Choice, Desire, and Self-discipline 

Posted on June 10, 2014 by Robert Ringer


The other day I was talking to a woman who, in a dispirited voice, told me that she was stressed to the point of not being able to focus on her work.  I told her that, when all is said and done, stress is just a state of mind brought on by an external event.

An external event, however, can cause stress only if an individual chooses to react to it in a negative way.  In other words, there’s no such thing as external stress.  Stress is something you unconsciously create in the shadows of your mind.

I went on to assure the woman that she shouldn’t feel like she’s out there on a limb all by herself, because every human being feels stressed from time to time.  That includes even those who normally display an aura of being calm, cool, and collected.

That said, since everyone experiences stress, what it really gets down to is frequency (how often) and extent (how extreme).  And controlling frequency and extent is directly related to two factors:  desire and self-discipline.  If your desire to not be stressed is great enough and your self-discipline strong enough, the frequency and extent of stress in your life will be minimal.  It’s a matter of choice.

This got me thinking about how many other choices people make that are not in their best interest.  Putting aside the issue of those things that are presumed to be inevitable, the number of choices we make every day are, for all practical purposes, infinite.

For example, last weekend I had a mental lapse and forgot that I’m allergic to 21st century bread-and-circus America.  Yep, I actually ventured into one of those Goodies for the Masses Shopping Malls and was in awe of how every store was stocked to the brim with shoddily made goodies from China, Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, et al.

Here in the D.C. area, rapacious government employees jam these Goodies for the Masses Shopping Malls in a frantic effort to exchange their rapidly depreciating dollars for tacky products from Third World countries.  And as they spend, spend, spend, the nation’s debt clock continues to tick, tick, tick.

I was also awed by the number of people who looked like artificial eating machines mounted on human legs.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have a great deal of empathy for grossly overweight people, because they remind me of myself in my early thirties — a time when my waistline got so big that I was lucky the universe was expanding.

But, empathy or not, I know, from firsthand experience, that a sumo-sized body is a result of choice.  Like a giant python, I once chose to eat everything I could fit into my mouth — food, napkins, silverware … you name it.

I finally took a hint from my mirror and started cutting back from obscene gluttony to mere giant-sized portions of food.  And, through the power of choice, I ultimately succeeded in developing semi-normal eating habits and thus managed to resurrect my humanoid (sort of) physique.

In thinking about it, it occurred to me that eating is very much like stress.  (In fact, it’s often a result of stress.)  Food is all around us all the time — at least those of us who live in industrialized countries.  But it can’t get into your stomach unless you make the choice to put it there.

Again, like stress, everyone overeats at one time or another (frequency) and to one degree or another (extent).  The trick is to not do it too often and not to do it to an extreme.  It’s a matter of choice, and that choice is determined by one’s desire and self-discipline.

Then there’s laziness.  Millions of people in our brother’s-keeper society embrace laziness with a religious fervor.  Yet, even the hardest-working, most responsible among us have their lazy moments.

But laziness is also a choice (made possible by a plethora of so-called government safety nets), and it’s okay to choose to be lazy now and then.  It’s when it becomes a permanent way of life that it destroys a person’s self-esteem.  Again, however, all that is required to cut back on the frequency and extent of one’s laziness is the desire to do so and the self-discipline to get off one’s butt.

Another example:  swearing.  I doubt there are many people who have never sworn, though they may do so rarely.  But millions of people swear to the same extreme as some folks overeat.  It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with swearing.  It’s just kind of a stupid way to express oneself, and excessive swearing tends to make people view the addictive swearer as an immature, unmitigated fool.

Again, it all gets down to choice.  You can choose to swear or not to swear.  It’s a matter of having a great enough desire not to swear and the self-discipline to control yourself.

One final example:  lying.  No one is perfect, so everyone probably tells an occasional little white lie.  But if someone tells giant-sized lies day in and day out, he has a serious, self-destructive problem.  Fortunately, however, it’s a problem that can be solved through choice.  If one’s desire to change is great enough and his self-discipline strong enough, he can change.  No one can force him to make a career out of lying.

I could go on and on with other examples, but the point is always the same:  It’s a matter of frequency and extent.  If you do any of these things too often or to an extreme, it can lead to serious problems.  But the nice thing is that you always have a choice.  The question is, do you have the desire and the self-discipline to moderate the frequency and extent of activities that are self-destructive?

