Cultivating a disciplined mind

Image by Matt Bleas

When people describe you, what adjectives would they use? Determined? Passionate? Curious? Smart? how about disciplined? Really? Well, congratulations, i’ve never been described this way.

Of all the attributes I identify with, discipline is not one of them. It’s a quality that has cunningly avoided me like a set of misplaced keys my entire life. At parent-teacher interviews, my teachers used to tell my parents that “Manoj is quite an accomplished student, but lacks discipline.” At times discipline has felt like a foreign land I would never get a visa to. A quality so far out of reach that I may as well begin to accept my dereliction.

For much of my adult life, I suffered the consequences of my lack of discipline. My weight would yo-yo amid the waves of sugar cravings and 30-day yoga challenges. My desire to write more would fall behind the latest Netflix tv-show I would binge-watch and my bank balance would oscillate between Rich kids of Instagram to “how will I pay rent this month”. An all too familiar tale that seeped into every aspect of my life, one that would eventually spiral into self-pity once I started my first start-up.

A little exercise

Early this year I came to accept that much of my condition was caused by a lack of self-discipline. So I decided to write down the cost of this in my life. I wrote down the number of ways it has been impacting my life. I was honest and it was brutal.

I realised the only thing I was committed to was meditating each day. My physical health was average (cue: sugar cravings), my finances were languishing and my willingness to be more social fell victim to a lack of that all important friend, time. As I stared at the page for a while, flat with overwhelm, it dawned on me that I wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t a failure because I was doing one thing with complete discipline. I was meditating. This is something most people struggle with — meditating daily for over a decade.

And because I was doing one thing with discipline, I knew I could do many more. That was enough evidence for me to recognise I could achieve the things that I wanted to achieve.- if I was a little more disciplined.

So I set myself another 30 day challenge. This time, to do the things I said I was going to do. And 30 days into my intention to be more committed and accountable in my life, here is what i’ve learned;

I Let go of expectations

I knew my mental and physical wellbeing was a priority, but I stopped short of putting an end goal on either. It wasn’t about working out to lose a certain weight or drinking a certain amount of celery juices per month. It was about showing up. I showed up on my cushion each morning. I showed up to the gym when I didn’t want to. I showed up and ordered the salad when I was really craving a chicken sandwich. I realised in letting go of expectations, I was more committed to showing up. Because I couldn’t fail and I learned that balance didn’t necessarily come from suppression, but having the freedom to fail meant, well, I didn’t. And if I had, it would have been ok — as long as I showed up.

I know my “why”

We’re never going to truly commit to anything if it’s not deeply meaningful to us. For me it was the realisation at Christmas that I had spent so much of my life allowing life to happen to me, being at the mercy of causes and conditions without embracing this human birth fully. I resolved to explore the depths of my humanity. I wanted to be kind to everyone I knew and met, I wanted to explore my creativity and what would happen if I really tapped my potential and I allowed my meditation practice to connect me with what we all want more of — love. I wanted to be more loving to my self and the world around me. Without a sense of meaning, we’re like ships without a sail.

I found freedom in structure

I set myself up every day with a carefully curated morning routine. Without fail, I woke up at a certain time, meditated for 45 minutes to an hour, had an espresso and worked out. This gave me a (somewhat) consistent start to each day, I felt connected to my body, motivated and ready to meet what the day had in store for me. There was a sense of freedom within the structure of knowing each morning I had to get up and do these 3 things and these 3 things would create the best conditions for me to thrive.

“We thrive or wither depending on how nourishing our environment is” — Yann Martel

Technology became my friend

There are periods that I really struggled with technology. The hourly urge to check my email or respond to notifications much to the chagrin of my friends became a battle. But I found ways to make technology my friend. I set timers for my social media use. And I started to use a project planning tool to help me stay on track of the things I had to do. I used trello more feverishly when I expanded it’s use to my personal life. I started to track the money I was spending the work and personal tasks I had to accomplish throughout the day and as a reminder of my ‘why’ I was doing what I was doing. This allowed me to see how much I had achieved each day, week and month and gave me reminders of the things I needed to do. But it also gave me back my freedom.

I took accountability for the state of my life

I stopped blaming others for my present state. It wasn’t my friend’s fault that I got home from dinner late, it was mine. It wasn’t work’s fault that I felt exacerbated — it was mine. And it wasn’t the weather’s fault that I stayed home and watched the entire season of Sex Education in a day, it was mine. I recognised I had the power to change the victim narrative I held so closely. I could achieve what I wanted, If I invested the time.

Priorities matter

I prioritised the things I wanted to do. Reading and writing more was important to me, previously I only did it when i had time, but this month, I specifically set aside time for it. And the results were crazy. I wrote three articles, developed three workshops and designed a training program in a few weeks.

Instant gratification is a quack

We live in an instant gratification society where everything is available at our fingertips. A new fridge, a new book, a new date- all at the click of mouse or a swipe of our finger. But real, sustainable change is more subtle. The more I was fixated on the fruits of my efforts the more illusive it felt. At the end of my 30 days looking back, I can see how much I’ve improved and how far i’ve come but how far I’ve got to still go.

Causes and conditions influence discipline

The more tired I was the more my defences were down. An extra dessert, another glass of wine. Sure. When I was stressed or anxious, my healthy eating was out of the door and ditto the next day when it came to working out. I’ve learned that sustained discipline comes from the acceptance that we can’t (and shouldn’t) be disciplined all the time.

  1. You would be boring

  2. Certain causes and certain situations influence our ability to stay committed.

  3. Get enough rest, drink enough water, look after the body and mind and be kind to those you love =good conditions for a disciplined life.

Will my tools work for everyone? Probably not. But hey, that’s ok. You do you. trial and error are our best friends, and it’s how we experience the learning. The single most important advice that has made me a more disciplined person came from the Dalai Lama;

“Whether our action is wholesome or unwholesome depends on whether that action or deed arises from a disciplined or undisciplined state of mind. It is felt that a disciplined mind leads to happiness and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering, and in fact it is said that bringing about discipline within one’s mind is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.” 
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

So today, you have the simple choice. Do what needs to be done or do what’s always been done. In 2019 i’m choosing the latter. What will you choose?