Tag Archives: discipline

Always Learning

I walked out of my brief doctor’s visit and headed through the lobby to my car. The hospital has a valet service, but I need to walk. After all, I’m going through post-surgery physical therapy, so I don’t use it.

The valet is a young man, maybe in his early 20s. He’s got a sketchpad and pen out, and he has a burly superhero-type man flexing next to a typical comic book female figure (the sort that would make Barbie feel unattractive).

Many visitors don’t take advantage of the valet service. Even when they do, the young man jogs out to retrieve the car, so he ends up with a lot of down time. And he’s using that to hone his skills, to build up his craft as an artist.

That’s worthy of respect. I made sure to catch him and pay him a compliment.

My daughter surprised us last night as she was getting ready for bed. She grabbed her violin and practiced for about five or ten minutes, playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for her brother to help him go to sleep. It didn’t work, but both Mom and I were pleased with her willingness to take a few minutes to practice. She wants to learn, and she shows that dedication in moments like these.

I think of the civilian in my technical school’s chow hall almost 20 years ago. When the customers were intermittent, he always got out a drawing pad and started working on some project, taking advantage of every spare moment, every opportunity.

That’s why I have a notepad or my iPad pretty much everywhere I go. Sitting for 10 minutes with ice on my ankle after physical therapy, I can write the majority of my next A-Z post. Waiting for the doctor, I can jot down a few ideas. When someone in public says something unbelievable, I take a quick note to save it for a future character.

There’s a need for scheduled practice time, just as with any pursuit. But I think one difference between having a hobby and having a passion is that desire to fill every available moment with effort to hone the craft.

Just something I noticed as I walked out the hospital door this morning. What’s your favorite way to take advantage of opportunities throughout the day or week? Maybe it’s a suggestion I, or another reader, will find useful. Let me know in a comment.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Grinding Gears

This morning I forced myself out of bed to honor a commitment.

My swollen Frankenstein foot is healing. I’m attending physical therapy sessions to strengthen it. But my whole body needs exercise. My speed has to improve, and my waistline must shrink so I can pass a fitness test.

Time to move.

The first hundred feet powerwalking feel like running a motor with no oil. Like trying to get my tires out of mud or gravel, and they’re spinning with no traction.

It’s like my old 10-speed after a long winter. I’d pull it out of the garage once the snow melted, and spray WD-40 over the chain and gears. But it still took a few minutes of pedaling to shake everything loose. Grinding metal. Sudden jolts as the chain stuck and snapped loose. Frequent rattling. Then finally, it became reliable.

Even then, when I shifted speeds, the chain would sometimes slip off. I’d have to stop, put it back together, get the chain back on track, and start up again.

Effort is the oil in the engine of greatness.

The Chinese understand this. Their word for “to add oil; lubricate” ( 加油 / jia you, pronouced “jah yo”) has the figurative meaning of increasing effort, pushing harder, stepping on the gas.

With this foot, I’m never going to be a marathon runner. I’ll probably never sprint very fast. I won’t be an awesome basketball player.

But I will regain and surpass the speed I once could achieve on this foot. And I will be able to shoot hoops with my daughter again. And who knows, maybe even I’ll go back to running a fitness test instead of merely walking.

Because I will wake up on cold mornings, spray some “oil” on that ankle, suck it up, and start walking. I will get on the bike, strap my feet in, and turn up the resistance. And when it gets easy, I’ll add another level or two.

What matters isn’t where you’re at now. Where you were before doesn’t matter either. What matters is where you’re headed, and what you’re willing to do to get there.

Writing–really, any creative effort–is similar. I used to say writing was a hobby. But I’ve put in effort and study to improve my craft. I keep doing so. I call myself a writer, because writing is what I do, what I will continue to do.

In fact, I call myself author, because I’ve written numerous short stories and devotionals. I’ve put over a hundred thousand words into a manuscript and I have composed over 150 songs. Maybe soon I will self-publish. With some hope, maybe I will one day have work printed in a publication or published by a professional company.

