Discipline in an Age of Distraction

The Obscure Penguin
—The Obscure Penguin—

(Originally written, Nov. 2018)

Discipline is a bit like money.  We all want it but for most of us it isn’t easy to obtain.  It’s something of a catch-22.  The way to obtain discipline is to have discipline.  In another way it’s simple.  If you want something you focus on getting it.  It requires perseverance.  Of course, distractions can come between you and your attempt to be disciplined. Some of those distractions are unavoidable, like tending to family or a job or other responsibilities.  There you are, like a sideshow juggler, with several balls in the air and someone in the crowd yells out, “hey, why aren’t you preparing for your class?” All you can think is “who said that?”  While you’re preparing for your class you’re still wondering.  “Who said that?”

Discipline is hard.  Time Management requires discipline.  In a technological world designed to compete for your attention it seems even harder to stay focused than it used to be.  Hold on, my dog is barking at something…It’s okay. It was just a cat.  So, yeah.  Discipline is hard and time management is a necessity.  I’ve always had a strong imagination. My mother, especially, encouraged it.  I was rarely bored.  I could always daydream.  Unfortunately, if you get into that habit it’s sometimes hard to get out of it and do something “productive.”  Okay, so I need to prepare for my class.  For my class I need to write a blog entry about juggling and time management.

I once had a student tell me why he was always late or sometimes missed my 11am class.  “I just find it really hard to get up,” he said.  “I’m being honest.”  I wondered if at some time in this student’s past he fed this exact line to another teacher and the teacher said, “Oh, yeah, I get it.  Well, at least you’re being honest.  Have to give you credit for that!”  I, however, just looked at him like a rhinoceros seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time.  “I really don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “You have to be in class.”  Thinking of best practices, should I have found a counselor for him so he could get some tips on how to wake up, like setting the alarm and having the discipline to get out of bed?”

Old men are prone to relating hard times and although I didn’t tell him this story I’m revealing it now. When I was in Air Force boot camp they played reveille at five in the morning, and not from some golden bugle reflecting the rising sun blown by an undiscovered jazz prodigy who joined the military because a girl dumped him, but from a horribly warped analog tape screeching and scratching over the camp P.A. system. We leapt out of our beds horizontally, careful not to pull the sheets out from under the mattress so that we could make it up again quickly so that we wouldn’t get punished for having our area out of regulation.  You see, that was discipline imposed on us from overbearing authority figures, designed to promote self-discipline.  Most of us knew, however, it was a lot of nonsense that would be over in a few weeks.  That discipline was really the fear of punishment - not the real thing.

 The real thing is self-empowering.  Having discipline to manage your time and being able to do the things you want to do as well as the things you must do is a wonderful achievement.  Furthermore, having the discipline to create an experience for others wanting to learn something from you enables you to be a productive and positive person, an inspiring example to your students if you do it well.  The fact that it is possible to juggle all these things is an indication that one is living a fulfilling life, full of privileges and possibilities that many are unable to experience.  So having the opportunity to be in the position to fret over juggling and discipline is something to be treasured and managed.

 Having said all that, discipline is hard and juggling takes skill.  My life is not nearly as complicated as my colleague’s who, with his wife, is raising three kids, as well as teaching and researching and taking classes and otherwise living a life.  Throughout all of that he maintains a positive attitude, with some effort sometimes, but still, he’s determined to make it work.  I have no doubt he will make it work because he manages his time.  He keeps track of what he needs to do and has developed a habit of doing something every day for a specific time.  It’s a healthy habit, if you will.  Like any habit, if you do it enough, long enough, it will take hold.  That’s actually how I blew out my leg.  I was a compulsive jogger, hooked on endorphins.  Yeah, there’s a fine line between discipline and addiction.

In any event, I am in possession of the secret to obtaining real discipline, true Will, passed on to me from disciples of the mystic Sufi philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, whose pupils, it is said, could run at top speed from the back of the stage to the proscenium and stop instantaneously, dangling over the edge. It’s actually easier than you think.  All you need to remember is…oh, wait.  I have to take this call.