“The gift of self-discipline is that it has the power to take you beyond the reasoning of temporary emotion to freedom. Think of how empowered you’ve felt on occasion when you haven’t given in to the ‘I don’t feel like it’ syndrome and honored your commitment to yourself. What does not ‘feeling like it’ have to do with it? The combination of love for something with the willingness to do what it takes to practice it – discipline – results in freedom.” Michael Beckwith, founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center.
New Years is a fantastic time for renewal, re-commitment and discipline with our goals. Most of us are tired from the excess and ready to commit to eating healthier, exercising more and generally taking better care of ourselves. Visions of sugar plums turn to visions of wellness as we return to the gym, the yoga mat and the vegetable aisle at the grocery store.
I recently came across an old journal and found my New Year’s resolutions from years past. Like a bull at a gate, I committed to; running several days a week, one hour of yoga five days a week, plus one hour of daily meditation, no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar, no starches, no fun. Well, perhaps not that strict, but pretty darn close. Needless to say, my resolutions made it as far as January 3rd. I’ve heard this same story from many people. You kick off the New Year in high gear, hitting the gym regularly, doing yoga consistently, eating healthier, then come April, all goes to hell in an Easter basket.
Over time, I’ve learned not to set my goals inaccessibly high and to focus on the small things I can do consistently (consistency over potency). My goals for last year were, 15 minutes of meditation, and 15 minutes of yoga every day. I often do more than this (it is my job, after all) but I was going for consistency which meant weekends, vacations, birthdays etc. My commitment to my goals were going along swimmingly when, mid year, my discipline muscle was put to the test. I was surprised with a party for my birthday. I returned home after midnight, but I was still prepared to get my 15 minutes of meditation in before my tired and slightly tipsy head hit the pillow. Then, I heard my daughter get up. She was sick….vomiting sick. So, I helped her get cleaned up and sat with her by the toilet until she felt well enough to go back to bed. I finally did my “15 minutes” right before I went to bed; around 3:45 AM. No, it wasn’t ideal and I probably didn’t gain any wisdom on my meditation cushion that morning, but I did “show up.” Overtime, this consistency has given me an incredible amount of confidence as I feel like a “stick to it” kind of gal and less like a “I’ll do it tomorrow” kind of gal. Often times, it’s not a sick kid but just a burgeoning pile of laundry, bills to pay, or a Facebook account that can distract us from our healthy rituals.
So, choose the number one positive change you can add to your life in 2011. Make it small. If it’s more physical activity you need, choose something you enjoy and make your goals achievable (i.e. a ten minute walk or run) and then, show up. Make a commitment to do that day in and day out until it becomes a habit. If you start small, chances are a 10 minute walk will, on some days, turn into a 30 or 40 minute walk or run. Some days, you may just do 10, but make it a ritual and develop your discipline muscle. And when you wake up with that “don’t feel like doing it” feeling, just bring awareness to that feeling. Don’t label, judge, or get attached to the feeling. Just notice…then…lace up your shoes and walk out the door. Like Michael Beckwith said, “What does not feeling like it have to do with it?” Another favorite quote of mine on discipline comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He said, “Discipline provides a consistency which is independent of what kind of day you had yesterday and what kind of day you anticipate today.”
The biggest by-product we receive from developing our discipline muscle is a huge boost in confidence and self satisfaction. This by-product is far greater than a set of washboard abs.
So, cheers to a year of becoming more of who we want to be in 2011, one small, consistent step at a time.