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Can We Approach Discipline Through the Lens of Self-Care?
Giving up the “all or nothing” for a slow burn
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Today’s post is the final part of my 2-part series on discipline. I want to explore alternatives to discipline while also recognizing that discipline is something we may want for very good reasons and there is no shame in that.
However, as I hinted at in my first post, I’m skeptical of equating productivity and personal development with discipline. There are three key reasons why I feel apprehensive about discipline.
I worry we might equate discipline with restriction or denying oneself comfort. We might postpone our actual physical needs until we complete a task.
There is potential for negative self-talk or a negative self-perception if we can’t follow a set of rules or maintain a level of consistency.
Finally, I’m concerned that in pursuit of discipline, we may forget that one-size-fits-all frameworks of success or productivity are often exclusionary.
In other words, what we consider “discipline” may be much easier for some folks to access, and we should pause to investigate why. As I wrote in Tend to It: A Holistic Guide to Intentional Productivity,
Productivity as a concept can be beneficial when adapted to each person’s goals and tasks. However, what I call Productivity Culture™, or the culture of perfectionism and obsession with standard definitions of “success,” can be problematic. When we view productivity as a depoliticized action or assume everyone is seeking the same standards of accomplishment, we ignore that fact that our cultural obsession with perfectionism is rooted in institutionalizing systems of oppression. Productivity does not occur in a vacuum, and it is absolutely tied to access, privilege, white supremacy, classism, and ableism. (p. 18)
While it’s definitely an ongoing practice, my years of reflection and research have helped me to reimagine what I want productivity to look and feel like. My hope with this little series I’m writing is that I can also find ways to separate building new habits from the culture around discipline that causes my apprehension.
What Does Discipline Mean to You Personally?
While I may not love the word discipline, I can’t pretend that I don’t wish I had an easier time doing certain things. I think that pursuit of easier habits is what draws us to discipline. When I polled my Instagram community about whether they wished they had more discipline, 65% said yes and 35% said no. I also asked them to share words that they felt more connected to if discipline or self-discipline didn’t resonate with them.
Here is a list of responses I received:
keeping routines or habits while being flexible about them
Do any of the words above resonate with you? If there are other words that you feel connected to that help define your own “discipline” practice, I welcome you to share them below.
If this newsletter were a book chapter, I’d walk through each of the different “discipline but not discipline” terms of the list above, exploring what they could look like in my life and in yours. For the sake of this short-form genre, I’ll choose instead to consider how I’m approaching discipline as self-care in my current yoga practice.
Whenever I list the things that matter the most to my well-being, yoga always makes the list. Reading about yoga philosophies and history, learning intriguing facts about a specific pose, or discovering new things about myself through my practice—yoga is essential for me.
While the Iyengar yoga asana I practice is very prop-heavy (blocks, blankets, chairs, etc.), I often turn to it even when I’m away from my mat: doing a forward extension while my lunch is warming up in the microwave, balancing on one foot while I’m putting on my pants, shifting my hips from their go-to anterior tilt to align with my shoulders and ankles when I’m using my standing desk, etc.
I was intrigued with self-care as discipline because in my own efforts to build a particular habit—practicing a particular asana sequence every day to increase my hip mobility—I kept running into obstacles when I approached it as an aversive task: something I just needed to hack or time block or gamify in order to make myself do it every day. I can practice the sequence during yoga class with external accountability, but it is harder to convince myself to do it when I’m alone—even though I know it will have good results on my practice.
When I kept encountering resistance, I returned to a blog post I wrote in late 2019, “On Doing Things Religiously, Or How I Value Myself,” where I reflected on why certain practices felt doable for me whereas others felt more challenging to do consistently. I hoped that “past me” could offer me some advice.
Interestingly, I’m still regularly doing 7 of the 8 common practices I listed in that blog post four years ago:
Kiss my Sweetie goodnight
Do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or do drugs
Drink one cup of coffee in the morning
Go to therapy once a week
Take my supplements and meds
Post on my blog and send newsletters (Substack sort of combines these two)
Keep my nails done
Put money in savings (this one has been on and off, but I do my best)
As I wrote in that blog, the practices I always showed up for were tied to my functionality and survival, connection, and self-care.
This specific Substack letter went through many iterations and revisions. I initially thought I might use it to structure a two-week protocol where I would develop a new habit to practice the aforementioned yoga sequence every day. The more I reflected and planned, the more I discovered that finding a way to force myself to do something I struggled with just to write a Substack letter about it didn’t truly feel authentic. I want to develop a new habit, not complete a two-week sprint so I can show off online.
So, in place of focusing on a sequence that feels aversive, I scaled down my approach to simply practice any asana each day. Since I already take yoga class three or four times a week, I only needed to add a few more days to my week. I’ll aim to just move my body and explore which poses feel most interesting to me right now, giving myself as much time as I like, reminding myself why I love yoga so much. After a few weeks of daily play on my mat, I suspect that I’ll feel more drawn to the more challenging poses.
If I want to develop more discipline, or commitment, or focus, or whatever other word I choose to fill in for a habit I show up for over and over, maybe it’s not about completing a 30-day challenge or diving into the deep end right away. Maybe, for me, discipline with my yoga practice will develop slowly and incrementally, nestling into my life and values, and I’ll discover a consistency that feels accessible and makes me feel proud of all of the wonderful things I am already doing.
I’m curious to hear what kinds of practices you might like to develop more slowly, or which habits you’re pleasantly surprised to find you’re already practicing. If you were to approach your discipline practice through the lens of self-care, what might that look like?
This section of my letters is for things that made me say “hmmm” or “wow!” recently.
I read the book Bunny by Mona Awad and it was WILD! Thanks to my friend Taylor for recommending it to me after I told her how I loved fantasy and dark academia. It definitely felt like an overlap of the two. I had good and bad experiences in my own MFA program, so it was satisfying to read a book that satirized the MFA. Plus, Awad’s language was really fun, reminding me of Patricia Lockwood in No One Is Talking About This, another book I loved.
If you’d like to read my recent book recommendations or recommend your own book, check out this post.
One of my favorite journalists is, and her recent post about the Alabama Rush Tiktok phenomenon is so good. I spent last week refreshing my Instagram so I could watch her curation of “RushToks” along with her reflections and critiques. I was about as far from rushing a sorority as you could get in college, but, like Peterson, I found the young women’s videos mind boggling and fascinating, and I appreciate the ways she interrogated the performance of class, gender, and race in the videos and in the Southern sorority world in general.
For Your Consideration
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