In author and life coach Debra Smouse’s article, “The Art of Compassionate Discipline,” she treats compassionate discipline as a necessary practice in order for us to live our best lives. Responding to overly quoted ‘self-love’ phrases like “Stop doing the things you hate and follow your bliss,” she writes: “to be constantly permissive and give into every whim is irresponsible. It’s also self-neglect, not self-love. That’s giving in to your inner two-year old, and if that were the case, we’d all have chips and chocolate every day for dinner and wear a ballerina tutu to run errands.”
Her argument is that our best lives necessitate harmony – on the one hand, being kind to ourselves is key, but on the other, we need to do things we don’t like doing, which results in further kindness to ourselves.
Love Yourself Enough to Be Your Own Parent
When you don’t have anybody to take care of you, then you could go both ways: You could do whatever you want, or you could take charge and be your own parent.
– Jennifer Lawrence
Doing your laundry is not fun, but having nice smelling clothes is delightful. Vacuuming your entire house is strenuous, but walking up and down clear stairs every day is heavenly. Washing your dishes and wiping the surfaces down when you are in a rush is a nipping annoyance, but coming home to a dish-free sink and uncluttered sides makes cooking a lovely meal easy.
Jennifer Lawrence was right to give us the advice to be our own parents. They’re perhaps the only people who will ever be fully honest with us by telling us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear. They may do it lovingly, they may do it coldly, but either way they’re usually doing it because they care.
Compassionate discipline is about being that person for yourself.
Ever tricked yourself into eating junk food with the words “I deserve it”? Or “treat yourself”? Even when you know full well you haven’t done anything to deserve treats?
No good parent would shower their naughty child with sweets – unless of course they just wanted to shut them up, which makes a bad parent as well as a bad child. When your inner child is being bad, you need an unshakable inner parent to make you good again. You need to be there for yourself when no one else is. You need to be your own anchor and rock. Otherwise you get nothing worthwhile done.
This is not to say “Never treat yourself”, but rather treat yourself when the time is right. A well-earned day of relaxation and your favorite take-out is a luxury. Don’t cheapen that luxury by making it commonplace.
Your parents were right
Being your own parent, then, is about getting up when you don’t want to, to do the things that will benefit you in the long run but in the moment might suck.
Ask any successful person and they will tell you: success doesn’t happen overnight; it happens after a series of bitesize steps taken in a disciplined fashion that most people refuse to adopt.
While the rest are convincing themselves how much they deserve five nights in a row of pizza and Netflix, the disciplined ones are working and eating well, with a little luxury slotted in-between.
One of my luxuries, for example, is coffee. I don’t drink too much, two a day max, but that is something I will not change. For me, it is a ritual, each sip a centering act. I call it gratitude in a cup, because I am never as grateful, nor my senses as sharp and wide open to the world around me, as when I’ve had a cup of coffee.
For others it’s tea, wine, or maybe a can of Coke. Whatever it is, we all have our vices – what’s important is to have fewer vices so that the ones we do have count; so they spark pleasure.
Balance: the road less travelled
When we constantly give our bodies junk food doused with fizzy drinks and alcohol, there is no opportunity for balance. Flowers need both sun and rain in order to bloom. Too much sun and they’ll dry out, too much rain and they’ll drown. Too much carefully monitored eating and you’ll lose your joy, too much intake of rubbish and you’ll lose your health. Compassionate discipline is all about harmony.
This harmony is workable in every area of your life (educationally, socially, domestically), too. But it’s a road less travelled.
Where compassion commands inner kindness, discipline demands inner strength. Most would rather choose one or the other for an easy life; though both are vital for your best life.