Most discussions of ethics center on what you do or don’t do. You compare your actions against various ethical standards and deem your actions as either right or wrong. Although it sounds simple enough, there is a sense of tension and uncertainty in any discussion of ethics because every person brings all kinds of other “stuff” to the table such as his or her personal feelings, experiences, values, and principles (not to mention the situation at hand). The end result is a short-term focus on the behavior itself rather than on anything bigger or meaningful. People have widely different ethical standards, and interpretations. So, instead of asking yourself, “Am I ethical or not?” you might try asking yourself, “Do I have discipline in my life or not?”
Rather than talking about ethics in light of what a person should do, we should consider ethics in terms of what the results are when a person has a disciplined life. Consider the advantage of achieving good ethics, not by merely completing a list of do’s and don’ts, but by achieving it as a natural byproduct of a disciplined life. That takes the pressure off. It turns gray areas into no-brainers. This is the kind of internalized ethical response that we hope to achieve. It involves more than just the right response to the right situation, but the personal character that dictates our responses on a consistent basis.
Discipline is good. Of course, having a disciplined life is not just about good ethics. Losing weight, quitting smoking, getting more sleep, reducing stress and a host of other behaviors require discipline. The common denominator in all these is that living a disciplined life usually helps you rather than hurts you. It is what we do to divert ourselves from a life of instant gratification, reactionary living, and stagnation.Living a disciplined life is something that everyone can achieve. To help, start with these three steps: obedience, order, and self control.
Being disciplined shows obedience to something. You need to know and adopt basic standards of right behavior for your life. You can’t have discipline without some standard by which you measure your progress. In an ethical sense, you need to know what is right and wrong and then consciously choose to do right. Your moral standards must be concrete and unequivocal. They can’t be a moving target.
Discipline is about restoring order to your life. This is what discipline does and this is the first step in doing it. We must set up our lives for success. Oftentimes, because we live life without order, we live for the moment and are doomed to only react to situations. In the physical world, we create order by staying organized, setting up systems, being efficient, and structuring our day and our physical space so that we have control. Ethically, we bring order by behaving in an ethically predictable way, having systems and steps in place to solve problems, knowing the rules and resources available, and having confidence in who we are. When we add order to our world, we retain control and make a disciplined life easier to achieve.
No matter what you do, living a disciplined life will not occur without self control. There’s no easy path to self control. There’s no magic pill or mental exercise that will take you past that final step toward a disciplined life other than good ol’ fashioned self control. Although clearly defining your standards and achieving order will certainly help, the hard work of training the mind and resisting temptation puts the ball completely in the court of the individual. The good news is that the more self control you practice, the easier it will get. If you have lived your life with little self control until now, doing so may feel like an addict going cold turkey. But no matter how hard it may seem, it will be worth it because the change inside will be long lasting and truly meaningful.
The funny thing about discipline is that it can’t be accomplished by anyone else but us. We have to want it. Unfortunately, most of us approach ethics out of fear of punishment. Outwardly imposed discipline is not discipline but mere punishment. There is a sense of freedom that comes with a disciplined life. On the surface, the words “freedom” and “discipline” seem contradictory, but in fact, they are not. One who practices a disciplined life has much more freedom than the person who does not. Worry and uncertainty is reduced. The person who practices discipline has a handle on things. Discipline brings a sense of peace in face of an ethical crisis.
Consider ethics as not something that has to be done, but a natural result of a life of discipline. You don’t have to “be good”, rather you “become good.” It is a state of being that you can achieve if you set your mind to it.