One Secret to Self-Discipline

According to a 2013 study by Wilhelm Hoffman, people with high self control are happier than those without. The study discovered this is true because the self disciplined subjects were more capable of dealing with goal conflicts. These people spent less time debating whether to indulge in behaviors detrimental to their health, and were able to make positive decisions more easily. The self disciplined did not allow their choices to be dictated by impulses or feelings. Instead, they made informed, rational decisions on a daily basis without feeling overly stressed or upset.

It’s a good point but what’s not so easy is identifying and defeating the inner obstacles that prevent you from establishing the self-discipline in the first place.  Obstacles tend to be cloaked to various degrees in the depths of your unconscious and manifest themselves in ways that aren’t always recognizable or easily overcome.

One interesting method for dealing with this is through Jungian active imagination exercises. For Jung, the internal processes of the psyche could be engaged once the patient develops a clear mental picture of them and in fact gives them a coherent form and even a personality through his or her imagination. Here’s how Jung himself described the process:

“[The patient] must make himself as conscious as possible of the mood he is in, sinking himself in it without reserve and noting down on paper all the fantasies and other associations that come up. Fantasy must be allowed the freest possible play, yet not in such a manner that it leaves the orbit of its object, namely the affect, by setting off a kind of ‘chain-reaction’ association process.”

After doing this, the patient engages in an active dialogue with the ‘character’, a dialogue which leads to better self-understanding, clarity, and ultimately, consciousness. In the case of the self-discipline issue, it’s possible to identify the element in the psyche which is interfering or undermining your efforts, causing you to abandon your cherished and meaningful projects in favor of other trivial or distracting activities. You can then begin a dialogue with this ‘character’, discovering its motives, tendencies, ways of operating — all of which will then (in theory) become more subject to your conscious control and understanding. One thing to recognize is that this process is often a formidable and ongoing battle — these inner forces are slippery, protean, and resistant to command. They often change form and take on new guises, like Proteus, the old god of the sea, who as a shape shifter, struggled in different forms with whomever bound him and forced him to answer a question.

However, like Proteus, the inner ‘character’ will ultimately submit – if you keep up with the active imagination exercise. And in so doing, you’ve already established a kind of discipline….

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