All I know is that today I will sit down at the keyboard and turn words into sentences, phrases into paragraphs, passages into chapters. Then I’ll edit and revise until it’s the strongest work I can produce today.

And I won’t be content with that, so I’ll make myself do better tomorrow.

I’m not saying I’m great. I’m saying I’m not satisfied.

What commitment to yourself are you going to honor today?

When the Iron is Hot

No, I did NOT stay up ’til 4 AM after a short catnap in order to finish a chapter of my current project. Haha, who would do such a thing?

I’ve read numerous articles (as I’m sure any aspiring writer also has) discussing discipline and honing one’s craft. We can’t simply wait for inspiration, then write. We have to carve out time and force out effort, knowing that even if the result sucks, at least it was a result that helps us get better in the long run.

Quantity of effort ensures opportunity for quality effort.

“Strike when the iron is hot,” so goes the saying. And it’s taken to mean we should take advantage of those brief bursts of creativity and inspiration. When an idea springs to mind, run with it. If a scene plays out in your head, start writing or typing, and put that image down on record.

But that understanding of the idiom is flawed. The iron only gets hot when the smith gives careful attention to the fire, ensuring the proper temperature to work the metal. The iron gets hot because of effort, not luck. Thus, opportunities can be created, not merely stumbled upon.

I’m curious. If you write or express yourself creatively (which you probably do in some fashion if you’re reading WordPress), what is your experience with the balance of Muscle and Muse, the interplay between forcing out effort and flowing with creative energy?

I do the former to find the latter. What’s your take?

An Off Day

Sorry for the late FitnessFriday post.

Today has been a bit of an off day. I don’t mean a vacation. I mean crazy schedules.

Nonetheless, I still have to work out, so I walked into the gym today, feeling stiff and sore from my last workout, knowing I was about to make those same muscles cry once more. But I had a day to rest in between, so I had a chance to recover a bit.

That’s the kind of off day I want to talk about.

Last week, I recounted a mantra one of my favorite Spin instructors would repeat almost every class. “Your mind gives up before your muscles do. Be strong.”

I would always give another reminder at the beginning of class. “If you feel discomfort and soreness in muscles from being challenged, great. That’s where we want you to be. If you feel pain and discomfort in joints, stop pushing yourself. That’s not safe.”  Sometimes you get people who are new to cycling, or people who are so eager that they are pushing themselves too far beyond their present limits.

There’s a balance between these two statements, an comfortably uncomfortable and somewhat challenging place where you are pushing yourself beyond your present fitness level, while maintaining your overall health and wellness. You’ve got to be strong at times, breaking through the “I give up” in your mind. You’ve also got to be smart, able to identify when enough is enough for a day or two.

Your body needs time to recover, to adapt to everything you’ve done to it. Your muscles need to repair themselves so you can get stronger. This is of course why you see people rotating through major muscle groups when they go to the gym. “Today is legs, tomorrow is arms, next up is abs and core,” and so on.

Cardio exercise is similar. Repetitive motion with no recovery leads to those joint issues I mentioned earlier. Sticking to the same exercise over and over with no breaks is a risk to your body.

You’re not a robot. You need a rest day.

You’re not physically made for long durations of constant repetitive motion every day like some automated factory machine.

You’re not mentally or emotionally made for repetition either.

Give yourself a rest day from the menial tasks, the unending cycle of mundane labor. We are not made for monotony.  Take time to let go of the mental weight of responsibility now and then. If you’re in a position where playing hooky is not an option, like a single mom or a caregiver for a close relative, then see if you can at least coordinate getting a break from a friend who can help. You’ll come back fresh, renewed, ready to take on the challenges once more, stronger than you were before.

I’ve had coworkers who simply will not stop until all their tasks are accomplished, no matter how overwhelming. My friends and I have tried to explain our concerns, to no avail.

