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A few words of advice and inspiration: That’s what my co-workers and I were asked to share with the young people we work with in New York City. They’re between the ages of 18 and 24 and are serving the community by maintaining urban farms and giving fresh food and produce to their communities. We supervise their work and see ourselves as their mentors.
To that end, in their remarks, my colleagues mostly echoed each other’s sentiments — we talked about maintaining high expectations, offered encouragement for completing their service, and expressed gratitude for the work they’d already finished. One of the most common comments was focused on the dwindling motivation amongst the young people in the final months of their service term.
As an elaboration on this theme, one staff member discussed discipline, pointing out how motivation and discipline don’t have to be linked. He told the young people how even if our motivation rises and falls, if we practice discipline, we can achieve what we set out to accomplish.
I hadn’t thought much about how these two are different. Motivation is the desire to do something, while discipline is the actual persistence and active component of doing it.
By nature of how many of us were raised, we often can meet expectations and practice consistency when we receive external supervision or support. Unfortunately, many or the structures in our lives that emphasize the creation of disciplined goals do not focus on our more internal or spiritual well-being.
In tracking my own internal development, I have noticed I have a high motivation for many different and great things, but my discipline could use some work. My ability to consistently take steps towards achieving a goal or developing a healthy habit often falters.
As one of the central tenants of the Baha’i Faith is unity in diversity, there is no one specific lifestyle that all Baha’is are expected to lead but, there are clearly stated guidelines for the way we should lead our lives mentioned in Baha’i scriptures. For example, there is an emphasis on praying and reading divine scriptures every morning and evening. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote, “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide.”
Daily prayer is a standard for all Baha’is, whether we are busy or not, and whether we work in a standard 9-to-5 office setting or have a nontraditional schedule. While reflecting on how to create discipline and approach different goals with consistency, this passage made me realize that no matter how much I have going on, it helps to create some kind of regular structure for whatever it is I am approaching when it comes to my spiritual well-being. This can look like paying attention to my morning ritual and incorporating meditation or prayer, or it might look like taking note every time I feel like I am bending the truth. Whatever my goal may be for internal growth, having structure is something that can help increase our ability to be consistent and disciplined.
While simple, being consistent with prayer and reflecting on writings rooted in spirituality can start and end my day in an intentional way. This intentionality might also set the tone for approaching the many scattered goals I have with a mindset of deliberate consistency. Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, and his designated successor wrote that “Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued.”
Instead of viewing motivation as the precursor to discipline, I have begun to consider the relationship as a much more co-created one. As I am working to become more disciplined in my daily life, I will likely also feel an upsurge in motivation.
When something seems more feasible, we are much more likely to attempt to do it. When something feels impossible, it is more challenging to take action. Being disciplined, even with one or two things, can provide the evidence that we need to regain our confidence. It is then that we can begin planning to do things that seem difficult to accomplish. For example, if I am able to control my spending habits for a few months, I will probably feel more able to consistently connect with my friends to discuss how we can more effectively contribute to the well-being of our community.
The Baha’i writings also suggest we always be vigilant of ways to bring joy to others. We can tap into deeper sources of motivation within ourselves by being disciplined about seeing the world through this lens. As Abdu’l-Baha encouraged us:
Be ye always the source of happiness to the hearts, for the best of men is one who winneth the hearts and refraineth from troubling any soul, and the worst of men is one who vexeth the hearts and causeth people to be grieved. Always endeavour to gladden the people and to rejoice their hearts so that ye may be enabled to guide them.
In order for us to pursue creative pursuits, strengthen our mental health, and be a part of organic community-building efforts through developing healthy relationships and friendships, we have to self-regulate and act as our own supervisors. I am realizing that taking ownership, practicing patience and perseverance, and resisting the tendency to give up will allow for my discipline and motivation to bloom together. I am excited to move past goal-setting and into action.