Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Discipline

In my mid-20s, I had a pretty stellar schedule. I worked full time during the day and went to grad school at night. I'd start work at 7 a.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m. I'd either go straight to a late afternoon class, or more often, I'd go to the gym for a bit, then shower, have a snack, and head to an evening class. I'd do homework and chores on Saturday or Sunday.

A coworker, a friend of mine, asked how I did it all. She had a more demanding job than I did, but she felt that her one full-time job gave her a pretty full plate. She said she couldn't imagine getting a master's degree on top of that, and she also struggled to find the time and energy to make it to the gym regularly while still maintaining relationships and a social life.

Now, I won't glorify this time period. There were plenty of times I didn't do the reading for a class. In fact, I have a lot of regrets about my education experiences because I didn't focus enough on school. And I didn't exactly have a healthy relationship with my gym habits either. It wasn't a perfect situation.

But I wish I could bottle the discipline I had back then. Basically, to answer my friend's question, I got it done day by day. My primary responsibilities were scheduled for me (work + school), and I pretty much stuck to a schedule for everything else too. I looked at a day as an opportunity to accomplish something, and I looked at down time as a space that could be filled with something useful. I never felt burned out, nor did I feel that I wasn't getting enough time to relax. In those days, I spent my fair share of time lounging around at the beach, shopping, seeing movies, and having drinks with friends.

Now? If I have one appointment outside my normal schedule, it's like my world comes crashing down. Nothing is clean, and I put off silly little tasks for months when I could finish them in a few minutes. I avoid my responsibilities.

In part, it's a backlash against the bad habit I had of feeling like I didn't deserve the joys I had in my life or that I needed to work off every privilege I had. But the pendulum has swung, and now I just feel indulgent. I'm trying to develop better habits now and get back into the day-as-opportunity mindset.

For example, I'm trying to grade papers a little a time, so I don't end up with grading marathons. I'm trying to hit the gym to lift weights or swim at least once a week. I tidy up around the apartment when I have a spare minute. 

I remind myself: Small increments, daily routines. That's what it's all about.

Photo: Daily Routine - Making the Bed by Chiew Pang, Flickr

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