Tag Archives: discipline

The Easy Slide From Discipline

While it may not carry with it the same level of warm-fuzzies as America, motherhood and apple pie, it’s pretty hard to argue that discipline isn’t something just about universally celebrated as a good thing to pursue.  The ability to stick with something you commit to, even when things get hard, inconvenient or lonely, is one of those generally accepted positives.  And I think it does deserve that kind of placement in the pantheon of virtues (which now makes me think I need a blog post about a pantheon of virtues).

What’s funny about discipline is how easy it is to get completely wrong.  I say this from very personal experience and I’ve seen it on more than a few occasions in others.

“Hey Kev, you remarkably handsome and dapper son-of-a-gun, how does some get discipline wrong? And how can YOU, of all people, get it wrong?” is what you must be thinking.  I can feel it.  That exact quote of amazement.  I’m good at this stuff.

Glad you (well maybe I) asked.

This is how: when discipline morphs into self-bashing and, at least for me, that transition occurs a little too seamlessly at times.

Not having great focus during a lifting session could be “Not great tonight, but tomorrow get back at it. Maybe get up early to see what you can do.” vs. “What the f**k was that?  You aren’t going to get better mailing it in like that? Seriously, stop screwing around and acting like a jackass.  Do better.”

Trying to lose weight and caving in with an oversized dinner when out with friends could be “Well, not ideal… but that’s just one meal. Get back to the plan tomorrow.” vs. “Great going, champ.  All this progress totally blown.  Typical.  This is why you aren’t doing any better and this is why you keep screwing these things up.”

These aren’t the exact things I am saying to myself (well, maybe the lifting part), but I think it’s representative of how we can shoot for tough-minded discipline and miss the mark by going with “I am going to utterly kick the bejeezus out of myself to fix things.”

Discipline is great and necessitates a toughness towards yourself in order to fully express itself.  You will be forgoing ease and comfort in the pursuit of true discipline.  You will have struggles and moments of doubt as you push through.  You need to persist.

But when you inevitably stumble…because we all stumble… you need to tune in to how you react to that. Tough mixed with positive is doable and you probably need to catch yourself to make it happen. God knows I do.  Because discipline at the expense of your self-worth is a trade-off without much long term merit.

Self-kindness isn’t weakness, my friends.  It may be the best strength you have.

Small Change. Consistent Change. Larger Results.

I remember it just sitting there and staring at me.  That pile of clutter on my kitchen counter that probably sat there for a few weeks.  It wasn’t literally staring at me or else this would be the start to one of the stranger horror stories to date, where an unsorted collection of mail, notebooks, charger cords and random nonsense achieved a sentient state and was sizing me up.  Not good times.

Anyhoo, I was definitely looking at it with a touch of frustration because I really do hate when things get all out of sorts if I have complete control over them.  Given that we’ve established that the clutter was not some kind of fairy tale monster, I definitely should have been wrangling it.

Yet, I had not.

The clutter on the counter was actually symptomatic of something larger that had been nagging away in the back of my brain – that I had let a bunch of things go for any of a number of reasons.  The reasons all seem good in the moment (I’m just too busy right now, I have a lot going on, I’m tired at the end of the day, etc.), but which total up to a neat little stack of excuses.

So why had this happened?  And why had I gotten bad at taking time to meditate?  Or to read more consistently?  Or to do more writing?  Or get to bed at a decent hour?  Or, or, or…

The answer was actually pretty simple – When I would inevitably hit that point of shouting unto the heavens “Damn it! This will ALL get fixed!” while shaking my clenched fists of fury, that’s what I would try to do.  Fix ALL of it.  At once.  Not one or two things.  Oh gosh no.  In that moment I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was gonna get cracking on changes, my friends.  Ohhhh, the changes I would undertake.

It was only when I was recently reading the excellent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney did the folly of my efforts become so apparent.  The question was never being an undisciplined slob or somehow being weak in my principles.  It was really that I wasn’t giving myself a chance to succeed because I wanted everything fixed at once, instead of taking a more methodical approach.  One of the interesting pieces of that book is how clearly it lays out how to build and what easily erodes willpower.

