Why Self-Discipline is Important

Bertha and the Bear

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you might get the idea that I love structure. I do. I love productivity, organization, order, and I try to be as disciplined as possible. When some people hear this, they think that my life is boring.

They equate a disciplined life of structure to feelings of entrapment. Before I get into my thoughts on the topic, I want to tell you a story.

It’s a hot, sunny day out, and the bees are buzzing. There's one bee I'd like to focus on in particular: Bertha. Bertha is buzzing by her hive with some other bees. They're just relaxing and having a good time. Like the other bees, Bertha may have some aspirations of doing great things one day. I can’t really say, bees probably don’t have the ability to think those kind of thoughts.

Suddenly, a bear starts to approach her hive. The bear is hungry for some honey and bee eggs. In an attempt to save her hive, Bertha stings the bear. Unfortunately, its skin is so thick that when she tries to pull her stinger out, she dismembers herself and dies.

The sad part about this story is that Bertha had no choice. Through years of evolutionary wiring, she has evolved to sting threats. It’s an instinctual reaction to a dangerous situation. She has no idea that her stinger will get stuck and that she’ll die. If she had known she would have died, she might have flown away and saved her own life. We can't really say. Because of their reduced consciousness, bees are - in a way - prisoners to their own biology.

Humans, Discipline, and Rational Thinking

Unlike bees, humans have the ability to override their primal urges through self-discipline. Let's say that someone has long term desires to be in a deep and loving relationship, create a meaningful career that they love, and have a healthy body. Along each step of that journey, they are tempted by short-term pleasures such as porn, junk food, or video games. Deep down they really want the life that comes in the long-term, yet they keep succumbing to short term pleasures. Self-discipline can serve as a bridge between these two positions. We’re lucky that, as humans, we have the ability to practice self-discipline. It gives us the freedom to achieve what we truly want in life and allows us to overcome some of our primal urges. 

Supernormal Stimuli

It's time to add some drama to the story! Companies are aware of our instinctual urges and use this against us by using supernormal stimuli. An example of supernormal stimuli is junk food.

Our ancestors were wired to seek out and enjoy fat, salty, and sugary foods because it was so scarce at the time. These days, companies are adding more fats, sugars, and salts than ever before in order to make us desire their unhealthy concoctions. Social media - and the internet as a whole - is another form of supernormal stimuli.

Humans are wired to seek out novelty. For our ancestors, novelty could often lead to more knowledge about the world. Knowledge often lead to more wisdom and wisdom helped us thrive as a species. It has its usefulness. However, the internet has been designed to take advantage of this desire for novelty by showing you more novelty than you could ever dream of. Every page links out to more pages with more novelty. Every video links to a new video with even more novelty. Video games do the same thing. 

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that video games - like first person shooters and massively multiplayer online role playing games - imitate environments that would be similar to the ones our ancestors navigated in the past, but supernormal versions of them. Yet, we can get greater feelings of accomplishment in videos games with a lot less work. You may have also noticed that most modern video games have a steady stream of achievements that show up on the screen. It's likely that companies are aware that these achievements will motivate players to keep playing.

Not only are we being sabotaged by our own primal urges, but we're being targeted by corporations seeking to take advantage of us and make a profit. On the plus side, you and I are not like the bee. With self-discipline, we can live the life we truly want. We have the choice to be free.