I am very disciplined. I go to the gym five days a week first thing in the morning, whether I want to or not. Upon arriving home I roust the beasts for our first of two dog walks, whether I want to or not. I do laundry every Thursday and have a schedule for other household duties spattered throughout the week. I also practice classical guitar at least two hours a day, five days a week.
I am very disciplined now, but that was not always the case. To the contrary, I lived like a slob for years, scooping poops off the deck only when company was coming. I begrudgingly laundered my bedding when it got so grainy with dog dirt that my skin hurt. Guitar practice came when I was in the mood and went when I wasn’t. Occasionally, I would inexplicably find myself in one of those magical but fugacious phases of high motivation—I’d deep clean the house (bye bye monster cobwebs!), rid the pantry of Nutella and saltine crackers, and write a few cheesy, three-chord ditties, all without even trying. But sooner or later regression to the mean would reassert itself, and I’d be back to my free spirited, laisse-faire, I’ll-do-it-when-I-feel-like-it self.
Ahhh, those were the days. . . but wait, those days actually sucked!
Sure, my spirit might have been free, but the rest of me was frustrated by my lack of follow through and inability to complete projects or make headway on meaningful goals. Also, I was, shall we say, pleasantly plump, and in a near constant losing battle with chocolate (and bread, oh, and cheese). It seems I wasn’t really free in any sense of the word.
But I wanted it all—the freedom to choose what I wanted when I wanted combined with the ability to do the right thing. Alas, freedom of choice means I had, well, freedom to choose. Would I pick productivity over sloth? Exercise over sleeping in? Green tea over hot chocolate? Hmmmm. . . .Over time, I realized that giving myself all that freedom wasn’t working in my favor because I was only making healthful, productive choices a fraction of the time. It seems that freewheeling it through life is all well and good—that is, unless you have meaningful values and long-term goals.
Luckily, along the way I began to discover that following through on a task no matter what—contrary to popular belief—is actually good fun.
Discipline is Contagious
Did you know that self-control applied to one area of your life can spill over into other areas? As my housekeeping became more regimented, I began cleaning up my eating too. I shifted from, “I’m an artist! I can’t play within a structure, without inspiration!” to scheduling in my guitar practice, and also began making a daily food plan.
Sometimes, I’d wake up on yard work day and think, “Yuck, weeding and trimming! Maybe I’ll work on that new guitar piece instead.” My habitual inclination was to change plans midstream, but then I began to realize it was that kind of thinking that got me into trouble to begin with. That’s when I adopted the “no matter what” principle. The ability to follow through no matter what is very empowering, lending itself to a values-driven lifestyle.
These days, I schedule my time and meals and follow through most of the time no matter what, and it’s wonderful! Tasks that I formerly dreaded (like clipping my dog’s gnarly nails without losing a finger), I actually look forward to now because finishing them is so rewarding (a muzzle helps). Also, completing unsavory tasks seems to beget the completion of more tasks. I feel so energized and accomplished that I wanna keep going! Even if I don’t particularly enjoy a certain necessary activity, at the end of the day I’m glad I did it because I’m now a step closer to my goals and living in alignment with my values.
Discipline isn’t a four-letter word. In fact, developing discipline in one area of your life can increase your overall self-control and help you on the nutrient-dense path.