Seeking to spread your finite willpower thinly across a multitude of worthwhile improvements results in not achieving any of them.  And getting frustrated for the umpteenth time. And repeating a mind-numbing cycle… again.

How did I finally address all of this? (Notice I did not say fix, since that clearly implies it is all good from here on out and y’all know that ain’t the case).

Step One: Make The List

I made a short list of 4 things and called it my “Willpower Development List”.  Very official, I know.  It’s as follows:

  1. Straighten up my house in the moment. No waiting around.
  2. Pray/meditate daily.
  3. Read/write every day.
  4. Get to bed by 10PM.

Step Two: Assign Each Goal a Month

I picked a month for each step and to focus on getting good at that task.  So, I started with straightening up for August.  Each day I would see to be REALLY good at keeping my house super tidy.  Nice and simple.  Then in September, I added the prayer/meditation as a 2nd task of the day, after already developing the good habit of straightening up the house.  Then in October, the reading and writing.

Step Three: Automate

Because everything that needs to be done in this world can now only be accomplished with a super snappy app, I found the Streaks – Daily Habit Tracker app for my phone which would remind me every day about the tasks (there are a variety of apps like this out there for whatever phone OS y’all are rocking).  The goal would be to string together longer and longer streaks of completing everything.  I’m not always perfect, but I am WAY better.  And if I find myself not being consistent in the habits I’ve developed, I will not add something new until I have the first group down solid.

Step Four: The Bigger Lesson

All of this is a pretty simple approach, but one where I began to see momentum and ended the feeling that I was an undisciplined goober with little prospect of success in sight.

It also made me feel more keenly a larger point: that my inability to effect the changes I wanted was not a failing of personal character as much as it was the use of a flawed method.  I urge everyone to keep that in mind in their own lives.  Human beings are capable of soaring achievements that continue to take my breath away on a regular basis, but we also all bear an innate ability to personalize our shortcomings as hard-wired genetic limitations.  We’re supremely gifted as beating ourselves up for seemingly everything we do not do well.  Just remember that maybe… just maybe… that getting a perspective check may be all you need to shift the view.

And that’s better than any habit streak I know.

Judgments On Willpower

Tai Lopez always does a damn good job of making me think.  Well, that and wondering how the hell he reads so many books, but I guess that is a form of thinking as well.  Huh.  Touche, Mr. Lopez.  Well-played indeed.

A recent newsletter was about a book he recently read, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthby Roy F. Baumeister.  What caught my attention was his describing the two things that cause the most positive outcomes in our lives are intelligence and willpower/self-control.

The trick is that while intelligence may have certain limits to how it can be improved, you can get better with your willpower.

The challenge? Stress is the #1 killer of willpower, discipline and self-control. As I read this in his newsletter, I’m pretty sure I responded with an “A-freaking-men!” albeit maybe with a stronger choice of vocabulary.

So here is a little video I did this AM about how I’ve seen the forces of stress beat down mightily upon willpower and a reminder that you aren’t a weak, flaw-ridden person if you cannot grind through every, single, solitary hurdle upon your path.

My favorite part is probably the screen cap YouTube selected for the video. I look downright pugilistic!

 

 

Enjoy your Sunday, friends.

The Smartest Guy in the Room (And That Room Is A Gym)

Every time I train, I’m the smartest guy in the gym.  By far.  It’s really not a debatable point.OK sure, so I train by myself in the basement, but my original assertion stands just fine on its own.

I’ve long tried to approach my gym training with a sense of purpose and direction about what I am looking to accomplish.  I’ve tried to be focused on the fact that I have my own goals and it doesn’t mean anything whatever everyone else’s goals are.  Isn’t that the point?

2013-09-20 19.35.16-1And in theory, this should all work out exceptionally well as the smartest guy in that room I use for my training.  Who else is there to distract me?  No one is coming up to chat with me.  There aren’t any charming young lasses batting their eyelashes in my general direction.  I don’t see someone else’s routine and think “Aww damn it all… I totally should be doing that.”

Hence, look at me!  Focused!  Driven!  Handsome and charismatic.  No seriously… look at me.  That’s a whole lot of sexy man right there and he wants to know how YOU doin’?  I mean… damn.

