Welcome to the second story in my series “Making It Count: 7 Weeks of Reflection”. In this series, I reflect and seek inner growth based on weekly writing prompts.
As I said in a story last week, while it’s based on the Jewish custom of “counting the omer”, this is going to be very much secular and widely relatable. The only reference to Judaism and Hebrew is at the beginning.
Here’s this week’s self-reflection theme that serves as a writing prompt:
Week 2 (April 8–14) is about Gevurah — Discipline, boundaries.
The environmental/ecological challenge for the week, which was the initial inspiration for this series, is this:
…chuck out the things that actually aren’t healthy, or don’t replace them. Sauces and things with too much sugar and additives.
… quit plastic bottles. Soda and fizzy water. You can do it. You’ll be healthier. You’ll save money.
Release what’s harming you
First off, when I read “chuck out the things that actually aren’t healthy” my first thought was this: What else can we get rid of that isn’t healthy? Are there unhealthy relationships that we’re holding on to, that releasing would make us healthier? Are we holding onto unhealthy habits? Are we working too much? Staying up too late partying or working?
The discipline and boundaries involved in self-care are real. We need discipline and boundaries to go to bed on time, to say no (or, “say yes to saying no”, as Ms. Rhimes would say) to what makes us unhealthy or doesn’t serve our highest good.
Consider your environmental impact
Second, don’t just say no to plastic bottles. Examine your environmental impact. Do you reduce, reuse, recycle? Do you know how to sort your garbage correctly? My partner, a restaurant owner, recently learned that most people don’t. He bought compostable takeout containers ($$) until he was told the results of a study about food packaging, commissioned by a food delivery service that does business in the U.S. and Canada. The survey concluded that most people don’t compost, don’t have access to a green bin, or don’t know how to sort their garbage correctly. He switched to less expensive recyclable containers. (He considered providing discounts for a “bring your own,” but while BYO mugs are fine for coffee shops, it’s not ideal for restaurants for many reasons.)
If you’re sorting your garbage wrong, the thought counts but doesn’t help the environment. Check your municipality’s website. Get informed.
Wanting to go deeper into the topic of discipline in this whole context (and a publish a story that’s more than 400 words), I subsequently read into the reflections for each day of this week and reached back into my memory. My thoughts:
If love is the bedrock of human expression, discipline is the channel through which we express love.
-Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Aish.com
I wasn’t so sure how I felt about this until I read through his explanation of the week and went through his day-by-day reflections and those of others. At first, the statement above seemed somewhat condescending, so I read more and thought more. Some of the following thoughts and questions are direct quotes from what I read, and other ideas were inspired by what I read this week and from past learning. One interesting point is that even though “discipline” was the theme, “judgment” and “criticism” kept coming up. I suppose that criticism is a form of discipline and that to decide that one needs discipline we need to judge their actions first.
Day 1 reflection: Judgment and criticism
(aka Loving-kindness in discipline)
- When you judge and criticize others, what’s behind it? Is it based on your own insecurities? Are you judging out of contempt? Are you judging and criticizing out of fear of the other person’s safety? Are you doing it out of love? Are you worrying what “the neighbors” will think? Are you concerned with keeping up appearances?
- Now ask those questions when you judge yourself. “Am I judging myself because I’m insecure? Am I judging myself out of self-contempt or self-loathing? How’s my self-esteem in this situation? Do I fear my own safety? Do I fear what others will think of me? What story am I telling myself? Is my judgment productive?”
- Challenge (you can do this any time): Before you criticize yourself or someone else today, consider why. Also, consider keeping your mouth shut. Discipline yourself to. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is STFU and let people make their own mistakes.
- Consider a judgment detox.
Day 2 reflections: Getting stuff done
(aka Discipline in Discipline)
- Consider self-discipline. Are you too disciplined or not enough? Do you have balance? Do you fulfill commitments? Do you review your tasks lists in the morning and/or in the evening? Do you celebrate your accomplishments? I have lots of ways of tracking my tasks but, the three apps that I primarily use are my calendar, Evernote and ToDoist. I regularly evaluate these.
- Challenge: Make a detailed plan for your day, and then at the end of the day see how you did. One exercise that I’ve been doing (though not as routine as I feel I should) is this:
- See the End from the Beginning.
Every day, imagine how you want to feel while you do each task, and when it’s done. At the end of the day, assess how you did.
Commit to each goal with enthusiasm. If you’re not enthusiastic, see if you can not do it (e.g. delegate it). Otherwise, find a way to be enthusiastic, such as imagining how good you’ll feel when you slay it.
