If you’ve been reading my blog posts for the past month or so, you know that I’ve embarked on a journey to improve my self-discipline (or self control, temperance, or self-mastery, whichever term floats your boat).
It’s been an interesting first couple months of challenges and experimentation. For research purposes, I’ve finished reading The Happiness Project,by Gretchen Rubin, and No Excuses, The Power of Self Discipline, by Brian Tracy. I’m about four chapters into Ben Franklin’s Autobiography. I’ve started trying to “fly”, using the “Flylady system” (see Flylady.net), which has taught me how to better prepare for the chaos that was my life (and often still is) by implementing small steps for success, such as bedtime and morning routines and cleaning up after myself as I go along. It’s amazing how much time you can save just by using common sense (Just clean up after yourself, Mary Lauren. Duh).
I’ve had some success, but I’ve had a lot of failure. And that’s okay, because according to all of the authors listed above, failure is opportunity for growth.
I can proudly say that one definite change in my mentality is that in the past, I was too easily diverted from my goal. I would do really well for say, a week, and then….life happens. My four year old got the stomach bug so I didn’t ride my elliptical for two days in a row, and the nail was driven into the coffin. My routine was disrupted, and therefore, ended. But not now. No, now I know that I just pick up where I am and keep going. Just because I didn’t keep a perfect record of exercising thirty minutes every day doesn’t mean I just throw in the towel. I often let my perfectionism be the reason I don’t complete things, which sounds incredibly contradictory, but here’s the way I was thinking. I’d say to myself, “I’m going to do this perfectly, or not at all.” That’s ridiculous. Doing something is definitely better than doing nothing at all, and by doing something, even if it’s only a fraction of what you had intended on doing, you’re still in a better position to complete the task later than if you’d quit altogether. Need to clean out your closet but don’t have time for such a massive undertaking? Do one section at a time. One shelf a day for ten days, or twenty days, if that what it takes, until the job is done. You don’t have to overwhelm yourself. Like my mother-in-law says, eat your elephant one bite at a time. It’s gratifying to see the progress, no matter how small, and it’s much more manageable as well.
So, being true to my list-loving self, I have compiled a list of things I wasn’t expecting to learn about self-discipline:
#1 Self discipline affects every facet of my life.
Parenting. Shopping. Eating. Working. Exercising. Spiritual Growth. Friendships. Marriage. By improving my self control, I improve every aspect of my life in some way. It’s empowering to find consistency in an often unpredictable life.
#2 There is exhilarating freedom in exercising restraint.
I never expected to feel so exhilarated from telling myself “No”. When you give yourself the power to say “No”, you give yourself the power to do anything. No to online shopping means yes to the savings account. No to the chocolate pie means yes to the smaller size jeans. See where this is going?
#3 You can’t motivate everyone to practice self-discipline with you, and that can be annoying.
I’ve never been one to get frustrated by the choices of strangers…Until now. I find myself having several arguments (in my mind, of course) with complete strangers or acquaintances that I wish were making better choices. I want everyone to be as motivated as I am to do a better job while at work. I want everyone to want to read self-help books. I want everyone to stop smoking or invest well or rest more, etc., etc., etc. But I’m not in control of everyone else, just myself. I have to learn to stop allowing others’ decisions to affect my attitude. That doesn’t mean I can’t have high expectations of others, but it also doesn’t mean I have to be upset when those expectations aren’t met. No one is perfect, especially myself.
#4 Sometimes, you can motivate others to be better, too.
I love sharing my successes/failures with my friends and family because it provides a way for me to have someone else help hold me accountable to my goals. My favorite part about this is when one of them says, “Hey, I need to work on that, too. Let’s do it together!” It’s not only an accountability partner, it’s encouraging. It restores a sense that there are good things to hope for, good things to strive toward in this cold world.
#5 This is a never-ending journey, and that’s a good thing.
I guess I thought when I started this process that I could improve one thing at a time about my character, then check it off the list and move on. I’m finding out quickly that it is going to take years and years to become a master of self control. It is an infinite, ever-evolving process, and if you are not progressing, you’re regressing. Rather than complete one item at a time, you just sort of add another virtue to the mix and keep moving forward. You must remain mindful and vigilant, or complacency will sneak in. It’s certainly a challenge, but anything worth doing is worth doing right.
This will be the last blog exclusively about self-discipline, although I will never be able to stop working at achieving adequate self discipline. After much meditation, I have concluded that the next virtue I need to work on is meekness or humility.
As soon as I post this blog, I will begin researching good sources to aid me in my quest for achieving meekness/humility. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I will begin, of course, with the Bible. Any other ideas are welcomed! Good night, everyone.