Umm… wait, where was I again?  Ahh yes, the distraction free life in my home gym.

Guess what?  In the last few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how easily distractions can creep in anyway… and it’s all about the bench press.

The bench press is one of those lifts that, regardless of your lifting experience, you know what it is.  It’s sort of the strength benchmark for casual conversations with most people.  When people ask me about lifting and such, it’s not usually how much I squat and it’s not how much I deadlift (two lifts that I ‘m good at and care about for a multitude of reasons).

Nope… everyone wants to know “HOW MUCH YA BENCH???”

But beyond that, the bench press is also one of the classic “big lifts” for powerlifting (squat, bench and deadlift) and for most serious routines around.  It’s also a lift that is technically demanding, requires a lot of time to improve… and can screw up your shoulders.

As my shoulders of late have felt pummeled by this vaunted lift, the question finally hit me like a ton of bricks:

“OK, smartest guy in the room… why DO you bench press?”

I don’t ever plan on competing in powerlifting.

It seems to do me more harm than good.

But… but… how will I know how strong I am?

And that last point is when I realized why I still benched – because my benchmark (pun so FULLY intended) is a lift I can compare myself to others on.  Not a lift that I just need to get stronger at or which has excellent carry-over to other athletic pursuits… but one that I could relate to the strength of others.

That’s when the smartest guy in my home gym decided to make a change this past week and ditch the bench press.  Oh, fear not, fellow meatheads… I will be doing other kinds of compound pressing lifts that focus on the chest.  Just not regular straight bar bench press.

Even when you’re all alone… even when you think you have a firm grasp on your own individuality and why you do things… never forget how easy it is to let the slow creep of comparison invade.  Vigilance in repelling this interloper in the night is crucial.

Because even the smartest guy in the room can miss the whole damn point.

Forty Facebook-Free Days

Every year when Lent rolls around, I try to figure out what in the world I’m going to do for those 40 days that will be meaningful of the season.  As Mom always says, “You don’t have to give something up.  You can do something instead.”  She makes a good point (as Mom usually does), but it always seems easier to pick something to forgo instead of doing something.  This year, I’m looking to do both.  Why?  Apparently I’ve been bitten by an ambition bug.  Nasty little suckers.

Now, I could look to subtly build the message of this blog post through an increasingly clever and layered set of paragraphs, delving into heretofore never seen nuances… umm… but the title of the post pretty much gives the whole damn thing away anyway, so why bother?  So, yup… I’m giving up Facebook for Lent.  I know, I’m fairly cutting edge in my approach to most things, Lent included.  I’m sure I will be a 2011 Time Magazine Man of the Year candidate on this alone.

I’ve gotten a bit of pushback from a few friends of mine, especially those who no longer live close enough by me to hang out with on a consistent basis.  They make a good point: Facebook is the easiest way for them to know what I’m up to given the busy pace of their lives.  I actually agree with that.  I know it can be supremely easy to bash Facebook for any varied number of reasons, but it’s allowed me to reconnect with old friends, family members and just keep up with what a lot of people I know are doing on a daily basis.  Plus, I’ve seen some interesting articles and pretty amusing pieces of YouTube genius as a result of The Book of Face.

So why give it up?  Two reasons, really.  One: I like it and doing so is a sacrifice for me.  That’s sort of the easy one to explain.  Second: I feel like I can make much better use of my time for Lent than addictively checking Facebook on my laptop and on my phone, or reading the updates that come via e-mail.  They are not inherently bad or anything like that, but I know I’ve become a little too preoccupied with the Facebook life and not enough focused on… well… regular life.  The Facebook time is time I could use reflecting on Lent, doing some reading, writing for this terribly neglected blog, finally getting serious about improving my flexibility (seriously) or even just spending time with people… like face-to-face.  You know, like in ye olden days of yore.  And if you are wondering whether I crafted that sentence strictly for an opportunity to use “yore”… damn straight I did.  That word gets far too little use, my friends!

KMK Facebook

The real hope I have is to unplug for a bit and not withdraw at all, but rather to engage in a more meaningful fashion with the people I care most about it.  Facebook should be a tool for that, not some kind of crutch and while I don’t think I’ve gotten to that crutch-like point, I must confess I’ve come to rely on “The Book” a lot more than I would care to.  Hence, I am pulling away from Facebook for 40 days and seeing what it all brings.  I expect a few withdrawal symptoms over days 1-5, but probably smooth sailing after that.

