Girl looking frustrated

The Struggle with Internal Discipline and How to do Better

When we talk about being disciplined, most of it refers to the external world. This is the traditional way that the term discipline has been used.

We talk about the ways to interact and control our environment. Popular habits when we talk about discipline are things such as waking up early, consistently exercising and eating healthy. All these have one thing in common, they refer to an external aspect. The exertion of our mind over matter. I shall call this type of discipline “External Discipline” since it pertains to the external world.

As I’ve been stuck at home, I’ve realized that there is another aspect of discipline. For a lack of better word, this other aspect of discipline is “Internal Discipline”.

Internal Discipline

What is internal discipline? If traditional discipline is about the external, then internal discipline is about the internal. It’s the exercise of disciplining our mental faculties. Controlling your thoughts, emotions, and will. The primary difference between external and internal discipline is that the latter only occurs within our internal world and has no bearing on physical reality. AKA, it’s all in your head.

Conceptually speaking, it’s a bit strange to talk about disciplining yourself internally. The act of disciplining your mental faculties is a function of a mental faculty. So, we are in a funny loop of the cause-and-effect cycle being the same entity (Mental faculty is causing an effect on the mental faculty).

However, that’s not my focus for today. But I want to talk about the properties of internal discipline.

The nature of internal discipline is that it cannot be measured.

The nature of internal discipline is that it cannot be measured.

Guy on the internet.

Comparing The Two Kinds of Discipline

Contrast it to external discipline, there’s always a distinct end state. You either did it, or not. It’s either you woke up early or not. There’s clarity in whether you accomplished your task.

Furthermore, external discipline is bounded temporarily. Once you accomplish the task, you don’t need to think about it until the next scheduled time. Let’s say you managed to make your bed in the morning, the next time for you to think about it is the next morning. Until then, the thought can escape your mind and that would be all right.

But the nature of internal discipline is that there is no distinct end state. Let’s say we talk about disciplining our mind to focus. How do we know if I’m successful at focusing on the task? It is not so clear.

Moreover, you never actually stop engaging your mental faculties. You never actually “rest” from internal discipline. Let’s say your disciplining your mind to avoid negative thoughts. You can never be totally disengaged from the task because at any point, you might flip. There is no rest when practicing internal discipline.

Due to the nature of internal discipline affecting only the internal world, it is vague and undefined. The boundaries between success and failure becomes thin. This phenomenon results in my primary struggle with internal discipline.

The ease of deceiving oneself.

The Art Of Deceiving Oneself

The nature of managing your internal world is this, it is by far the easiest domain that we can practice self- deception. We can lie to ourselves thinking that we have successfully managed our internal world, when in reality we do not.

Furthermore, not only you can deceive yourself. You can deceive the people around you.
It is only when the chaos of your internal world start seeping into the external world. But at that point, it might be too late.

The solution? Brutal Self Honesty.

My Mind and I

I’ve managed myself to externally discipline myself. I exercise consistently, I ensure that I’m always up to date in my diary and follow a sustainable diet.

However, if there’s one issue that has been resurfacing lately, it would be my wandering mind.

As I’ve been stuck at home, I’m always on the computer and have become a compulsive snacker in my content consumption. Regardless of what I’m doing, if a though drops into my mind, I’ll stop what I’m currently doing and satisfy my “mental cravings”. Let’s say for a given hour. I constantly switch attention every 3 minutes. I check my phone, I go read news, I head to the bathroom. The number of distractions I have are endless. Soon after, my mind is completely exhausted from all that context switching.

I used to be able to concentrate on reading a book for an extended period.

Heck.

Last time, I could play computer games for 2 to 3 hours uninterrupted. Now even playing computer games, the most engaging medium on earth, I still need to check my Whatsapp every 15 minutes.

Person playing computer games.
I can’t even play games anymore without being distracted.
Photo by Axville on Unsplash

I mourn for the loss of my sustained attention.


This has gotten me reading a bunch of books recently. Deep work by Cal Newport, Indistractable by Nir Eyal and The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Books that are relevant to focus, internet, and social media usage. (All of them are great BTW)

As I digest the content slowly, I’ve concluded that the fitness of my mind is equivalent to a fat pig. Slow and Lethargic.

I can easily lie to myself and nobody will need to know. Hiding it from the world is easy.

I can easily lie to myself and nobody will need to know.

Some guy from the internet

Yet, I must be brutally honest to myself. I’m responsible for my own internal world, Me and me alone. There’s some internal discipline that needs to be done in my world.

2 thoughts on “The Struggle with Internal Discipline and How to do Better

  1. Christine

    I love this! A good reminder to check our mind and heart condition. Sometimes we get so caught up in our physical actions that we forget that the most important battle is the one in our heads.

    Reply

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