- Building upon the previous concept: How do you feel about what you did or didn’t do? Did you judge yourself? Did you show yourself compassion if you didn’t get it all done? What can you do tomorrow to improve? Did you over-commit? Don’t commit to more than three tasks each day.
For me, this daily writing challenge is a discipline in discipline with loving-kindness, endurance, humility and all the other traits. I challenge myself to show up, to write and to show compassion toward myself when it’s imperfect.
For the past week, I’ve been writing all of my Medium stories the day before publishing and taking notes on my laptop. However, I had no time to sit at my computer to write yesterday and so during my downtime while working at an event in the evening I looked at a few website resources on my phone and scribbled notes in a notebook. It put me into a different kind of thinking process.
I had to be okay with traditional notetaking, handwriting notes in pen in a notebook so that I wouldn’t stay up late at the expense of sleep. I have to be okay with the fact that it’s 5 p.m. on Tuesday, this story likely won’t be finished for two hours (writing and editing)* and therefore it won’t go up online until the evening — and then I have tomorrow’s story to plan. I have no topic lined up on my calendar. I have to be okay with that too.
*[Actual: Two hours and 10 minutes.]
Day 3 reflections: Everyone’s got their shit. Be nice.
(aka Compassion in Discipline)
- Do we love unconditionally or are there conditions?
- Before you criticize someone, consider whether it’s out of concern and love. “Underlying and driving discipline must not only be love, but also compassion.”
Be kind. You don’t know what a person is experiencing.
- Maybe you’ve heard a variation of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The version I’ve previously read is something like, “Be kind. You never know what someone is experiencing in their life.” If you’ve blamed or shamed someone, or yourself, show compassion. If you’ve gotten impatient with a stranger or a colleague, remember that you don’t know what they’re going through. That person who’s speeding might have a pregnant woman or a sick child in the car, or maybe their mother is in the hospital breathing her final breaths. That person who didn’t offer a seat to the old person on the bus might have an invisible disability that requires them to sit, or they just spent 8 hours on their feet without a break, or they’ve got a migraine. Or maybe they’re pregnant, not showing yet, but experiencing morning sickness.
(Or they are an inconsiderate douchebag, but you don’t know that for sure.)
- If you’re fighting with a loved one, remember that they have their own views of events, influenced by stories that they’ve picked up somewhere. Consider why someone is doing that thing that you think requires disciplining. Is it related to experiences from childhood or past relationships?
Day 4 reflections: Adjust as needed
(aka Endurance in Discipline)
Review your task list. Update it. Adjust to taste. Lather, rinse, repeat. See how consistent you are and if you follow through. Use any tools you need that will help.
Day 5 reflections: Don’t be a dick
(aka Humility in Discipline)
- Before judging anyone, make sure that you are doing so selflessly and without personal bias.
- Don’t look down on people. We’re all humans doing what we can. We all make mistakes. We’re imperfect and fallible. Show the same respect to everyone (except, perhaps, those who troll you online). Whether someone is a CEO or a janitor, whether someone lives in a cockroach-infested studio apartment or a mansion, they all deserve your human respect, and they all deserve to be treated with dignity.
- Discipline yourself to discipline out of love.
Day 6: Tough love
(aka Bonding in Discipline)
- “Both in disciplining yourself and others there has to be a sense that the discipline is important for developing a stronger bond.” Think about raising children: Do you think that they feel more loved and secure when they have routine and boundaries than if they don’t? Do lack of discipline and boundaries indicate a lack of love and caring?
Day 7: Bringing out the best
(aka Nobility of Discipline)
I like this one:
Discipline, like love, must enhance personal dignity. Discipline that breaks a person will backfire. Healthy discipline should bolster self-esteem and help elicit the best in a person; cultivating his sovereignty. Does my discipline cripple the human spirit; does it weaken or strengthen me and others?
But remember: Your intention might be to bring out the best, but that doesn’t mean that you’re correctly executing. Be aware. Ask for feedback if you can. Is your type of discipline helping your child’s self-esteem or hurting it? Do they feel more or less loved? What does it to do your own esteem?
Does self-discipline make you feel better or worse about yourself?
Some people are motivated by coaches and personal trainers who yell at them and call them names and use negative reinforcement or tough love. Other people are motivated by kindness, gentle coaxing, words of encouragement, and the like. “You can do it!” is a different message than “Do it and don’t be a wimp!” One isn’t necessarily better than the other, because we’re all motivated in different ways, but know you’re motivated and if you’re a teacher, a coach or a parent, understand what drives those you are trying to get the best out of. Know what motivates your partner.