Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Boundary Between Discipline and Sloth

Are there certain things you do religiously, with intention and regularity? My husband for example goes to the gym three times every week. Never fails. And that doesn’t include his regular thirty-mile bike ride to and from our studio. 

I must confess to lacking that level of physical discipline, although his discipline has helped to encourage me in my habits. If nothing else, it guilts me into working out on a more regular schedule. Disciplines of the mind are more my forte. For a number of years, I have tracked my reading and blog writing. And how do you track? On the most fundamental level we count. We set that number against a goal. For many years my goal was five books and four blogs a month.   To be disciplined you often have to be a bit of a number counter. How else do you know you’ve achieved your goals?

I have always feared losing the structure of a disciplined life. When I left my work life, I was especially concerned that with no regular routine I would settle into laziness and sloth. I’m not quite sure where that comes from, but it does cause me to overcompensate a bit.

Now I’ve learned a few things over time. One is that we each have areas where discipline comes naturally and areas where it doesn’t. Disciplines of the mind or of the body are just one division. We can appear to be extremely disciplined in one area while not at all in another. Most of us are not disciplined in all spheres. It is just too much to take on, so we decide what matters most to us or comes more easily.

 I also have learned that we have to really define our objective carefully, so our measurement is meaningful.  Numbers are productivity driven and that doesn’t work for everything. For example, anything creative has its own process. It doesn’t necessarily happen on our schedule. The goal is more one of showing up and taking the first step and then the second. I may start painting and then paint over it and begin again. That counts as discipline, but in a way that respects process. If my focus was on making my living from selling my work, then a number goal might be appropriate, and I might also be doing a different kind of artwork.

I’ve also learned that sometimes we can choose to abandon a discipline when the discipline itself runs counter to the meaning of the effort. For example, as I neared the end of the year and was a few books shy of my target, I found myself rejecting those eight-hundred-page books. The discipline had begun to detract from the joy of reading. And sometimes external factors get in the path of discipline. Certainly, this past year my constant need to be informed of political matters has redirected my reading energy and affected my ability to remain focused on story, except for the story unfolding within our Capital.

This is the year I’ve decided to let go of some of my discipline, to abandon my reading goals and to write when I feel like writing. Laziness and sloth, here I come.

Maybe when our political world settles down, I’ll settle back into my rhythm of reading. In the meantime, I’ll catch up on some of those extremely long books. I’m not going to disappear from the blogosphere but may be writing this blog with less frequency. I began the year with a burst of enthusiasm and signed up for a number of writing classes at our local writing center. I want to begin roughing out a book idea and thought that might help move me forward. I have no shortage of writing to do, albeit for a different purpose. So, I hope you will continue to join me on this journey as I test the boundaries between discipline and sloth.

 photocredit- meneya at morguefile

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