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Discipline: Forming Good Habits

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Here follows some rambling about making this year a better year, this decade a better decade, through new habits…

Okay confession time: I have never been a very disciplined person. To be honest, and this is maybe gonna sound haughty, but as I was growing up, most things I was presented with came pretty naturally to me. Whatever I put my mind to, mentally or physically, I managed to do at least passably well. I had really fabulous parents who were always encouraging me and making new opportunities available to me, and in return I tended to deliver on those opportunities with awards, certificates, and good grades. But frankly, so long as I was delivering on the expectations put before me, nobody took a look at how it was that I was achieving what I was achieving. Nobody was looking at the habits I was forming. Namely: almost none. I didn’t have to study much to get A’s and B’s. I didn’t practice as much as I could for my choir performances, my clarinet solos, or roles in plays, but managed to know my lines and put on a decent show. So who was going to raise a fuss?

While I was above average, I wasn’t really pushing myself to the upper limits I was capable of. It was easier to occupy a space below or outside of my greatest potential, rather than do the extra work to really achieve all I was capable of. This acceptable mediocrity was the timbre of my life’s pursuits, and it bled into my habits in my everyday life as I grew to adulthood. The house is “clean enough”; it’s not like anyone is coming over today. My organization of my files is fine; I can find everything if I dig for a little while. Sure I have some free time right now, but I have enough clean clothes to get me through the week, so that pile of laundry can wait. And the list goes on. But frankly, those little things start to pile up and weigh on you over time. I can attest, it is a demoralizing feeling to look around and realize that for the longest time you haven’t cared enough to do a few little things that would have made such a difference in your attitude and your daily experiences.

So today when I look around at my life, I want more for myself! I want to be more proactive. I want to take those little extra steps daily that build into long-term gains. I have the potential to achieve more than I currently have, in my domestic life, my business, and my creative outlets. So why is it so hard to motivate myself to make change, even tiny little ones? Because I haven’t established habits which support the basic structure I imagine for my ideal life. I am out of practice with regard to how to set up a system of support for MYSELF. How did I get to 35 and not have these skills? I look back and see that I was always doing just enough, but never all that I was capable of. This year is a year to jump on the motivation train and finally step up and defend myself against myself. It’s time to make some new habits. It’s time to be more disciplined.


Discipline is such a funny word, really. It has two faces. For many, it implies punishment. When you do something wrong in school or work, you are “disciplined”. The image of an overly strict teacher seems to hold “discipline” over your head like some menacing sword of Damocles. It’s a heavy word, right? Yet it is a word that is also used with reverence. I admire people who are disciplined in their practices or pursuits – runners who get up every morning to get some hoofin’ in before work, yoga practitioners who do it every day without fail, people who make time to meditate daily no matter where they are, even on business trips and vacations, friends who stick to their nutrition regimen even when tempted by wine and cheese at parties. The trick is that they have figured out they aren’t so much denying themselves something as they are giving a gift to themselves of greater strength, peace, and health. For me, above all, I marvel at their self-love — that it is strong enough to get them up an hour earlier, carve out a quiet moment in their hectic day, or make kinder choices about what they put in their bodies for long term health benefits. Where did they get that? How did they find that resolve? How do they maintain their discipline?

Habit.

We’re not all born with the instincts to care for ourselves as we should. We aren’t born knowing how to brush our teeth or wash our faces. These were learned behaviors. Nesting may be a animalian instinct, but I assure you that doing dishes and vacuuming is not encoded in our DNA. As dancers, we may love putting on our costumes and getting on stage, but the weekly and daily honing of our technical skills in class or at home alone isn’t quite as innately rewarding as the roar of an appreciative crowd. Each of these acts of self-care and preparation for success does not necessarily carry with it an immediate reward, but instead are a means to an end. I don’t like hauling out the vacuum, but I sure love the pet-hair free carpets and clean-smelling home. It may sometimes feel a drudgery to perform repeated plies or crunches, but it empowers me to execute movement I want to use to express myself in my dance and protect my body from injury as I do.

The people who I admire most in my life are people who formed habits which empowered them to take their skills, their work, their daily life, to the next level. Not satisfied to occupy the space outside their potential, they are taking steps every day toward their ideal life. Nobody is “there”. Are we ever? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, yes? I think “pursuit” is the key word here. We must always be moving toward happiness, grabbing snatches of it as we go forward. We never arrive, grab a deck chair and a Mai Tai, and say “I’m good now, thanks. Happiness achieved!” Happiness itself is a habit, isn’t it? It is building a structure of our lives which supports happiness, and maintaining that structure through discipline.

So that is what I am doing. This year is about getting my shit in order. It’s about clearing away clutter–the weeds that choke the soil–and making way for the really good stuff to take root. And I am doing this by forming some new habits. I am making little steps every day that are adding up to bigger rewards. And it feels really good. And I am not alone! Seems there is a vibrating energy singing in the air around us this year, and all my friends seem to be tapped into it as well. We’re getting organized! We’re getting motivated! We’re getting disciplined, dammit!

What about you? What is your history of habit-forming? Where do you stand on the concept of discipline in your pursuits today? What are you doing to make this year the best year–the best decade–yet?!

Shay
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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

Shay
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One Response

  1. Amy
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    Hello! Get out of my head! I had the same experience as a kid and was just talking about this with friends, one of whom mentioned that she thinks smart/gifted kids often give up on things when they don’t get right away. It can take a lot to train yourself to really plug away at something that doesn’t come easy, instead of saying, “Well, I’ll never get it” and walking away.

    I’ve been trying to change my approach this year with a few things: exercising on a regular basis (Hello, 30 Day Shred video!), finishing craft projects, cooking more often (especially veggies), and setting up good systems at home for taking care of things. Good luck on forming some new, awesome habits!

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