What is the opposite of self-discipline? Commonly, words like laziness or procrastination will come to mind. And while these are generally true, in reality, the word that perfectly captures a lack of self-discipline is the following: self-destruction.
Binge-watchers and social media addicts will probably immediately get offended. And yes, you kind of should.
Because self-destruction is what happens when you don’t have complete control over your life. Every time you are unable to resist a temptation, you are practically shooting yourself in the leg.
The opposite of the ability to control oneself and one’s desires is captured by the word indiscipline or lack of control. Yet, the outcome of these things is self-destruction. Something far more concerning.
In this publication, I discuss what happens when are acting on the opposite end of self-discipline. What happens when indiscipline cripples into your world – the short term and long term consequences.
What Is The Opposite of Self-Discipline?
Online dictionaries use words like disorder, impatience, self-indulgence, or indiscipline to describe the opposite of self-discipline.1
While generally true, the real meaning behind what is not discipline should be portrayed as self-destruction.
Impatience describes what you do when you are not disciplined. Self-destruction describes what happens when you lack willpower – the result of your harmful actions.
Why Self-Destruction Is The Opposite of Self-Discipline?
Before we look at why self-destruction is the phrase that captures the opposite of self-discipline. Let’s quickly see what it actually means…
So, the meaning behind self-destruction describes behavior that causes serious harm to oneself.
But wait a minute, harm? What harm?
“Watching TV shows, eating a stack of burritos, and smoking hashish are harmful?”
They surely don’t feel harmful. At least not in the process. Quite the opposite, actually. They seem like a gift from the Lord himself.
Why then label them as self-destructive?
Though published in 1982, in the book Brave New World, there is a short paragraph that captures how we are conditioned to think:
“Never put off till to-morrow the fun you can have to-day.” Aldous Huxley
The way a lot of modern activities succeed in destroying our lives is by presenting themselves as fun and easy, while simultaneously degenerating our future state.
Basically, when you lack self-discipline, you tend to indulge in activities that feel good in the current moment. Thus, you remain unprotected by the whims of society. This makes you prone to get pulled in doing things without ever thinking if these things are good for you – you do them automatically or because others are doing them.
For example, you spend the entire night watching the latest TV series because everyone at the office is discussing this new cinematography. Since your self-worth is tightly related to the opinion of the crowd, you desperately want to join the conversation about the plot. After evaporating a shelf of chips while you consume every ounce of the moving picture, you go to bed, satisfied that you can now join the camp of cool kids.
But is this the only thing that happens?
Not at all.
Despite being incapable of doing the work you were essentially hired to do on the next day. You grow further attached to the act of binge-watching shows.
And what happens then?
Initially, not that much. Nothing immediately degrading your existence. Quite the opposite, actually, good things tend to happen.
You soak in bliss during the process. You might even make new friends by sharing your opinions on the trending shows.
All of this makes you feel good.
However, not all is good.
The problem with these types of behaviors is that they prevent the darkness from emerging. All the negative traits associated with seemingly good activities are tucked under the rug, gradually amassing until they reach a breaking point and erupt.
Why It’s Important To Understand That Self-Destruction Is The Opposite of Self-Discipline?
We live in a beautiful world. But also a cruel world.
Brutal things are happening that are perfectly noticeable – crime, wars, poverty, etc. But beneath the surface, there are other inhumane acts causing great suffering that remain hidden for an untrained eye.
In particular, there are quite a lot of billion-dollar businesses that are successful by taking advantage of our natural weaknesses.
A few such industries are tobacco, alcohol, fast food, and a lot of online platforms – e.g., Facebook, Instagram, TikTok.
And how do these businesses manipulate us?
Well, it’s no secret that we crave immediate pleasures.
The core function of the human body is to preserve itself. And what better way to preserve oneself than making the body feel good in the current moment.
The industries mentioned do an outstanding job at removing friction between our current state that is usually not that awesome, and our desire to enter wonderland.
Here’s an example…
When bored while waiting for your double-sized burger. Thanks to tech, you don’t have to bear with the dreadful thoughts that remind you of how indisputably meaningless your life is. No, you can pull out your phone, start watching short videos made by strangers and completely forget about how aimless your whole life is.
What does this have to do with self-destruction and self-discipline?
But instead of telling you how bad smoking, drinking, eating ultra-processed foods, and social media are for your body and mind. I’m going to talk about something else…
More precisely, the opportunity cost bias.2
Usually used by economists, the concept of opportunity cost wants to bring your attention to the value of the next-best alternative that you give up when making a decision.
Here is a simple example:
You have $20 to spend, and you can either buy a book or go watch a movie.
The opportunity cost of buying the book is the movie that you could have seen instead.
The opportunity cost of going to the movie is the book that you could have bought instead.
But that’s not all.
The above showcases only what happens on the surface.
Opportunity cost bias has deeper effects.
To continue with the above example, if you choose to watch a movie, this doesn’t only prevent you from getting the book. It also costs you time. You use the time for entertainment instead of learning.
You could have used the money and time to read and learn. But you used it to fully immerse yourself in an immediately gratifying activity.
Furthermore – and I personally believe that this is super important and often overlooked – by choosing to see a movie, you invest in your identity as a movie lover. Not that this is bad per se, but you could have invested the time in your identity as a reader and a person who wants to grow and develop. Thus, the more things you do that reinforce the entertainment-loving self, the more you discourage the other part of your character that wants to learn and improve.
When you spend time watching movies, you are passively consuming. While this can be enjoyable, it does not provide the same level of mental stimulation or personal growth as reading.
