you do not want to do them.” I don’t particularly like this definition and would prefer something along the lines of “self-discipline is the resolve to choose to do things you should do even if and when they are not pleasant.”

Self-discipline is very similar to self-control; and the emphasis upon self suggests we do or not do something without needing anyone else to tell us to do or not to do it. Like self-care, self-discipline is about both doing some things and not doing others.

Self-improvement author Remez Sasson explains “Self-discipline appears in various forms, such as perseverance, restraint, endurance, thinking before acting, finishing what you start doing, and as the ability to carry out one’s decisions and plans.” He adds what most of us have heard all our lives, “One of the main characteristics of self-discipline is the ability to forgo instant and immediate gratification and pleasure, in favor of some greater gain or more satisfying results, even if this requires effort and time.”

True self-discipline is an expression of inner strength that enables a person to be more patient, tolerant, understanding, and considerate. It also helps us withstand external pressure and influence.

One final thought on self-discipline from mental skills coach H.A. Dorfman, “Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear and self-doubt.”

If you have read so far, I hope your thinking has been stimulated regarding self-care and self-discipline. And if appropriate for you, I encourage you to give consideration to taking some steps forward in terms of both self-care and self-discipline. Neither is something that just happens – we need to be intentional. As like so much in life, self-care and self-discipline take practice!

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