Discipline

The end for self-discipline is personal improvement; the end for discipline lies beyond the self. This distinction helps explain why individuals can be incredibly self-disciplined and yet see very little external achievement as a result. Sure, they never miss a day writing in their journal and never lose their temper, but those displays of self-mastery don’t automatically lead to outward success.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/are-you-disciplined-or-just-self-disciplined/

There are lots of ways to talk about this distinction; the particular way described by McKay comes from an author he’s interviewed. I’d never thought about is as “discipline” versus “self-discipline.” I’d always thought of discipline as a thing, and then the “self-” prefix in “self-discipline” means that thing done to myself. And I’m not going to change how I use the words, “discipline,” and “self-discipline.” I see why they’re using “discipline” and “self-discipline.” I think I’d prefer to use, “inward-directed,” and, “outward-directed,” discipline. Everything I do to myself is self-discipline, but when my goal is to change myself, then it’s “inward-directed,” and when my goal is to change the world, then it’s “outward-directed.”

But the point of the distinction is very interesting. Do I actually have goals which are the, “why?” behind my self-discipline? Are those goals an appropriate mixture of inward- and outward-directed?

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Screens and screen time

I read and hear a lot about how excessive “screen time” is bad. But there’s a distinction that has to be made: Is the “screen time” tool-use to accomplish something meaningful? …because tool-use is not bad for you. We don’t begrudge the time a mechanic spends wielding his tools; we call that “working.”

Today I spent nearly every waking minute in front of one of four different computer screens. For reasons of sanity and physical health, sometimes I was sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes indoors and outdoors for long stretches too. I also take intentional “vision breaks” to allow my eye muscles to relax—literally relax to infinite focusing distance, which they would otherwise never do facing a screen, or anywhere indoors.

What did I do? I did an enormous number of things. Here are a few examples from today: I submitted a presenter application for an in-person event in September. I worked on my presentation notes for a different, in-person event in 2 weeks. I researched and experimented with exporting the contents of a WordPress site, and then read and interpreted the massive data which was output, to verify that I could later write a program to parse it. I then planned out the work needed to disassemble the project, of which that WordPress site is but one piece. I estimate I spent three hours reading text articles I’d previously queued up to read later. I helped a member of a community sort out a problem they were having.

I, truly, don’t know about you. I however, am an excellent mechanic, with the finest tools, and there remain far more things worth doing than I can ever get done. My problem is not, “screen time.”

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Success

What I tell young people is if you identify your goals, and have the willpower to overcome difficulties—there will always be certain difficulties—and you find the right people to help you, you will be successful.

~ Reinhold Messner

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Accounting

Understanding an entity’s metabolism is fundamental to understanding its role within an ecosystem of competing entities and the selective pressures it is under. An entity with a successful metabolism survives and grows; one that fails in its metabolism is eliminated. Over time, through natural selection, an ecosystem becomes dominated by the entities with successful metabolism. Different entities can have different designs and make different choices, but the laws of nature decide which of them thrive.

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/organizational-metabolism-and-the-for-profit-advantage

There’s good and evil, and moral and immoral. There are associations [in the most general sense of the word] of people working in a myriad of structures, trying to achieve many different goals which are good, evil, moral, and immoral. The first thing I had to get straight in my head was that the variety of the association doesn’t tell me anything about the goals, or the morals, of the people. Because it’s those people that matter.

People can use, or abuse, any structure. (Just like they can any tool. A structure of association isn’t magical; It’s a tool.) So what is the difference between “non-profit” and “for-profit”? …which tool is better at enabling people to work towards their goals?

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Deluding oneself

Find a new topic or area or concern that has a small number of people that you respect behind it, but which has not become a culture-wide fad or conventional wisdom. If it’s already common knowledge, it’s probably too late to make a major contribution. If you’re the only one excited, you may be deluding yourself.

~ Steven Pinker

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Remember sweetness

It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.

~ Chuck Palahniuk

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I continue to practice shifting my perspective. Instead of “pain” and “pleasure” though, I struggle with “failure” and “success.” The danger of setting clear goals, is that it’s equally clear whether or not they are achieved. Not reaching a goal is clear, and real. And to pretend otherwise is foolish.

The trap is that I forget that each goal contains a degree of arbitrariness. Success (reach the goal) and failure (not reach the goal.) Do not admit of shades of grey. But I systematically make the error of moving those adjectives onto my own self-assessment. Did I reach that goal? No. Then: I’m a failure.

A friend of mine once said that it takes a special person to be able to set a goal they cannot achieve. The cleverness—in my opinion—in there is that to be that special person, you have to set a goal that you believe you can achieve… and then discover your belief was wrong. I had a belief—some piece of a model of reality, a map of a territory, a piece of knowledge—and I’ve now realized, as I fail to reach a goal, that I was wrong. That’s literally learning.

…so really, every time I fall short on a goal, I’m literally learning and getting better. Every time I set a goal and “succeed,” not so much.

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Courage

It takes courage to let go of what’s not working. Rather than focus on what you’re losing, hone in on what giving up goals affords you, like more time and energy. Remember no decision is permanent. You can continue to make adjustments until you find the balance of goals that works for you.

~ Melody Wilding

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Specific

In fact, some of the best advice comes in the form of clichés. Be yourself. Seize the day. Fake it till you make it. Despite how trite these phrases sound now, they are still deep, paradigm-shifting insights about being human. They’ve undoubtedly changed countless lives, which is how they became trite. Precisely because these principles have been discovered and expressed many times, in many contexts, they’ve become too general and too familiar to revolutionize how someone does something.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/11/advice-gets-good-when-it-gets-specific/

Everyone knows by now that the ‘S’ in SMART goals stands for “specific.” I completely agree with Cain. My experience has been that magic happens if I can—when appropriate, when asked—give both the generic cliché and a specific example. For example, “Fake it ’til you make it. People can detect confidence. So work to overcome your nervousness and self-doubt by keeping your communication as simple as possible. Simplify until you have clear, simple statements and clear, simple requests.”

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