When I went back over this article, I was hesitant to publish it because what I’ve said sounds self-evident to the point of being simplistic.  But then I asked myself, if that be the case, why do so many seemingly intelligent people fail to grasp it?

It’s a question that is definitely worth thinking about, which is why this ended up in your mailbox.  Choice, desire, and self-discipline — embrace all three.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

23 responses to “Choice, Desire, and Self-discipline ”

  1. larajf says:

    In order to make a choice, and feel the desire and utilize self-discipline, you need a goal/dream/idea. Our society is sadly lacking in helping people visualize what they could be.
    "You're gay, so you should be angry when people don't want to make you a wedding cake."
    "You're black, so you should tell everyone they're racists and are still oppressing you."
    "You're a small blond female and shouldn't get your degree in engineering because you don't look that smart." (if I had a penny for every time I heard that effective message…)
    etc. etc. etc.

    We need to silence the negative voices, focus on who we want to be, what we think is right for us. We need to visualize how we want our lives to be and then start making those choices fueled by the self-discipline.

    I think we need to overhaul humanity to get there, though….that or those of us who can will just keep on keeping on and try to not let the idiots out there pull us down.

  2. Murray Suid says:

    Robert, I agree 100% with you that making choices has a great deal to do with the nature of our lives. My question: Why do people make bad choices when it's obvious (as you say) that good choices would be better. There must be a reason why some people have the ability (will power, experience, knack) of making a relatively high proportion of good choices while others mostly make bad choices.

    In other words, once we honor the power of choice, we have the–to me–difficult question of why we make bad choices. Is it lack of education (by which I include parental guidance), bad wiring, persuasion from interested parties (e.g., companies that make a buck selling us crap)?

    When I make bad choices, I sometimes feel guilty or I beat myself up. But–thankfully–I've become somewhat able to step back, analyze, and look for a way to make a decision that improves the situation.

    I'm rambling. I really hope you'll dig into the nuts and bolts of making good decisions–and how we can help others and ourselves to do regularly.

    Grateful as always for your shining the light on an important topic.

    • Jean says:

      "Why do people make bad choices when it's obvious (as you say) that good choices would be better. " Many bad choices are made based on what the person believes is NORMAL. I've known several women involved in abusive relationships who continue to stay with their abuser, because they grew up with a mother who stayed with an abusive man. Many people believe that having a prison record is a badge of honor, because the men (and a few of the women) in their families have prison records (and all of them claim they were railroaded and that police are always picking on them). And controversial as it is to say this, many intelligent blacks are insulted by their peers for wanting to achieve academically, because they are said to be "acting white" or they are told they "want to be white" for doing so. It takes a huge change in beliefs and values to go from where you are to where you want to be, because both of those affect the choices you make.

  3. Tex says:

    When you make good decisions these days, you get people no less than the POTUS telling you "You didn't build that – someone else did that for you…." In the government schools, you're taught that you're a victim – it's not your fault you can't read or do math. In sports, you get a trophy regardless of your actual achievement. In current business circles, if you're big enough, you're too big to fail so you make any old kind of decision taking outlandish risks because, hey, you're not responsible and somebody else will bail you out from your stupidity. With reinforcing messages like this on a daily basis, no wonder the ever- increasing majority don't feel it necessary to behave responsibly by making considered decisions. Why bother?

  4. RAM says:

    DEAR MR. RINGER — A lot of great wisdom! Thank you. However, there are times when only three things can help when in deep despair — faith in God, a sense of humor and a liberal shot of Irish whiskey. RAM

    • Helen Spingola says:

      Reminds me of Frank Sinatra's 'remedy' for making it through the night:
      Bible, broads and booze…..

      • RAM says:

        DEAR HELEN — I don't believe Old Blue Eyes spent much, if any, time with the Bible. As to the other two options, his track record is well documented. RAM

  5. Richard Lee Van says:

    The ANSWER is in Viktor Frankl's "must read" BOOK, MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING. But if children are never introduced to the concept(s) of MEANING, PURPOSE AND VALUE, what can an ignorant person do? Yes, as most are now doing… p*****g away their time on the cell phone, video games, social media, etc. So what to do about "them"? Beats the s***t outta me!

  6. RAM says:

    RICHARD — You really should work on your vocabulary so you don't have to use all those asterisks. RAM

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