One thing about learning personal discipline relatively late in life that (I wonder) if people think about is the fear of losing it.
Growing up, I was always a very principled kid, but definitely not a diligent or disciplined one. I’d put off homework and assignments to the last minute, I’d barely study, and just count on my native smarts to carry me through tests, classes, and challenges. So, for a bright kid, my grades sucked. Hard.
I don’t think I really gained self-discipline until culinary school and deciding to get in shape. For culinary school, it was finally the chance to do what I wanted. I knew how much I screwed up in school until then, and I wasn’t going to whiff this one.
In terms of getting fit, I had seen in myself and the health of loved ones that this really was self-preservation. I was angry, I had the time and energy, and (to start with) I was spiteful. If we could get spite to turn a generator, the energy crisis would be solved, and the ultimate renewable fuel source would be Twitter.
Willpower, self-control, and self discipline are like muscles. You have to work on them, gain them, develop them and train them- or you lose them.
The good news is, the more you “flex” your discipline, the more you want to.
The bad news is that, when you stop, you need to get them back.
I am on my second week back at work after being out sick for nearly a month. My body is still healing, and so I can’t exercise nearly as much as I used to yet. Given that exercise- and especially running- were my favorite methods of stress relief, I’ve had to turn to other more sedentary activities.
I binged audiobooks and podcasts. Some friends hooked me on Stardew Valley (I swear, I never thought I’d get so attached to a farming simulator RPG.) To help make ends meet, I opened myself up to freelance writing and editing.
Now that I’m back at work and nearly healed, though, all the old stressors are on overdrive as I get up to speed and work around my limitations (bakers lift a LOT of heavy stuff.) So I need to rebuild my discipline- specifically, the low-key personal kind that says “Matt, you wanted to write two hours ago and spend the rest of the evening knitting- instead, it was spent harvesting digital vegetables.”
The truly insidious part of this is that I had reasons to take it easy and relax. Good ones. Writing and editing aren’t physical labor, but they are definitely mental labor. They are work still, and a source of stress. After recovering from surgery, rejoining the work force, and trying to get myself back up to speed as safely as possible, who could blame me for wanting to escape a bit and chill out?
That said, I am sitting in my rocking chair. I am writing this out on my iPad and small keyboard with the intention of adding things like links and pictures later, because I know that I need to work Friday and that Saturday will be busy. To my right, an empty beer glass sits on top of the box that holds my knitting and the iPad has an audiobook of Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” on it- the two remaining parts of this evening I want to get to.
Normally, I will have some headphones and a noise machine to help me focus- but I’m not trying to focus right now. I can hear the heater blowing, and Emily teaching a student over Skype in the next room.
What I am trying to do now is just put words down. “You can’t edit a blank page,” after all… and if I am a writer, I am writing. If regaining my discipline means starting small again, well here’s small. “Just put words down for the time you said you would.”
In the kitchen, I tell new bakers that make mistakes or want to say “good enough” that old mantra of mine-
“Discipline is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, and doing it that way all the time with no one looking.”
Harvesting video game squash is soothing and enjoyable, but it won’t be as rewarding as finally finishing my shawl and “The Green Mile,” and relistening to old YouTube shows won’t be as rewarding as earning as a writer.
Part of regaining discipline is remembering why you had it in the first place- what you did with it, where it got you. When the why is clear, the how is easy, and then you realize you always have time for what you make time for.
If this is a restart, then it’s a restart- and time to get started.