On Punishment

September 19, 2017



"There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment."  -- Ursula Le Guin  

From the essay, Dogs, Cats, and Dancers: Thoughts about Beauty.


Lately, I've become very aware of the ways we punish ourselves to achieve our goals.


It's not surprising that most of us use punishment as fuel for our dreams. There's an entire body of research on negative reinforcement. Heck, there's a website called Stickk.com that punishes you if you don't achieve your goals. And much of our media and societal norms encourage the "no pain, no gain" method. It's all about working out until you throw up or cutting out entire food groups to be thin or working 48, 64 hour work weeks to be successful.


But the more I look at punishment, the more I agree with Ursula Le Guin and her beautiful quote.


In all of the time I've spent helping others and myself be better versions of ourselves, punishment has never once been the answer.


To be clear, I find self-control, willpower, motivation--- the tools we need to help us do hard things that are good for us very different from punishment --- the fanatic self-abuse and self loathing we have when facing failure or when we set standards or goals that are infeasible or unhealthy.


We often use punishment and it's close cousin judgement as fuel. But often it leads to sabotage. It turns things that we want to do into things that we should do. It squeezes the joy out of our lives...


Questions of the week:

  • What are your thoughts about punishment?

  • Are there areas of your life, where would you could benefit from less punishment?

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