Where am I going with this?
There is a cost in everything you do.
That cost is usually measured in time and money.
But there are other costs, too.
When you choose to do something, aside from preventing you to do something else, it also adds votes to the behavior itself.
The gist is that if the behavior you decide to do has negative future consequences. The cost incurred is multiplied because not only you are doing something harmful, but you are also not doing something helpful.
The more harmful behaviors are practiced, the more these behaviors will be practiced in the future.
Eventually, you double-cripple yourself.
Here’s another example that I think will clear the mist:
If I spend $100 a month on entertainment. The opportunity costs are the following:
- Not investing the $100.
- Not earning interest on the potential investments.
- Not building wealth for my future self.
- Not contributing to my identity as a person who invests.
In the same vein, the opportunity cost of scrolling through TikTok spreads beyond the time spent watching short videos.
There are other costs:
- Not using the time for something more constructive.
- Not being grateful for what you already have. (Because who doesn’t end up wanting more stuff when you see what others have.)
- Not training yourself to enjoy life without a screen.
- Not supporting the identity of a learner.
- Not improving your future condition because you are daily preoccupied with watching short form content.
Sure, there is no harm in enjoying life. We all need time to unwind from our busy schedules. But my point here is to show that the cost of our actions spreads deeper and wider than what we usually think.
Why We Keep Being Undisciplined Even When We Know The Consequences?
We are all creatures of habit. We will keep doing what we have been doing unless we experience pain. Pain and discomfort that prevents us from doing what we want to do.
For instance, if consuming a basket of burgers is your go-to meal for the day. You’ll rarely find motivation to abandon this routine unless something bad happens due to this habit.
- Realizing that none of your clothes fit anymore.
- You start to feel uncomfortable when you go to the beach.
- You start to feel dizzy when you take the stairs.
- You become more prone to headaches and migraines.
Essentially, we keep bad habits for years unless we realize the actual cost of performing them – i.e., we encounter a huge struggling moment.
I personally know a lot of folks who don’t think behaviors like smoking, drinking, and eating a mountain of chips are harmful. In their heads, they’ve justified their actions. Thus, they don’t see a reason to stop doing these vile activities.
I’m positive that you know such people as well.
However, if you try to lecture a chained smoker on the consequences of smoking, he will probably enter in counter-attack mode. Sharing studies explaining that smoking is not so bad. (Probably studies done by tobacco companies.) Additionally, mention an elderly family member who, despite smoking for “decades,” is approaching the remarkable age of 100.
For such folks, smoking it’s not bad. It’s good. It’s probably their favorite daily activity.
Yet, if a life-altering event occurs, such as the loss of a loved one, a health crisis, or an unforeseen accident like a car crash. People may find motivation to rethink their routine activities and introduce new ones.
As you can sense, the sad part here is that we need to experience something terrible in order to start making attempts to remove vicious behaviors.
Even then, this is not guaranteed.
A member of my family recently had leg surgery. The problem was that there was hardly any blood reaching his lower legs due to blocked arteries. The reason? Smoking.
Soon to be 70 years old, he has been smoking for more than 50 years.
When we discussed his condition in the hospital prior to the procedure, he said that he’ll stop smoking. He was scared of the operation and made plans on how he’d remove this behavior from his life.
Well he did. For a good week after the operation, he was tobacco free.
Yet, this was only a temporary condition.
After he fully recovered, he resurrected the nasty habit. Initially, he was “only” smoking a couple of times per day. Eventually, he was back to his original condition – smoking a pack of cigarettes daily.
We tried to help, but it was pointless.
My take on all of this is that if we want to change, we not only have to encounter struggling moments. But the struggle should last for at least some time in order for the following thought to anchor in our consciousness: “Probably I can do better!” And then some more time, for the above thought to evolve into: “I definitely should do better!”
Some Closing Thoughts
Indiscipline is the opposite of self-discipline, yes. But this word fails to capture the consequences of acting irrationally.
We don’t have to update our vocabulary. What we need to do is to understand the real impact of being unable to control ourselves. The short and long term consequences of your low willpower.
Are you able to spot behaviors that corrupt your well-being?
Take a moment to picture what will happen in your life if you continue doing these vile practices. Ready? Now hold that image in your head till it feels unbearable.
Typically, we know which activities in our daily arsenal are self-destructive, but we keep doing them anyway.
Our behavior makes precisely zero sense from a practical perspective, but a lot of sense from an emotional one.
What makes us feel good right now is usually something that makes us feel bad in the long run. But how to escape the desire to elevate our being in the current moment? It’s not easy.
When we are depressed, stressed, or worried and we turn to smoking as a way to cope. The last thing we need is someone pointing out how this behavior is destroying our future self. No, in those moments, our primary concern is finding relief from the current pain, the future cost is never considered.
The solution to all of this is far from simple. It’s a combination of inner and outer work. It’s not only about involving yourself in activities like physical exercises that will upgrade your stamina. It’s also about performing activities like reading and reflecting on your actions that will make you more emotionally resilient.
“Either way, mental strength is not just hoping that nothing ever goes wrong. It is believing that we have the capacity to handle it if it does.” Brianna Wiest
Add to your self-discipline toolset by reading the following:
- Level Up With Self-Discipline Training
- Discomfort Training: A Way To Improve Resilience
- Against Normalcy: Why Being Normal Can Be Dangerous
- How To Improve Self-Discipline (by Exploring Our Emotions)
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- Synonyms and antonyms of self-discipline in English – cambridge dictionary. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/thesaurus/self-discipline
- Opportunity cost. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunity_cost