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Friday, January 21, 2005

Working on Self Discipline

Discipline has always been one of my most challenging areas. More specifically I mean spending my time wisely, keeping focused and finishing tasks, and so on. I tend to drift around or bounce from project to project and maintaining a reasonable diet is also tough as I gain weight extremely easy. I've recently been thinking of and realizing a few strategies that seem to be helpful in improving self discipline...

Daily Reflection

By taking some time at the start of each day to think about discipline goals and where greatest your challenges are, you can help to get your mindset straight. After identifying challenges and weaknesses, recite commitments for the day to yourself.

Set Your Self Up For Success

Take note of the conditions under which you are more tempted to give in to your urges. Don't place yourself in tempting situations. In other words, don't be a "hero" by thinking you'll expose yourself to temptation so you can prove to yourself that you can resist it, presumably strengthening your resolve. That is reckless and, since none of us are perfect, you're setting yourself up for failure with that approach. Instead, part of being disciplined is in good planning, acknowledging your weaknesses, and avoiding temptations in the first place.

Stubborn Affirmation

Throughout the day, if you start to get temptations say to yourself, "I am in control of my actions!" (or think this to yourself if others are around - you don't want the men in the white suits to come to your door). This may seem silly, but it seems to have a good effect for me. This is probably because it strokes my stubbornness and desire to control - two tendencies we all have. These are often traits that we are taught to suppress, but in the case of self control, nurturing them can be helpful. It's like saying to your emotions, your sloth, or other impulses, "Sorry, but I'm the boss here - not you." So, inside your skull you (your intellect) are the supreme ruler. Don't let other aspects of your psyche usurp control - have fun putting them in their place!

Appreciate the Subtle

Things we take for granted now can become "treats" to us if we regulate the frequency we enjoy them. Appreciating those things as treats is part of gaining contentment while being disciplined. Also, taking note of the small things and appreciating them is a similar idea. For example, when we smell good food we often want to eat it. But lately I have begun learning to enjoying smells as a thing to enjoy for their own sakes, and not some indication of another thing to be had. I then experience the aroma and feel contented as if I've enjoyed something, rather than it leaving me in desire. Another example would be with soft drinks. In my father's day, a coke used to be a "treat"; something you'd get for being good or after saving up all week for the trip to the local malt shop. Today we drink soft drinks like water - correction, breath them like air. As part of my own diet for a time, I was drinking only water. After a while, if I tried to drink a soft drink it felt intensely sweet, like a treat. If we learn to enjoy the subtle for its own sake, we can begin to get more out of less and/or appreciate what we have more.

Physical-Mental Connection

Something I've come to realize lately is the connection between physical and mental discipline. I suppose that the connection in military training methods and the eastern martial arts should have been a clue to me, but I always thought the connection was merely metaphoric. What I've noticed, however, is that I tend to be more disciplined in general when I am being disciplined with my body. I think that your brain must think, "hey this guy's serious" when it feels the body undergoing stress (the good kind). No doubt, spiritual exercises concerning fasting and other physical feats also play into this connection. The point is, it's not merely a metaphor. For some reason, physical discipline really does help discipline in just about every other area.

One Step At A Time

This one's an oldie but a goodie. Don't think about having to do x, y, or z your entire life or all at once. Take each day or challenge one at a time. After a while you'll look back and see what you've done and be surprised. Where resisting temptation is concerned, just keep your focus on the challenge at hand and let the big picture take care of itself.

Build Habits

This seems like a no-brainer, but what's important is that you think of your habits as a house of cards. You build them deliberately and carefully, and don't mess around with them or the whole thing will come tumbling down. You might take one card out and think, well that's not so bad. Then the next thing you know you're taking out another. Before long all the work you put into building a habit is collapsed. And it takes only a tiny fraction of missteps to undo a long period of patient work in building a habit. So, don't think that because you've got good habits that you are somehow ok to make a few exceptions. The presence of a good habit is no protection against occasional actions to the opposite. In fact, those actions (even a few) are kryptonite to your habit!

Anyway, these notions seem to be working for me but I'm still working on them. Just figured I'd share.

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