Can I Discipline Myself to Be More Disciplined?

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, August 3, 2020

The older I get the more undisciplined I get, but it’s an age when I need to be the most disciplined in life. As anyone who is getting older knows, the body begins to fall apart and the mind unravels. One way to counter this natural tendency is to get disciplined. But there’s a Catch-22. There’s also a growing impulse with aging to not give a fuck.

It’s taken me years to give up junk food — well, mostly. But I’m not sure if it’s being disciplined. If I indulge my body finds various ways to beat me up. So I’ve learned to mostly not do the things that cause immediate suffering. However, I can’t seem to learn to do the things that will improve my health or allow me to do more. I feel like I’m in a never ending trench war — I can’t take any new territory, and for the moment, I’m barely holding what territory I’ve have. Aging means losing territory. Discipline determines how fast.

I know defeat is the ultimate outcome. Death will eventually be the light at the end of the damn tunnel. But until then I have a finite number of days and I’m positive if I was more disciplined I could get greater use out of those days. The trouble is, when you’re old you just want to relax and take it easy, to float downstream. To get more out of life has always required paddling upstream against the current. That requires discipline.

For example I want to lose weight. I’ve been fighting the Battles of the Bulge for decades. I should just give up. I know plenty of people who have. But I have health problems and I know if I can lose weight it will counteract those health issues to a degree, or help delay them getting worse. For the past two years I’ve been doing the 16:8 intermittent fasting. Years ago I lost 30 pounds by going vegan, but I just couldn’t maintain that diet. When I went back to just being vegetarian I started gaining my weight back. When I saw that happening I switched to the 16:8 intermittent fasting, and stopped gaining weight. But I had already gained back 25 pounds. 16:8 means I eat 8 hours during the day and fast 16. If I do it without eating junk food I’ll even lose about 1 pound a month. However, I usually can’t avoid completely junk food, so I don’t lose that pound.

I’ve recently started throwing in a whole fasting day, and I’ve fought my way back down the scales by 7-8 pounds in a couple months. That’s very encouraging. If I can maintain that discipline I might be able to fight my way back down to my previous low, and even lose more weight. That could help a lot. But to go that day (actually 40 hours) without eating takes so much effort. I’m writing this today to help me get through not eating until tomorrow. (By the way, fasting actually makes me feel better in many ways — except for the not eating part.)

I’m fighting several other battles that require greater discipline. I’ve had a dream of getting a science fiction story published almost my whole life. The odds of succeeding at my age are extremely tiny, but I haven’t let the dream die yet. I know what’s required to do the work. It’s the discipline to stick to writing. Writing fiction is hard. I can write blog essays all day long with no trouble, but then I’ve put in my ten thousand hours. I’ve only logged several hundred hours writing fiction, and I need to put in several thousand more to take off. That will require developing a routine like I have with intermittent fasting.

The last thing I’ll mention, because I don’t want this essay to go on forever, is the idea of disciplined learning. I’ve written before how I’m a news junky, but I realize that’s not getting me where I want to go. A steady diet of constantly changing news items is a wasteful way of using my time. I do learn stuff, and I’m better informed than when not reading the news, but it’s like eating potato chips, not very nutritious.

I’ve been developing a new theory about news and learning. Instead of trying to cover any topic that comes along, I should pick just the topics I want to get know better. For example, I’m reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, a well-written, carefully thought out book about a specific subject. What’s impressive about Oluo’s book is she set out to write something useful and worked to clearly define the problem of race. Her book made me realize I should focus on specific topics, such as Black Lives Matter, but go deeper than reading daily news reports.

I need to pick the newsworthy subjects I want to embrace and focus on them, while ignoring the firehose of all the rest. Logically, I know I neither have the time or energy to study many subjects. Since I realized that I’ve been paying attention to the news items I read each day. Most are quickly forgotten. Most are not worth my time on in the first place — they are like the evil calories of junk food. But disciplining my news intake is a lot like dieting — I need to give up junk news. That’s going to be hard. I have no practice at that, and I know from dieting that it takes a lot of failures before I can develop any discipline momentum.

It would be so much easier to kick back in my La-Z-Boy, eat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from the deli at Sprouts, and watch old episodes of Gunsmoke. It’s pleasant, it’s enjoyable, it’s fun. But what does it get me beyond that? There are still things I want out of life, and to get them I must start paddling upstream against the current again.

[This is for my wife Susan, who I think needs to get back to paddling too.]

JWH

3 thoughts on “Can I Discipline Myself to Be More Disciplined?”

  1. Aging involves a series of trade-offs. Sure, you can give up Junk Food and lose a few pounds. But, if you catch the coronavirus, all that effort might prove futile. As the clock runs out on our Lives, whether we’re disciplined or loosey-goosey isn’t going to matter much. The result in both cases will be the same.

  2. i have a very simple approach to losing weight. to lose weight calories-in have to be less than calories-out. there are website calculators that will give you an idea of calories-in to lose weight which is easy to count and you can then adjust depending on results. you’ll probably eat whatever you put on your plate. half(?) of it will probably satisfy your hunger but you’ll eat it all because it tastes good. so take smaller portions. i’m on a diabetic regimen where i eat six small meals instead of three times a day which i think helps because my next meal is never far off. don’t buy binge foods which will blow your count (mine include ice cream and chocolate). drop the weight and once a week you can forget about it and have a really nice meal. i took off and kept off thirty pounds. i feel better and am probably healthier for it. my final motivational tip is to keep in mind how much better you’ll be looked upon if you require the services of an emt or the er, and when you require the services of an undertaker. you can do it! good luck.

    1. Thanks, John.

      If I even eat ice cream or any of my favorite sweets just one time, I’ll go on a sweet bender and immediately gain several pounds. With me, it’s all or nothing. I’ve tried several kinds of calorie counting apps but I just can’t stick with them. I’ve learned I do better limiting my intake by following the intermittent fasting.

      My problem is I can stick to not eating junk food for weeks, and then suddenly I have no control. If I intermittent fast with just healthy food I slowly lose weight. But if I add in junk food I gain. It’s like my body doesn’t want to get below a certain weight. However, I’ve gotten more disciplined at denying myself fun food, and I’ve started losing weight. I’ve just got to stick with it.

      I was going grocery shopping once a week, and I’d tell myself I could buy one fun food for the week. That worked for months, but I didn’t gain or lose weight.

      So I actually have some discipline. The problem is when I lose a certain amount of weight it seems like I also lose all discipline too. I’m trying extra hard this time to resist.

      I’ve read that only 1 in 20 (5%) of people can lose weight and keep it off. I guess you are one of those that can.

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