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Life is a series of problems. 1)Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With total discipline we can solve all problems.
What makes life difficult is that solving problems is painful. Problems 2)evoke in us 3)frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or 4)anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, sometimes equaling the very worst kind of physical pain, and since life poses an endless series of problems, life is full of pain as well as joy. Yet it is in meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.
Let us teach ourselves and our children the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved. I have stated that discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. When we teach ourselves and our children discipline, we are teaching them and ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow. What are these tools I call discipline? There are four: delaying of 5)gratification, acceptance of responsibility, 6)dedication to truth and balancing.
First I want to talk about delaying gratification.
Not too long ago a 30-year old financial analyst was complaining to me about her tendency to 7)procrastinate in her job. Finally one day we dared to look at the obvious.
“Do you like cake?” I asked her.
She replied that she did.
“Which part of the cake do you like better,” I went on, “the cake or the 8)frosting?”
“Oh, the frosting,” she responded enthusiastically.
“And how do you eat a piece of cake?” I inquired.
“I eat the frosting first, of course,” she replied.
From her cake-eating habits we went on to examine her work habits and discovered that on any given work day she would devote the first hour to the more gratifying half of her work and the remaining six hours getting around to the 9)objectionable remainder. I suggested that, if she were to force herself to accomplish the unpleasant part during the first hour, she would then be free to enjoy the other six. “It seemed to me” I said, “that one hour of pain followed by six of pleasure was preferable to one hour of pleasure followed by six of pain.” She agreed, and being basically a person of strong will, she no longer procrastinates.
Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life, to enhance the pleasure by experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only 10)decent way to live.
The financial analyst was a basically loving and dedicated mother to her two young children. She was alert and concerned enough to perceive when her children were having some sort of emotional problem. But then she either made the very first change that came to her mind, making them eat more breakfast or sending them to bed earlier, regardless of whether such a change had anything to do with the problem. Or she came to her next 11)therapy session with me, the repairman, despairing, “It’s beyond me. What shall I do?” This woman had a perfectly keen analytical mind and was quite capable of solving complex problems at work. Yet, when confronted with a personal problem, she behaved as if she were totally lacking in intelligence. Once she became aware of a personal problem, she felt 12)discomfited and was not willing to tolerate her discomfort long enough to analyze the problem. The solution to the problem represented gratification to her, but she was unable to delay this gratification for more than a minute or two with the result that her solutions were usually inappropriate and her family in 13)chronic 14)turmoil.
We are not talking here about 15)esoteric defects in problem-solving associated only with 16)psychiatric disturbances. The financial analyst is “everyman”. Who among us are so self-disciplined that they unfailingly devote sufficient time to analyzing problems within the family? Who among us never says 17)resignedly, “It’s beyond me?”