Deconstructing Self-Discipline

Note: This post is part of my "philosophy bites" series that expands my social media posts about philosophical topics into blog form. These are not academic essays with a plethora of footnotes and agonizingly constructed arguments, but I do hope they spark conversation. Please remember to share, like, and comment! The original instagram post can be found here.


The way we talk about self-discipline is tied up with a few intellectual trends:


* The age of individualism (self-esteem, self-discipline, self-hatred, self-righteousness, self-love);


* The division of the self into separate parts— Plato’s tripartite soul, the higher self and lower self, the “fallen” human and divine grace, or in modern neuroscience parlance, the “ape brain” versus the pre-frontal cortex;


* Capitalist conceptions of individual exertion and the maximization of productivity;


* America’s puritan heritage that views desire and pleasure with suspicion;


* And sexist dualities that identifies the woman with the fleshy and pleasurable, and subsequent fear of the woman/ fear of pleasure.


The problem with discipline is that it refuses the whole-presenced pleasure of the Now in favor of an abstract future goal. In other words, it rebels against life itself. It delays pleasure until pleasure can be deserved. But pleasure can never be deserved! Pleasure is simply full belonging to the fleshy, sensual moment; it is the natural state of all embodied creatures.


The more you delay pleasure, the more you betray your misunderstanding of life. Life is the reward for life!

The reward is in the intense burn of a difficult workout (rather than a far-off ideal of a perfect body), the reward is in the deep focus on a difficult project (rather than the financial or personal payoff), the reward is in fasting (rather than in future feasting).


And when you start making changes with pleasure as your guide, your habits are more sustainable because you are working with a natural state rather than trying to bend or control it. Focus on expanding more complex, deep, and long-lasting pleasures rather than the fast and mindless varieties. Focus on facing life with joy and involvement rather than shame and delay.


How do you feel about the distinction between discipline and pleasure? Do you have negative or positive associations with these words? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


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