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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Reaching the end isn’t the point

Much better is to rebuild the skill entirely with a different approach, one that directly addresses your perennial snags. Instead of slowly getting better at your familiar, limited way, you embrace the awkwardness of learning an unfamiliar but stronger method, as though you’ve never done the thing before at all.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/10/how-to-level-up-instead-of-plugging-away/

In the article Cain mentions spending as much as 10 minutes in reading one page as part of his larger anecdote from which he’s drawing this lesson. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find enough tranquility in my mind just to feel ready to read. I always have so many thing on the to-do and should-do lists. By the time I get enough of the urgent items beat back into the shadows, often, another days has passed with too little reading. I should do something about that…

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Standing desk

Long story short: I was given a very nice standing desk. I’ve been a long-time ignorer of these things. After a few weeks now, I am officially converting to team standing-desks. Yes, all the reasons you hear are true about them, but there’s one reason I’ve never heard mentioned which is the real reason I’m on board: Convenience.

From a chair, with my obviously finite reach, I am forever rearranging what is within reach. …now I simply half-step to the right—and all my books are at hand. …half-step left—all that office-supply and notes and note-taking stuff is in reach. Start writing—walk to something—walk back and finish writing my paragraph. Walk up, pick off a small task (answer an email)—walk back to mowing my lawn. I never realized how often I was sitting down and standing up, and how often I sat down only to get up to get something.

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Systematic abandonment

To that end, Drucker recommends that executives routinely take part in “systematic abandonment.” Every few months, an executive should do a reevaluation of all the organization’s practices, looking at everything the organization is doing and deciding anew if the organization should stop or continue it.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/peter-druckers-question-for-eliminating-practices-that-no-longer-serve-you/

Drucker was writing explicitly in the context of business executives. McKay does a nice job of showing how those principles which serve executives so well, work equally well in one’s personal life. I didn’t have this process—this guiding principle from Drucker’s work—identified clearly in my head. But I have it firmly implanted into how I instinctively do things.

I’ve had more than one person make the joke, “Craig, how many clones do you have?!” (I like to jokingly reply, “Yes, I have several clones, but none of us can get the others to do anything we don’t want to do ourselves.”) I accomplish a lot. While I have a number of clear advantages—such as where I was lucky enough to start in the game of life, luck in biology, and luck in opportunities I was shown—those aren’t the truly magic ingredient. The magic ingredient is what I don’t do. It doesn’t matter what specifically it is that I don’t do; Each of us has to make those decisions for oneself. What does matter is that I am willing to regularly and often spend a prodigious amount of time examining what I am doing, and how I am doing it. And then ruthlessly cutting away things that I should stop doing.

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Physical it’s not

This phenomenon—winning or losing something in your mind before you win or lose it in reality—is what tennis player and coach W. Timothy Gallwey first called “the Inner Game” in his book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey wrote the book in the 1970s when people viewed sport as a purely physical matter. Athletes focused on their muscles, not their mindsets. Today, we know that psychology is in fact of the utmost importance.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/01/inner-game-of-tennis/

Somewhere I saw a great interview with Gallwey. (Try TouYube?) Some of the insights from his work—for example, that psychology is critical to success in sports—now seem obvious. But 50 years ago, this was not only “not obvious” but was literally unheard of. (Insert my peewee-baseball story from the late 70s. *shudder*) There’s a lot more worth gleaning from Gallwey’s work. Positive thinking doesn’t work! Worse, it’s a hinderance as bad as negative thinking. *gasp* This insight is also 50-years old, but from my conversations with athletes, it doesn’t appear that it’s percolated as thoroughly.

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Not self-made

[…] it is not true that I am self-made. Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants. My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches, and teachers; of kind souls who lent couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me from the pages of magazines (and, as my life grew, from personal interaction).

~ Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Creative choices

There are no radical creative choices that do not carry with them an inherent risk of equally radical failure. You cannot do anything great without aggressively courting your own limits and the limits of your ideas. […] There is nothing more powerful than failure to reveal to you what you are truly capable of. Avoiding risk of failure means avoiding transcendent creative leaps forward. You can’t have one without the other.

~ Aisha Tyler

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Radical creative choices

There are no radical creative choices that do not carry with them an inherent risk of equally radical failure. You cannot do anything great without aggressively courting your own limits and the limits of your ideas. […] There is nothing more powerful than failure to reveal to you what you are truly capable of. Avoiding risk of failure means avoiding transcendent creative leaps forward. You can’t have one without the other.

~ Aisha Tyler

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Sometimes it’s a single word that makes me pull a quote. In this case it was that “aggressively”.

There are times, in certain situations, where aggression is what’s called for. I’m often reflecting and journaling about how I need to temper my, well, everything. Moderate my ego. Moderate my thoughts. (“The snow globe that is my mind,” as I often put it.) Moderate my activity. Moderate my assault on grammar, even. But there are times when the right course of action is to start getting shit done, taking down names, and delivering letters to Garcia. (And, yes, I’m aware that the whole thing about delivery of a letter from President McKinley to Gernal Garcia is false, but the point of the essay is still patently clear and useful.)

Until I’d read that quote from Tyler, I’d never really thought about “aggressively” courting my own limits. Courting them, sure. But not aggressively.

So, yeah… come at me ‘bro!

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