Often when I write about a book, especially a personal development book, I leave off the subtitle. More often than not, it’s an extremely long string of words that was designed by a marketing team to sell the book, and really doesn’t do the book justice. And perhaps even more frustrating, it rarely fits into my nicely designed email header. As an example, the full title of Matthew Kelly’s book is Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons For Enduring Happiness. Occasionally though, the subtitle (in this case, 9 lessons for enduring happiness) is perhaps as important as the title itself. This is one of those books. There is nothing on the cover more pertinent to the contents of Perfectly Yourself than that little word “happiness”.
In the English language, we have a habit of blurring or twisting the meaning of words to define something entirely different than was originally intended. I’m sure you can think of a dozen examples in pop culture. One of the subtle confusions that we often use is the distinction between happiness and pleasure. In one of the most succinct and clear definitions I’ve heard, Mr. Kelly sums it up as follows:
Unlike pleasure, which is satisfying for the moment, but quickly fades, “happiness can be sustained beyond the activity producing the happiness.” Pg 44.
And that’s the difference; subtle, and yet understanding the definition of each could mean the difference between lasting happiness and nagging unrest.
The Big Idea
People have made fortunes from selling diet and exercise programs, relationship counseling and dating services, and other “miraculous quick fixes” for the issues we all wrestle with. Here’s the truth (and brace yourself) – there is no quick fix. You can’t reach and maintain your ideal body weight with a pill or through “just 20 minutes of exercise twice a week!” and you certainly can’t find a deep and lasting relationship through a late-night 1-900 infomercial. So that’s the bad news. The good news is that the real weight loss/relationship building/stop smoking program is about to be shared with you for free. Ready? Here’s the secret: Be Disciplined.
The truth is, we already know what we need to do to solve whatever’s bothering us. If we want to lose weight, we need to cut down on fatty foods and exercise more. If we want to save money, we need to set a realistic budget and stick to it. If we want to stop smoking, we need to… well, stop smoking.
So if it’s that easy, why are people so attracted to the “quick fix” solution? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that while we know what we need to do to fix our situations, we are often daunted by the challenge of what’s required. Instead, we turn to “professionals” and “programs”, hoping they will be easier and faster.
Every year there’s a new diet program or a new exercise machine that’s garnering all types of media coverage, and being touted as “the new great cure-all”. You should stop to ask yourself – what happened to last year’s model?
There is only one true diet program with pure, lasting results – discipline.
Here are a few tips on growing your level of self discipline:
“Just do the next right thing”
Often times, enforcing strict self discipline can be quite challenging. Partially this is mental; setting a goal of going to the gym three times a week for a year can be daunting. The other reason is that people typically don’t follow through on their commitments due to habit… or lack thereof. It’s important to remember that it takes time for your body and mind to adapt to your new routine. For both the daunting commitment, and the lack of established habits, one small mantra can be incredibly effective; “Just do the next right thing.” When the time comes to go to the gym for an hour, or sit on the couch for an hour, simply think to yourself “just do the next right thing”. The “next right thing” isn’t always the easiest thing, but if you pause to ask yourself what will bring you pleasure, and what will bring you happiness, very quickly you will begin to train your body and mind to pursue your happiness.
If there’s any confusion as to what the “next right thing” might be, I find it helpful to look at the cause of a decision. What is it that has motivated you to think of that potential course of action? So often, we can justify our decisions in the moment, and pursue pleasure rather than happiness. Don’t think about what you’ll “get out of it” or “if you deserve it”, but instead focus on what has motivated you to this decision. If the motive is not in line with your objectives, it is probably not the next right thing. Combined with good planning, “Just do the next right thing” will allow you to simplify decisions and make stronger, faster, more focused progress.
Before moving on from this topic, I think it’s important to note that no one is perfect. You will slip. You will, at times, make the wrong decision and pursue pleasure rather than happiness. You need to be gentle on yourself and reflect on why you made that choice, rather than beating yourself up about it. Learn from it, move on.
Master the moment of decision.
Here’s a thought that some of you already know, and yet others will refuse to believe; We have complete and utter control over the way in which we react to a situation.
In fact, it’s one of the few things we do have complete control over in our lives. The events themselves, and the outcome of activities we really don’t, but the way in which we react to them – absolutely. There is a moment – less than an instant for some people – between when we experience something, and when we react to it. It is in this moment that we have the ability to choose our reaction. You’ve heard of this moment already; you know people with short fuses and long fuses, you’ve heard it suggested that people “count to ten” before reacting. The truth of the matter is that people with “long fuses” simply have greater awareness of that “reactionary moment” and can control their responses accordingly. Here’s the good news – no matter how your temper is now, you can develop it to exactly where you want it to be. Matthew Kelly offers this advice on how to take control of your reactions:
Celebrate your ability to control your temper by consciously expanding the moment that exists between an event and your reaction to it. When things do not go exactly as you would like them to, pause before reacting, breathe deeply and remind yourself that in the grand scheme of human history this is just one moment, then walk away from the situation to collect yourself if necessary. If a situation genuinely requires you to unleash your temper, do so by conscious choice and do so in a controlled way. Master your temper.
Paraphrased from Perfectly Yourself, page 149
Incredibly important and yet extremely undervalued in our society, self-discipline truly is the cornerstone of personal growth and development. When we think of a person of strong character, we imagine traits like honesty, patience, integrity and trustworthiness. I ask you this – how is it possible to develop these traits, or any others, without control over our actions and desires? Matthew Kelly talks about Love in his chapter on self discipline. His theory is that in order to love fully, we must be able to give ourselves fully to another individual. If we do not have control over our actions or addictions, we are not in complete ownership of ourselves. How can we give fully that which we do not control fully? Either we control our actions, or our actions control us. Using the tips above, as well as the countless others found in Perfectly Yourself, I encourage you to discover the inherent joy of gaining control over your desires and whims. Discover the freedom of discipline.