The only potential bummer is actually using Facebook to announce any new blog posts I do.  I will definitely be using Twitter for that and if there was a way to auto-publish to my “Fierce and Mighty” Facebook page, that would be nice too.  If I can’t, then so be it.

Don’t feel bad, Facebook.  We had a good run and I just need some time apart.  It’s not you… it’s me.  I’ll be back… I think.

From Whence Shall Come the Quit?

Roberto-Duran-Gives-Up-001In exploring the connection of mind, body and spirit, I am a bit fascinated by the  moment of surrender.  It’s not from a morbid sense of curiosity, but more from the vantage of why does it happen when it happens.  What causes us to stop?  To relent?  To “No mas” a la Roberto Duran?  It can certainly depend on the activity in question.

The genesis of my fascination has nothing to do with obsessing over having given up at some point.  We all end up at that place one way or the other.  I want to figure out why it happens and then get better at pushing past that moment if possible… well, provided it’s an activity I give a damn about.  It’s not like I am going to study like a medieval monk to master the art of eating broken glass or some crazy nonsense like that.

So at the moment where it all comes apart, I want to know why.  An example may be in order:

Think of someone deep in physical training of some kind or another.  Perhaps it’s a powerlifter constantly seeking to move bigger and bigger weights or, at the opposite end of the training spectrum, the marathoner who conditions herself to run for 26.2 freaking miles.  (Umm, as you can tell, I am blown away by long distance runners because I cannot imagine trying to run that damn far).

For either of these individuals, which will usually quit first?  The mind as it obsesses over each pound or each mile?  The spirit as the will to go prove something wanes in the face of greater and greater physical demand?  Or will it simply be the body reaching some point of pure capability when one more pound or one more step is completely impossible?

In these cases, I find it is usually much less about the body and a lot more about some combination of the mind or spirit.  The body can accept an inordinate amount of physical work (for periods of time, mind you) provided the mind sees some value/end goal and the spirit stay strong.  The trick is to keep those things well in mind.

What about a test of the mind?  Does this change the equation at all in terms of the weak link from the body/mind/spirit continuum?  Possibly.  I think of people pulling all-nighters where their only limit is pure physical exhaustion (or running out of caffeinated beverages).  That being said, I am still tend to think mind and spirit may give out before the body.  The all-too-common declaration of “Good God, I think my brain is full…” jumps to mind for me, likely because I have uttered it a few times when deep in study back in law school.

In the end, I think that the greatest bang-for-your-buck in learning to push past previous points of failure is more of a mental and spiritual challenge, even if the activity you are seeking to improve is primarily physical.  Take Michael Jordan – physically gifted? Definitely.  But Michael Jordan did not become MICHAEL JORDAN because of his physical gifts… it was because of an absolutely indomitable will to win.  He was just plain mentally tougher than anyone else on the court.  Period.

And how do you build your will?  Great question.  For myself, I am going to take it in 2 parts since I need work on this as does… ohh… pretty much everyone.  First, pick some activity that is about discipline and work on it.  Second, build up this activity sloooowly.  For instance, I want to be better about developing this blog, so starting next week, I am getting up 30-45 minutes earlier in the morning to write posts, comment on other blogs, do Twitter, etc.  It’s not earth-shattering, but it requires extra discipline and sometimes there is something cool about doing a hard, lonely thing.  You need to do it slowly in order to notch up a few successes along the way.  If you are working on running a marathon, maybe you start doing a few of your runs at the crack of dawn or purposefully at the end of a really long day for the sheer purpose of knowing your mind will rebel mid-way through your run and will begin to rationalize why cutting it short and heading home for “American Idol” is really not that bad because you can run tomorrow.

Pick your hard lonely thing. Tell yourself you just need to push through it ONE time and then do it.  A few days later?  Do it again.  Let the momentum build and the will shall follow.

Be fierce.  Be mighty.  Above all else, just give it a shot so you at least know you didn’t let a chance for something better slide on by.