The haters generally see discipline in a negative light: punishment (and this is usually equated with abuse), restrictions, lack of fun, and a general sense that discipline is a coercive form of “other-control.”
I have both experienced and attempted to use this methodology, and not only is is ineffective, it isn’t truly discipline.
The dictionary defines discipline as training someone and using punishment to correct disobedience.
True discipline, then, is more focused on learning than control. The outcome is not so much imposing immediate compliance as teaching the benefits of compliance. As I have applied this to my teaching and to my personal life, I have found that I need to use less punishment. Sometimes, it takes more time to ensure understanding, but the results are better — I generally achieve willing cooperation that allows students (and myself) to feel free to express themselves.
The second pillar of discipline is to refrain from punishing until willful disobedience occurs. So many times, I see mistakes being punished, and all it does is damage relationships. The individual receiving the punishment doesn’t understand or agree with the actions, and begins to resent and fear the person imposing the punishment. He or she doesn’t learn anything about correcting the mistake, and has no idea how to avoid repetition. Willful disobedience, by its nature, implies that the individual knew better and refused to do better.
As I have studied, prayed, fasted, learned, and worked to grow in the gospel and develop true understanding of the divine, I have found that this is how God deals with me. His focus is teaching me what to do and why to do it — how it benefits me and how it benefits others around me. When things get tough, I can feel the presence of His Holy Spirit telling me that I am going through a learning experience, not a punishment. He gives me insight on how to correct my mistakes — even bad habits that I know better than to indulge. I can look back over the course of my life and see that I have only been truly punished for complete obstinance, and even that was given in such a way that I could learn and improve if I chose.
Which brings me to the concept of self-discipline. Because I personally have encountered many instances of misguided discipline, I learned at an early point in my life to be very harsh and demanding with myself. I can’t say that it has all been bad, because I have learned how to hold myself to working toward goals and how to pull the best effort out of myself for extended periods before I need a break. On the other hand, I’ve had to work through self-perceptions that I am bad, flawed, and unworthy.
As God has brought me through these faulty thought patterns, I have learned a new style of self-discipline. I have learned to study whatever it is that I want to accomplish, whether it is building my character, mastering a spiritual concept, or accomplishing some mundane task. I have learned to be gentle with myself when I take wrong turns and make mistakes. I encourage myself to analyze what went wrong and to search out the information I missed. I correct my steps, and then I go on.
The change has been remarkable, and others have noticed. Even so, I owe my gratitude to God, who is the source of all the learning and change I have achieved.