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A New Definition for the Word ‘Discipline’

My rescued 3-toed box turtle, Bruce, has discipline in spades. No matter what the obstacle is, he looks at it and thinks “I can figure this out.” He is my hero!

I have always loved words. I love nearly everything about them – their construction, the nuances of meaning they can convey, how they can combine and recombine in endless fascinating ways.

But I must admit I like some words much more than others.

For instance, the word “discipline” has never been one of my favorites.

I think this is because, for me at least, discipline brings to mind images of hardship, self-denial, sweat equity. So while to exert discipline may be admirable and even effective, it sure doesn’t sound like fun.

I just took a look, and it seems my ambivalence is fully supported by textbook definitions of the word. According to the dictionary, “discipline” means to be taught to obey the rules by using punishment as a form of course correction.


So imagine my surprise when I recently came across this message in author and intuitive teacher Sonia Choquette’s wonderful book “Your Heart’s Desire:”

Choices….may require discipline on your part, but don’t confuse discipline with punishment. Discipline means to learn, not to hurt.

You could have heard a pin drop inside my astonished brain just after it digested these words.

This explains so much. For example, it explains why I’ve never much been a fan of concepts like “no pain, no gain,” mostly on account of how when I feel pain, it is of the kind that stops me from pursuing any further efforts towards gaining, whether that be a set of six-pack abs or a plush bank balance or something else entirely.

The people who feel pain and push right on through, well, they aren’t my people, if you know what I mean.

When I feel pain, when I hurt, I stop. Over the decades, my chosen mentors have trained me well to use pain and hurt as a signal to push “pause” on whatever I’m doing and see if perhaps a course-correct may be in order.

So when I am in pain, when I am hurting, you will find me meditating, reading, contemplating, cocooning even, until the pain recedes at least enough so I can receive the message it is attempting to send me.

Although I freely admit I wasn’t always like this. I can rewind my life by a decade or so and literally see myself tripping and falling over a big rock, twisting my ankle and getting right back up and continuing to run on it.

That ankle took more than a year to fully heal. My choice to ignore the pain and keep running on it wasn’t a very good choice, hindsight being what it is. There was a lot of not-running that happened because of my choice to keep running on that particular day.

So today, because of that bad decision and many others like it, when I feel pain I stop running, so to speak.

In “Your Heart’s Desire,” Sonia goes on to say:

If you use discipline to learn to nurture yourself in a loving way, then perhaps you will succeed.

I’ve never before thought that discipline could be self-nurturing. But when I stop and reflect on it now, I see many examples of this in my life to date. One of the most obvious is how I recovered from an eating disorder. One day, after nearly 20 years of battling against urges to restrict or binge and purge, it occurred to me that I had actually become very, very good at having an eating disorder AND at hiding it from those around me.

I began to feel curious about what might happen if I took all that energy and drive and determination and discipline I had been using to maintain my eating disorder and turned it around and redirected it towards overcoming my eating disorder and becoming healthy.

I decided to try it. Two more decades later and the short version of the story is – it worked! I got very, very good at getting better – so good, in fact, that I went on to mentor others in how to accomplish the same in their lives. This was a great privilege that I will forever treasure.

Yet it is all too easy to forget significant victories like these, and the healthy, helpful role discipline has played in each of them, when I am facing a new challenge that requires yet another infusion of discipline.

Discipline can be nurturing. Discipline can be nourishing. Discipline can be self-loving as well as loving towards others. Discipline is about learning, not hurting.

I have to say, I am starting to like the word “discipline” more now than I ever have before.

Today’s Takeaway: When you hear the word “discipline” what comes up in your mind? In your heart? In your gut? Do you feel or think anything in particular in association with this word? How does discipline arrive in your life? Is it a helper to you or an obstacle, or perhaps a bit of both?

A New Definition for the Word ‘Discipline’

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). A New Definition for the Word ‘Discipline’. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Aug 2019
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