I have, in recent days, become quite a fan of discipline. It’s a concept that we don’t like, isn’t it? Freedom is part of our American dream, part of what every soul seems to long for. Yet in the last few weeks, I have found that discipline makes me happier.
I’ve been disciplined for years with my training. I used online training with Carmichael Training Systems for a year, used Joe Friel’s Training Bible for a couple of years and used the CTS Time-Crunched athlete series for a couple of years. I set goals, I make a plan and I execute the plan. Along the way, there are plenty of metrics for determining success or failure. They’ve worked extraordinarily well for me. I’ve nearly cracked the top 10 on regional mountain bike races and successfully raced to receive my Cat 3 upgrade for cyclocross. In so many other ways, I eschewed that discipline, and have only recently began implementing it more in my life.
I had put on a few extra pounds in the last year or so by racing more, training less and eating with abandon. I had stayed around 170-175 for a few years, but had snuck up above 180 and decided I would take off the extra stuff and get down to the 165-170 pound range. A couple fewer pounds means better climbing speed! The last time I lost weight, I used the Livestrong.com Daily Plate, which is simply calorie tracking. If you eat it, you record it. By restricting calories (and earning some back through exercise), I took off 25 pounds. The goal this time is smaller and the tool is MyFitnessPal, but the premise is the same: Record the food, keep the calories down, lose the weight. I’ve still got 10 pounds to go, but it’s just a matter of time and determination — and discipline. The discipline to control what I eat, the discipline to record all of it, the discipline to do it when there’s so much else to do.
Finances were another thing I struggled with. I get paid well, but wasn’t keeping good track of my accounts. I got back into using a tool called YNAB (You Need A Budget), which has the same basic premise as MyFitnessPal: keep track of every dollar you spend. When you have to keep track, you start making wiser decisions about what you purchase (just like tracking calories makes you think about what you’re eating). And since you’ve planned out where every dollar is supposed to be used (the YNAB people call it “giving every dollar a job”), you don’t overspend. The discipline comes from recording those transactions, from planning your money’s jobs and from watching your purchasing habits. Success comes through discipline!
Even in my faith life, discipline has been important. For someone who does as much as I do in my church, I hadn’t been spending regular time in the Word of God. Getting more involved with the Word of Life program on Wednesday nights put a daily devotional in my hands. Now I read and reflect while I’m eating my breakfast each day. I could still read the news, read webcomics, or just eat breakfast staring off into space. But I am disciplining myself to read, to meditate and do it every day.
It occurred to me how much this was affecting my whole outlook on life when I found myself putting together a new workflow for my days in the office. Each day before I close down the computer, I schedule out the next day. I lay out each task, get some kind of idea how long each will take and then set reminders in the Mac Reminders app. Suddenly my days are structured, productive and I never find myself thinking, “What do I have to do now?” or even, “Is there something I’m supposed to be doing?”
And so I return to my original premise: Discipline makes me happier. I know what I’ve been eating and buying and reading and working on. When my ToDo list is empty, I can relax. When I reach the end of the day with a zero calorie balance, I know I’ve done what I can to reach a goal that is important to me. I know I’m growing through the Word and can confidently say, “Yes, I read my Bible every day.” My life is better with discipline. It’s a fascinating contradiction.