The Art of Self-Discipline

To bear and not to own; to act and not lay claim; to do the work and let it go: for just letting it go is what makes it stay.

―Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

A few years ago, I came to a crossroads. I was slacking a bit with my studies, though I thought I was doing just fine. I was very dedicated, though I also got easily distracted. You could say I was taking my studies for granted.

It was time to take my Oral Exam. It was July 2013. I took the train to Brown University in Rhode Island. I left in the middle of the night and studied my notes all night on the train. I did not sleep. I vividly remember getting off the train the next morning and walking around the campus. I looked for a table and bench and studied the notes in my binder for the remaining few hours before my exam. I would be tested on all that I learned over the past three years in my doctoral program. I felt prepared, though I also realized that there was a chance that I would not pass. It was a very genuine possibility. I went into the room at the time of my meeting and met with my three professors. They talked with me and asked me questions about my prior studies and my written exam for a little more than three hours. When it was over, I was told that I passed my oral exam, but had to re-do my written exam.

It was a wake-up call. I came to an understanding that I had to learn self-discipline and how to accomplish what I set out so I could pass my written exam. I was elated that I passed my oral exam but knew that if I did not pass my written exam, I would have to go through a lot to stay in the program. So, this was a real moment of decision for me. I had to step up and be my best self to accomplish this task over the next few months.

I will never forget that time—the fall of 2013. I went home after the oral exam and started to study self-discipline and success habits. I knew about positive mindset about habits, but I was preoccupied with my family life and did not always spend the time to nurture my mind and spirit as I should have. In the ensuing few months, to find out if I could pass my written exam, I learned much and put all that I found out into doing the best I could with my writing. I also learned about Taoism during this period. It helped me to understand how to live a path aligned with universal laws. In Taoist writing, it is said:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

–Lao Tzu

I studied self-discipline and set up definite times that I would study, read, write, and edit. I had the deepest desire to keep going with my studies and did all I could to do it well and, eventually, I passed my written exam. Passing the exam led me to begin writing my dissertation with a new Director—and I was ready.

What I learned about self-discipline is that you need to have the desire to do what is necessary—and make it non-negotiable, that you will accomplish the task. You need to balance this with self-care and believe that you can get what is required done. Loving yourself and the work becomes essential.

I got into it—because I knew that I wanted to accomplish it. I did not let anything stop me from finishing it to the best of my ability. Many things came up, but I kept going.

Self-discipline is essential to carry out any mission. It is so easy to become distracted or bored or listless with the current project. Knowing that you want to get it done—and be on the other side—will set you up to achieve your goal with ease. In understanding these concepts, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process. I became aligned with what I was doing—and could not wait to wake up and do it again the next morning.

By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.

–Lao Tzu

Another key that I learned was to be okay with whatever the outcome was. I worked hard, though it was enjoyable. I decided that I would give it my all and be fine with any outcome. I had no expectations at that point. I knew that I did my best and enjoyed the experience. Knowing that the experience was joyful became enough. I did not necessarily need a specific way for it to end at that point. With this letting-go perspective, the outcome turned out well on its own.