A few weeks ago I saw a comment from David Goggins which read:

No alt text provided for this image

We would agree, it is a brutal comment, delivered without any pulling of punches.

In all honesty, my first temptation was to get a little defensive and push back with self-fabricated rationalisations about why he is just a jerk, and what would he know? But I fought the urge, and bit my ego and looked into the topic further.

Needless to say David’s comment got me thinking very deeply. I laid awake thinking about this very problem.

Has society just become incrementally weaker to the point that individuals can succeed by just having a little self-discipline?

Have we talked a big game about resilience, toughness, grit, and ‘rising with the tide’ and then committed to doing the opposite?

Objectively there might be some indications to suggest he might be on to something.

Suicides rates are incrementally rising

“A total of 3,318 people took their own lives in Australia in 2019, at a rate of 12.9 deaths per 100,000. This represents an increase of 6 per cent from the previous year. Over the decade since 2009, the number of deaths by suicide has increased by 33 per cent.” – Australian Institute of Health & Welfare

Mental Health issues appear to being affecting our younger communities more than an our older ones.

“Comparing the prevalence of Mental Health conditions by generation during the nationwide lockdown in the June quarter 2020 shows younger Australians were far more likely to have experienced Stress, Anxiety or Depression than their older counterparts.” – Roy Morgan, Mental Health conditions, Anxiety and Depression increased rapidly during lockdown

No alt text provided for this image

I decided to look at search terms used in Google since 2004, with some interesting results:

Searches for ‘safety’ have increased incrementally over time:

No alt text provided for this image

Searches for ‘mental health’ have dropped and then incrementally risen again over the last 8 years:

No alt text provided for this image

Searches for ‘resilience’ have increased incrementally over time:

No alt text provided for this image

Searches for ‘safe spaces’ have increased over time with occasional spikes (most notably around 2015/16):

No alt text provided for this image

Searches for ‘discipline’ have decreased over time:

No alt text provided for this image

Searches for ‘self-discipline’ have been incrementally dropping with a monumental increase since COVID19

No alt text provided for this image

Observations

I am the first to admit that this does not constitute any level of ‘causal evidence,’ but I would hope we would agree it is interesting as a minimum.

Observation 1. One interesting observation is that the search for the word ‘resilience’ has increased on a similar trajectory to ‘safety’ and ‘safe spaces.’ Is it plausible we have attributed resilience with safety? Have we linked the two? What does that mean for our understanding of the term resilience, which is more often defined as ‘one’s ability to bounce back from adversity,’ which should not be confused with ‘one’s ability to stop bad things happening’ (more akin to safety or risk management).

Observation 2. People have had an increase in interest in the term ‘mental health’, which might suggest that our lack of mental health resilience is not due to a lack of awareness. This would require much more analysis to prove this however.

Observation 3. What draws most of my attention is the massive increase spike in people searching for the term ‘self-discipline,’ at the exact same time COVID19 became relevant. Is it plausible that COVID19’s prompting of isolation, attacks on social norms, and forcible changes of environments, has forced many people to go back to the drawing board?

Is it also plausible that for a very long time people have been subtly but gradually moving towards safety, but have forgotten to concurrently improve their personal strength (more specifically strength of character and resilience)? Have we set ourselves up for disaster by willingly lowering our guard?

I am starting to think there might be a case that would suggest so…

In my research about this topic I came across a powerful resource that hit me like a ton of bricks. The impact was due to my responsibility as a parent and as a coach/educator. It left me somewhat uncomfortable to say the least. Jordan Peterson (Clinical Psychologist) explains:

Referring back to David Goggin’s original post, despite his lack of tact, it seems that on the surface there seems enough indication to suggest it is a topic worth investigating further, and he might be onto something.

Conditioning

As a parent I would hate to think that I have over-protected my children to a point of ‘learned helplessness,’ a term coined by American psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman in the late 1960’s. The term was suggested in response to experiments with dogs in which some would receive unavoidable electric shocks and some would receive avoidable shocks. Those dogs that had received unavoidable shocks often reached a point of conditioning where they would fail to take action in subsequent actions, whereas dogs that hadn’t received unavoidable shocks would take actions to prevent it in the future. In essence, those that had received unavoidable shocks would eventually give up and take what was dished at them, ultimately ‘accepting their lot’. In effect, they had accepted that their environment was going to ‘happen to them’ as opposed to conceiving they could do anything about it. Some might attribute this to a ‘victim mentality,’ although there are nuances that could distinguish the two topics.

Of note, the same styled experiment was conducted with humans (utilising loud noises) yielding very similar results. Seligman coined the term ‘learned helplessness’ to describe the expectation that outcomes are uncontrollable.

Have we become so addicted to the pursuit of safety that we have become slaves to our protective environments?

Key Distinctions

Jordan Peterson, the same man in the video above also asked “Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?”

Safety vs Strength

Safety. It makes sense to me on a conceptual level that safety is contextual to the scenario. i.e. efforts to make an environment safe are only relevant up until we walk out of that environment, or the environmental conditions are forcibly changed upon us. COVID19 is a great example of forcible changes to our circumstances and environment, and frankly, looking at the surface level data it doesn’t look like we did that great as a collective society.

Strength. Strength (attributed to our motivations and personal-discipline) is something we can take with us anywhere and everywhere. We can move from one environment to another and take our strength with us. Our discipline can be the mechanism of relevance from one scenario to the next. Why aren’t we talking more and more about strength and personal discipline? It seems like a great investment, albeit one that is fraught with uncomfortabilities.

Motivation vs Discipline

Motivation. Another key term that I feel is relevant is ‘motivation’ which can loosely be described as our thirst to achieve something (often with some form of reward at the end). It takes less than 10 seconds to scroll through a LinkedIn feed to see everyone’s interest in ‘motivation’. Fair enough too, because it is important! Motivation in this context acts as our North Star. It pulls us in a direction. It keeps us focused, with our head up. Keeping our eye on the prize (as it were). But let’s be honest with ourselves, motivation wanes over time. Anyone who has tried to half-arse a diet or exercise program will attest (PS I have no moral high ground to judge anyone, I too am in this group). That’s when personal discipline kicks in…

Self-Discipline. If motivation pulls, then discipline pushes. Discipline takes over the driver’s wheel when motivation gets tired of driving. It is the stark reminder of what we are running from. It is who we do not want to be! Anyone who has left a toxic relationship or workplace can attest. Similarly, anyone who has adopted unhealthy habits and has gotten to the point where they have had to do something about it will also know what I mean. In many ways, self-discipline links with overarching powerful drivers like ego, character, reputation and personal values. In my Infantry (military) days I can think back to many times where my motivation had all but dwindled but self-discipline begrudgingly kept my legs moving – particularly in an effort to not let myself or my team down.

No alt text provided for this image

What I can say with absolute assurance is that this process of investigating this topic has shifted my perspectives. I will now be researching further and learning more about how discipline can be refined and incorporated.

If my article has prompted at least one person to do the same thing then it has been successful.

I am keen for people’s comments and ideas on this topic as I dare to open Pandora’s box.

If this article was interesting you might also enjoy some of our other articles located at our blog.

Safe travels.

Dave Neal