Discipline Isn’t All There Is

Discipline isn’t All There Is

Is the way the world manifests itself purely dictated by the way we think? A post-modernist view of the world suggests that we are the way we are because of the social environment. The social structures that exist in the world, the arts and narratives all exist in a way that SHAPE who we are. By this same paradigm, as long as we create social structures that ‘break’ the mold, we ourselves can change how the world is organised.

One of the criticisms of this paradigm is that it doesn’t consider the effects of biology on human behaviour. The deeper question that is asked is really this; what is the role of nature vs nurture in life? If nurture is all there is, then it would make sense that we need to be careful what we create in the social environment. If nature was all there was, then we’d accept that we can’t change how we are. But these things are not true, are they? Even if we took empirical evidence out of the equation, we would still be able to anecdotally (the worst kind of evidence) talk about how both ‘absolute’ cases couldn’t possibly be true.

Anyone who has worked with children can attest to the fact that children are very different. From a very, VERY young age (from the moment they can meaningfully interact with the world), one can observe that every child has a natural disposition. There are some who cry and bash loudly, and others who weep and stay quiet. A supposed ‘only nurture’ matters view, could be that every child is born as a blank canvas and they only start to develop personality and thoughts because of the social environment in which they are placed.

Extending this argument, we can posit that every family is different, every country is different, and therefore, every person would be different. This much I think we can all agree with. But how about those who come from the same family? What about siblings? Especially in the first few years of life, when the main social environment is the home and preschool, how can two siblings be so totally different?

Conversely, the absolutist biological argument believes that we are BORN the way we are, and therefore, cannot change. It is wired in someone’s genetics what they will become. Using a simple example like height, we can make the assumption that everyone has a genetic potential that is likely determined by their parents. Similarly, there are personality characteristics that you are born with – this much is true in psychology literature. Some are born with a disposition towards aggression, placidity, neuroticism, and agreeableness. But most of us can attest to stories of people who have been able to change successfully when given a reason to. Furthermore, an obvious impact on biological factors via the social environment is malnutrition. If you are born into a family that cannot afford to meet your nutritional needs, you will not grow to your potential.

It is obvious to me that we must consider both nature vs nurture; that is how we are born AND how we interact with the world, affects the person we become. It would be silly to argue one side over the other.

Okay, so where does this lead us in terms of the health direction? For a health-blog, what has nature vs nurture got to do with it? One of the greatest struggles within the health industry is adherence. How do we get people to stick to what they’re doing? One of the common answers is to ‘teach people to be disciplined,’ however, this doesn’t seem to be working very much. The question I raise is this – are people who preach ‘discipline’ predisposed to find a ‘disciplined’ life easier to live? Is it easier for them to make a ‘disciplined’ choice than another person? Maybe, maybe not.

Similarly, perhaps their upbringing and environment functions in such a way that facilitates easier disciplined choices. Or maybe they’ve taken the time to create that. Either way, the social environment is different for everyone, and therefore influences everyone differently.

I make the following, possibly outlandish statement. Both biological AND social factors have a role to play in the disposition of the individual, and therefore their decision-making process. Some are biologically wired to have an easier time making ‘disciplined’ choices. Some are not. For those who show control over their choices, perhaps education is all they need to make better choices. For those who struggle, perhaps controlling the social environment is better in the long term. Perhaps, they need a combination of both.

We can all agree that those who are unhealthy could make better choices. But particularly in the health industry, we are putting a lot of emphasis on the individual, without considering enough the effect of the collective. The better we as coaches, recognise who would be suited to individual intervention versus social, or a combination of both, the better we will be able to help our clients.