Discipline is Freedom (A Twofold Method)

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

Abraham Lincoln

These words should sound pretty familiar since I quoted it literally 10 days ago. They’re worth repeated though because I really think that our 16th president really hit the nail on the head.

When it comes to discipline, I have another role model: Jocko Willink. If you have any interest in military stories and how lessons from the battlefield relate to everyday life, his podcast is pretty lit. I’m not a big podcast person but Jocko, an ex-Navy Seal, interviews incredibly interesting people (generally veterans or folks otherwise related to the service), shares gripping tales that are beyond the fathoming of most civilians, and is in general a dude who has got his shit together and is, as he says, “on the path”. He’s also a published author but if you want to check out his podcast you can do so here.

In my personal life, my partner would probably be the first person to tell you that I have an issue with discipline. As a kid, my mother didn’t have the mental capacity to be the kind of authoritative parent that most modern psychologists consider to be ideal (read: authoritative, not authoritarian). As a result, I was slovenly, disobedient, and reckless. This continued well into my adult life. Sleeping in, skipping school, staying up as late as I wanted, never picking up after myself, doing whatever I wanted with complete disregard for the consequences – all these traits took root deep into my subconscious and I’ve spent the better part of the past few years trying to actively dislodge them.

I’m just going to come out and say it: discipline sucks.

But there’s one more facet of my life that really triggered a renewed focus on increasing my discipline: Buddhism.

Buddhism, much like our good pal Jocko, subscribes to the belief that discipline is freedom. And as weirdly counterintuitive it seems that forcing yourself to follow a certain set of rules could be considered freedom, I’d like to make a case for it.

Here’s the thing: you probably have so many things you wish you had more time for but it seems like you can never fit them in, or at least not as much as you’d like. Or maybe you wish your home was tidier but you can’t ever seem to keep up with it. A related Jocko-ism is the the idea of “extreme ownership” (a concept that I feel is related to psychology’s radical acceptance – funny how the same core ideas exist under a different name in other systems, right?). I’m going to give you just a taste of that in relation to discipline. Whenever you say, “Oh, I’d love to do that but I don’t have time,” you want to know the truth? Yes, you do. You’re full of it. You do have time, you’re just not choosing to do that thing.

Instead, you’re getting sucked into your phone, binge watching too much TV, procrastinating and making excuses. You have the exact same amount of time as everyone else on this earth – and maybe more responsibilities but unless you’re legit working 60+ hours a week, you have time to do the things you want to do. It’s just a matter of not letting yourself get stuck in a non-productive rut.

Now, don’t get me wrong! People need downtime! Play that mobile game, read your book, watch your favorite show. The key to discipline is two fold. The first key?

1 – moderation

Moderation, in my opinion, is probably the most important thing we can ever try to practice. Social media is a perfect example of the benefits of moderation. After all, there’s an undeniable correlation between social media usage and depression. But you want to keep up with your friends and family, laugh at a couple funny memes to take the edge off, and catch the latest viral videos.

My recommendation for social media specifically? Prune that shit. I have two Instagram accounts: one for this website, one for only my closest friends. Whenever someone requests to add me on my personal Facebook account, I ask myself one question: if we lived in the same city and I had the ability to ask you out for tea, would I? If the answer is no, I don’t accept the request. Why on earth would I want to keep tabs on someone whose existence I barely remembered in the first place? You don’t have to necessarily go as hard into limiting your list as I have but if nothing else, limit your time.

Mindfulness about how long you’ve been on your phone (or any other device), is the first step. Try to remember to check the time when you sit down and start scrolling. Try to set a time to stop as soon as you sit down. “Okay, I’m going to chill out and catch up on my show for an hour. Then I’m going to do something productive.” Make dinner, work out, answer emails, whatever. I’m a big fan of the “run a little, walk a little” strategy my mother taught me as a kid. She meant it literally so I wouldn’t be late for school but I apply this philosophy to almost everything I do. “I’m going to finish this math assignment. Then I can play my mobile game for fifteen minutes. Then I’m going to write my weekly blog post.” Yep, that’s literally how we came to this moment here.

The second piece of this puzzle is just as important as the first, though.

2 – Prioritization

At some point, I had to accept that I couldn’t do all of the things I dreamed of doing. As a younger person, I wanted to record an album, direct my own music video, film a feature film, write a sitcom, learn how to dance, become a talented digital illustrator, make comics, write a novel, have a talk show, be an entrepreneur, and become an internet personality.

Although I haven’t quite given up on all of those, I have narrowed them down and sorted them in order of most important to least important. I still play ukulele and write song lyrics, I still record way too much footage of my friends and nature, I still draw from time to time, I still record videos periodically. However, I’ve reached a point where I know what I’m good at and what I truly want to expend my effort pursuing.

I’ve written 50,000 words of a novel. I’m writing in this blog once a week. I’m finishing my degree. These are the things at the very top of my list. Mark Twain once said, “Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.” I’ve expanded to three baskets. My novel, my website, my future business. If I was hyper disciplined, maybe I would only have one basket. But considering what a flighty, unfocused woman I am with a spread of interests so wide that I find joy in basically every activity, I feel pretty good about narrowing it down to three.

Once you’ve decided what your top priorities are, it’s time to act! Don’t just let them sit on the backburner, do something about them! A daily habit is the most ideal though weekly is also acceptable. Using my examples, I write every single day – either my novel or my website. I work on my degree every single day – my Associate’s is the next step for me becoming a business owner.

Daily or not, any progress is progress

That’s the long and short of it. Don’t get discouraged because you skipped a day or even a week. Right now I’m trying to work on incorporating the discipline I’ve established into my cleaning regime and professional goals into my diet and exercise routine. In terms of altering literal life-long habits, it’s been pretty tough. But I just channel my inner Scarlet O’Hara and remind myself that tomorrow is another day.

So what are you waiting for? You’ve got that #MondayMotivation, right? Plan, prioritize, execute! Then tell me all about it c:

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