We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. –Aristotle
Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most. –anonymous
I recently had a revelation. I simplify because I lack discipline. It’s one of those facts that you’ve known all along but comes into focus one day. For me, simplifying takes the place of discipline, and then leads to happiness.
Looking back, I’ve never really been disciplined. I can blame that on my temperament, my upbringing, or anything else I can come up with, but it just never came naturally to me. I remember starting on a strict diet when I was a teen, and how my parents did not have to worry that it would get out of control. My diet lasted three days. I got consistent exercise only in the fall, because that is when I played a sport. If I didn’t show up, there would be consequences, people mad at me. I required structure, demands, few choices.
Fortunately for our daughters, they seem to take after their father. I’ve never had to remind them to do their homework, eat their veggies or get some exercise. They dedicated themselves to rigorous ballet classes and AP courses. And they studied their way through freshman year of college. I remember sitting through a preprofessional ballet class with one of my daughters when she was contemplating switching to a more serious and structured dance school. I thought the class seemed dreadful, confining, boring. When the long ninety minutes was over, we left and I thought well, that takes care of that. I thought of the time and money we would save by not ever coming back. Her response was just the opposite. “I have to have this”, she said, longing in her eyes.
I don’t like stagnation and I know that to move forward, to fulfill my goals, to be happy, demands commitment. So I do some things that seem to require discipline and focus, like practicing yoga, for instance. And simplifying in ways that make sense to me. But I don’t do these things because I am disciplined. I find discipline only because I do them.
Without simplifying, I don’t stand a chance. I know that if I have too many things in my own way- on my agenda, in my head, on my plate, I will never make it to that yoga class. I won’t sit down and write if I am distracted by all the things I have to do afterwards or did before that. If I am tripping over things on the way to my desk, I may never make it into the chair. Eliminating all that I can, except what matters the most to me, is how I actually stay consistent with those things that matter. Like most people, when I’m overwhelmed or tired, I am at my weakest. So my method of finding- or rather replacing- discipline is to remove the things that I can which keep me from what I want most. If I am clogged and cluttered with the extraneous, I can’t see the path I know I want to be on, let alone move forward on it.
I simplify my diet by organizing my pantry and fridge. I streamline my wardrobe by only keeping what I like. I unriddle my exercise routine by committing ahead of time to a workout or scheduled yoga class. I focus on what I want by eliminating from my agenda that which I don’t, as far as it is in my control. And only then, when I have pared down as much as I am able to, will I make the choices that give my life a forward momentum. One good choice leads to the next, and good things happen. Dreams come true.