routine, rules, schedule, work, work ethic

Step 224: The Value of Discipline

“Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.” ~ Julie Andrews, British actress and singer

I used to dislike discipline. It stifled me, preventing me from following my curiosity in any direction I found interesting. With experience, I’ve found peace in discipline. In my yoga and meditation practices it has helped me to see myself and the world a bit more clearly. Discipline, when applied at just the right moment, in just the right amount, can actually set us free because it provides a focus to build around.

Some people are born with an innate sense of discipline. Some people have discipline only in certain areas of their lives. I fall into both camps. By nature, I am not a disciplined person. I don’t like rules and rigidity, and I don’t like setting rules for others. I started to gain discipline when I started running competitively. That’s translated into discipline in a number of other areas of my health and fitness. Exercise is one of those things that needs to have a schedule in order to see consistent, positive results. Work out once a month and it won’t yield much. Work out a few times a week, and the results are readily apparent.

I’m the same way with my writing – I sit down at this computer every day and just get it done. I wanted to be a better writer so I had to practice. Now it’s not hard for me to post to this blog every day. Actually, when I don’t post every day, I feel an emptiness. Something seems off and out-of-place in my life when I don’t write about my day. My financial savings plan is another areas where discipline is mission-critical. I pay myself before I pay anyone else.

So what areas of our lives benefit from discipline? I always go by one general principle: “what gets measured, gets done.” If you need to accomplish a goal or improve a skill, chances are discipline will help. Every accomplishment has a game plan, and if something has a game plan, then progress can be measured and tracked in increments.

And how do we build more discipline in the areas of our lives that need it? Here’s my method:

1.) Your schedule is your best friend. I live by my calendar on my phone. Once I see my schedule mapped out, I stop worrying about it. This map of my time also helps me to not over-commit. (I’m a ways off from that goal, but I’m improving!)

2.) I spend one night a week at home on my own and I guard that down time like a hawk. I need it, it’s important to me, and even if President Obama comes knocking for a meeting about how to fix the world, I’m not giving up my one free night a week. Actually, that’s not true. I have a lot of ideas about how to fix the world so if President Obama wanted my opinions on that topic, I’d take the meeting. But I’d probably re-schedule something else that week to make up for it.

3.) Write it down. What gets measured gets done, and I’m horrible at remembering my own progress. I have to write it down so I can refer to it regularly. I need that written guide. So whether it’s in excel or a note in my project notebook, it’s recorded.

4.) Don’t build discipline in areas that don’t interest you. I really love listening to jazz music, but I really don’t like playing it. I tried to develop a regular practice when I played the saxophone, but I didn’t like it. I just played an instrument because everyone else I grew up with played one. I didn’t get any joy from it. Playing the saxophone made me horribly nervous. So I gave it up and turned my attention to writing. If your body and mind are fighting discipline in an area of your life, maybe that area of your life is not deserving of your time.

5.) Break it up. A friend of mine in college gave me a tiny two-inch picture frame. I still have it on my desk at work, and it’s traveled with me to every job I’ve ever had. It reminds me that all I have to do at any one moment to get to a given goal is to do what fits inside that tiny picture frame. A huge project can be overwhelming. Separate it into tiny pieces and no one piece will seem that difficult.

What are your methods for gaining and maintaining discipline? What’s worked for you?