Some Thoughts About Freedom and Self-Discipline

Some musings in anticipation of Memorial Day.

I love America.  We are truly blessed to live in a country where liberty and individual freedom are so revered.  Our founders obviously valued freedom and liberty very highly, as they knew first-hand what living under a tyrannical government was like.  In our Declaration of Independence, they named liberty as one of the “inalienable rights” that are granted by our Creator and that governments are supposed to protect.  

Around Memorial Day, we intentionally turn our thoughts toward those in our past that paid the ultimate sacrifice in defending our country and other countries from forces that threaten freedom (may we never forget….!). In the present, the fact that so many people from a variety of political persuasions are vigilant about threats (real or perceived) to our freedom is evidence that we still value freedom in this country.  

And in part because of how we value individual freedom (however imperfectly) in this country, America has flourished.  However, in all of our bounty, I think in some ways we have come to adopt a warped view of freedom.  

For too many of us, freedom means doing “whatever I want, whenever I want” and any attempts to persuade people away from doing what they want or to speak negatively of them for doing so are perceived as a violation of rights or “hate.”  Neither side of the political spectrum is immune to this way of thinking, but here I am not going to wade into the waters of parsing who I think is right on which issues.  (Obviously, some actions are clearly not OK, which is why we have laws and courts.)

While the Constitution, and more specifically the Bill of Rights, protects individual freedom largely by placing limitations on the Federal government, I believe that civil society functions best when we use our freedom to do that which is positive, uplifting, and in the pursuit of the good of others.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pursuing our own happiness, but when was the last time that you said or did something that benefited yourself at the expense of someone else, something that deliberately hurt someone else, or was only motivated by your own selfishness?  Did that really make you happy?  Yes, in some cases you may have a right to be an a**hole, but in every situation where you might, do you need to be?  

A little bit of self-control, or self-discipline, can go a long way toward making your part of the world a better place.

What the heck does any of this have to do with a blog on fitness and nutrition?  

I think we can all agree that successfully pursuing health and fitness goals requires an element of self-discipline, but this is where many people cringe.  For many people, discipline means the opposite of freedom.  The thought of certain forms of exercise (HIIT cardio), eating certain foods that we know are good for us (ew….vegetables? fish?), or worse – abstaining from things that bring us short-term pleasure (pizza, donuts, alcohol, etc.), seems like the very opposite of freedom.

I have a working definition of self-discipline for which I cannot not take full credit, as I’m sure I have derived it from a variety of sources.  For me, self-discipline means choosing what you want MOST over what you want RIGHT NOW.  

In the context of health and fitness, choosing temporary pleasures (“what you want right now”) simply undermines your goals.  To be successful, we must master the ability to do what we know to be the right thing, as opposed to succumbing too frequently to doing what we “feel” like doing. 

While there’s certainly a time and a place for pure enjoyment, I would submit that the ability to quiet the impulse to fulfill temporary desires and pursue long-term goals is a big key to living a truly happy and fulfilled life.  

On some level, most of us know this to be true.  We know that we can’t ever experience financial freedom if we don’t exhibit some amount of self-discipline in how we spend money.  We know that our relationships with loved ones suffer when we voice every unkind thought that pops into our heads.  We know that disease is frequently (although certainly not always) a result of unhealthy choices.  In our exercise of personal freedom we also have personal accountability; we are free to make nearly any choice we want, but we are not free from the consequences of those choices.

As a teacher, coach, and competitive athlete, I enjoy helping others to learn these truths. I embrace the fact that I have a unique platform to serve as a model and a source of inspiration for others, even if their goals may be different than mine.  By adopting an attitude of positivity about exercise and healthy eating, it is my hope that others will see that this is not a lifestyle of restriction and self-denial, but a means of achieving and maintaining the freedom that comes with health.  I would encourage my colleagues in the fitness industry to do the same.

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