Friday, February 15, 2013


My band teacher occasionally says wise things in an alienating way.

"Discipline is not something that others can force on you. It's something that you have within yourself, that makes you bring your instrument home every day to practice without being told. I encourage you all to work on your own internal discipline...before I yell at you to stop talking in the middle of a rehearsal!"



It's been a rough week. I have not behaved myself in accordance with my principles, and I've fallen behind on various things I'm doing on my own - and in consequence, I feel dissatisfied. I almost didn't start writing this post, because I thought I should catch up. But it's a long weekend, plenty of time to do research, and the discipline of sitting down to write a post every week outweighs the external motivation of school. Not sure if that makes sense anywhere but in my head; I've just spent an hour making breakthroughs in my physics homework and I don't have much left in the way of mental faculties.


Discipline. In the fall, I was reading some philosophy books, and as Europe progressed the philosophy became more and more abstract and less and less applicable. Because everyone is reactionary in some way, I turned to the stalwart Aurelius to set me straight.

In connection with those readings, I started thinking about my personal philosophy, some weird amalgamation of Aurelius and Nietzsche and Goss. And I found a phrase, a refrain that surfaces every so often when my mind is in a lull:

The highest virtue is self-control.


I am not sure if I believe that completely. But it's something concrete that I can hold on to, that I can use to help me make decisions. When faced with two options, choose the one that you know is good for you but that you don't want to do. Like going to sleep instead of reading another list of 101.3 things to do with index cards, or abstaining from taking anything from your friend's lunch.

Lest I sound like I'm bragging, let me declare that I often do undisciplined, sometimes downright stupid, things. So I have not yet attained the highest virtue.

But I have noticed that whenever I make steps in that direction (i.e. do things that require discipline) I feel more stable. Discipline can be thought of as an endoskeleton, the thing inside of you that gives you your structure and allows you to get things done (in which case I suppose it is also the muscles...this image wants refining). External systems, what school calls discipline (punishment, consequences) is an exoskeleton, or padded armor, intended to stop you from hurting yourself or others.

Last year I had my school's hardest PE teacher. This year, though I exercise on a fairly regular basis for fencing, I know I have undergone atrophy. I think I should start working on getting back into shape, because when you are fit (the physical equivalent of being mentally disciplined, though there is overlap) it feels better. You're not fighting against your corpus.

Another way to state the "highest virtue" is that you must get and stay in shape in all areas of your life.

I do not mean that you must always be disciplined, never indulge yourself, &c. Constantly doing "the right thing" sounds like a fast route to burnout; as Goss says, "You have to treat yourself as though you were someone you loved."

Still, I don't think that principle cannot be unified with the one of discipline as the highest virtue. Had I perfect discipline, I'd keep a regular sleep schedule, which certainly would be taking better care of myself than I do now.

On that note, I must go. Discipline involves knowing when you have to stop, when you've passed your point of maximum efficiency and need to recharge. It is the 20-mile march all over. You can put something down, knowing that the next day you'll be back at it, working steadily to bring yourself closer, asymptotically, to your distant, highest ideal.


  1. Inspiring.
    Mens sana in corpore fact i felt so much better when i exercised 'regularly' (i realize it's kind of a joke saying 'regularly' since it was just 10 minutes per day but still), i stopped in december but i'm going to start again, tonight! Maybe this time i'll manage to keep at it for at least six months, i mean it's just 10 minutes a day after all. are you keeping your corpore sano right now? please do if you aren't, we'll both start again today and we'll feel so much better.
    Anyway discipline is a tricky thing, those who don't have it live a much carefree life, but statistically most of them are underachievers. For those of us who have it, or want to have it, discipline is a great gift, it can make us overachievers for sure, it can make us feel satisfied with ourselves when 'we've been good' and got what we wanted...but it's a bitch (forgive my french) when there's that period of time when you just find yourself slacking a bit and you feel super guilty about it. i know all about that and it's not pretty.
    oh well, about that...i've been reading this blog for hours, it's almost midnight here and i'm supposed to exercise for ten minutes before going to sleep. i'm supposed to wake up fresh and relaxed cause today is the only no-study day i've taken since october (i mean i've studied just for a couple of hours today which basically is a no-study day for me), i'm supposed to seriously start studying again tomorrow so...discipline! I'm going to bed!

    Good night, take care :)

    p.s. sorry every time i comment it's a mile long, i think it's a genetic thing running in italians, we just don't have the ability of concision.

    1. Ten minutes a day is better than an hour once a week. Exercising before bed is what I do too - I'd like to do it in the morning since that seems as though it would give you more energy for the day, but I never seem to remember. Oops.

      Yes to everything you say about discipline being a bitch (I'll forgive your french if you forgive mine (: ) when we aren't running at 100%. The "should you be doing this?" loop in my head makes it so hard to enjoy anything...

      I like your long comments! Un abbraccio forte. :)