Can self-discipline really be a form of self-care?


We’ve now been coping with the pandemic for an entire year and many of us are starting to deeply feel its residual, possibly subtle yet highly complex effects. When COVID first exploded, some of us (especially the introverts) may have enjoyed the extra time at home either alone or with our families, less time commuting, and overall less busy schedules; and while some of us might still be enjoying some parts of physical isolation  - it’s highly likely that we’re also feeling exhausted, emotionally depleted, and uninspired. We might be trying to find new ways to keep ourselves engaged and motivated in our lives, including identifying better ways to deal with the profound stress and anxiety levels hovering inside and around us. 

When we’re struggling the most is when self-care is even more necessary to incorporate regularly into our routines. Though we hear the word self-care thrown around often, citing baths, massages, food, exercise, retail therapy and more as potential options - sometimes the best and most effective self-care is as simple as keeping your word to yourself. 

Here’s the thing - self-discipline is often misinterpreted as a habit of “doing” something over and over for reasons that are extrinsically motivated (read: because someone or something said that you “should,” or only in exchange for the promise of some reward like money or status). Rather, the type of self-discipline we’re talking about here is intrinsically-motivated: meaning, you invest the time and energy in doing the thing you said you were going to do because you’re personally motivated to achieve a given goal. 

Self-discipline is respecting yourself enough to choose to build the life you want over and over. In essence, effective self-care can be ignoring temporary temptations that might actually steer you away from something bigger that you deeply desire in your life. One example of a temporary distraction would be staying deep in the cozy depths of your couch and Netflix just because you’re comfortable and not “feeling like” doing the thing you told yourself you were going to do (e.g. spending 15 minutes each day learning a new language or skill). 

Next time you’re faced with the decision to keep your word to yourself and feel the opposing draw towards instant gratification, remember that your relationship with yourself is the most important one you’ll ever have. Keep in mind that following through on your own commitments is one of the highest forms of self-respect. You wouldn’t flake out on promises to others, so why would you do so to yourself? 

We hear you - sometimes you just want to unwind and melt into the art of doing nothing. While there is certainly an essential need for rest, relaxation, and gentleness with yourself - self-care is not just letting yourself off the hook every time. Meaningful self-care is a balance of giving yourself the gift of the future you want by regularly working towards the goals that will get you there and practicing self-compassion when you need to rest.

Have a self-care cheat sheet and use it when you’re feeling “blah.” Sometimes it can be difficult to identify why you’re feeling a certain negative way, so have a plan for reinvigorating yourself and put it into action when necessary. Generally we feel this way when one or more of our inherent needs aren’t being met - and it’s much more difficult to figure out what you need in-the-moment of not feeling great. Make a happiness list where you write down 5-10 things that reliably bring you joy. Consult this when you’re feeling off and trust that you know how to meet your own needs. 

In short, self-care is loving and respecting yourself. This means saying no when you need to. Nurture your physical, mental, and emotional health and find what brings you joy and do that regularly. Connect with others in meaningful ways. 

The words self-discipline and self-care aren’t often associated with each other, but sticking to the goals and dreams you have for yourself (even if it means resisting short-lived yet pleasurable distractions) is one of the most powerful ways you can honor who you are and what you want.