Discipline is great, but be smart about it. When you work constantly at a task – physical or mental – you begin to slow and tire out. You start missing important steps. Your form becomes sloppy, if it’s physical activity. If it’s mental, your product ends up with flaws. This all starts small but builds up quick.

A boss reminded me about this today:

“Slow is cautious, and cautious is fast.”

It takes time to do a thing right. It takes even more time to go back and fix something when you’ve made mistakes. In physical exercise, you risk hurting yourself and derailing your efforts to improve. In mental exertion, you may end up creating more work for yourself, or failing to accomplish the goal you set out to achieve.

Stop, catch your breath, grab a cup of coffee. Take some time off from that particular task. Then jump back in, ready to give it another shot.

You’ll probably have less of those chaotic off days once you schedule some restful ones.

Yes You Can

Maybe
Sort of…

Oh, I know, the Democratic National Convention is going on. And last campaign was all about “Yes We Can.” I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s the case.

I’m not going to weigh in, because it’s time for Fitness Friday.

And that means no politics, just pain (with eventual gain).

Speaking of weighing in, I punched 15 pounds of fat in the face over the last 5 weeks. Yay!

So what that means is I had way too much on me already, and so a slight diet change and a lot of plain old boring exercise got the job done. Now that the easy part of getting started is done, I imagine I will have to push it harder to make more progress.

My body rebels at the thought.

Good thing my mind is here to tell my body to shut its mouth. (Shut it, mouthbreather!)

Bikes that go nowhere? LOL.

I’ve mentioned before that I spent a couple years as an indoor cycling instructor. I had a friend who was a regular, and he told me the Spin class is awesome and challenging. I said something along the lines of “Psssh… you’re sitting in a room riding a bike to nowhere. Is that even a workout?”

I went to one class and got destroyed. But I fell in love. This is a workout, more than any other, where it’s all up to you. You’re only working out as hard as you make yourself work. You’ve got the resistence knob. No one (usually) comes and turns up your resistence for you. You’ve got to bring it all by your lonesome. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and you might as well have stayed home on the computer (in my case) or couch (if computer doesn’t work for you).One of the instructors that inspired me to pursue that certification had a favorite phrase. Every time he told us to spin that resistence knob to the point that our legs started screaming, he would growl out this sentence:

You can do this. Be strong. Your mind gives up long before your muscles give out.

Also, “We love the hills!”

This is nothing new. The concept of willpower is not a recent discovery to the world of sports.

But sometimes we need reminders.

It’s not always what you don’t yet know that defeats you. It’s what you know but don’t live out.

This is true in many areas of fitness. It matches up with everything I’ve heard from distance runners. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because you know you can keep going. I know sprinters probably get tempted to quit when they’re getting ready for their next interval. I’m sure that lifters hit a moment just before muscle failure where it’s easy to think, “I’ve worked pretty hard. These last two reps probably don’t matter.” Or is that just me?

Apart from physical therapy, no one’s going to come move your muscles for you. No one’s going to run behind you and push you along. You might not have anyone around when you hit that wall and feel like giving up, so you won’t hear an encouraging shout or a friendly challenge. All you’ve got is the little voice in your head saying, “Your mind will give up long before your muscles. Be strong.”

This isn’t just an athletic concept. This applies to all of life.

When you are learning somehing new – piano lessons, perhaps, or economic theory, or whatever floats your boat – you have the choice. You can apply yourself and push hard. Or you can take the easy way out

Emotionally, when life is hard, you can follow the path of least resistence and sulk about how unfair it all is. Or you can rise above, and remember that your mind wants to give up before you really get to the point where you can’t go on.

Spiritually, you can be content with where you’ve been, with the comfortable, with whatever you’ve done before. Or you can pursue the something more that you know is out there waiting

Building any form of discipline will take work. Good news! You are up to the task. You are strong. Yes, you can.