Last night I told myself I would begin. I put on my magic red shoes. I changed into my kung fu clothes. I stood in my practice space.
Then I walked away. Maybe I’d go see what my man was doing in the other room. A movie! Do I want to watch it with him? “No,” I said, “I’m practicing kung fu.”
I stood there watching the screen from over his shoulder. A few minutes passed and I was suddenly sitting next to him. An hour later I was sprawled out and cozy, engrossed in the film.
When the movie ended I stood up and realized I still had my kung fu outfit on. I looked at my red shoes and they seemed to say, “Come on. We're already on your feet. Just practice one form and then you can stop. Just so you can say you did it.”
I thought that sounded much better than committing to a full practice session, so I took their advice. I did the one form… And was invigorated. I did it again. And again. I went through a different form. Then another. A half hour later I was sweating, my heart was beating thunderously in my chest, and I was breathing heavy and strong.
I felt ALIVE.
This morning I woke up and practiced my sword form for an hour outside. An hour!
My intention for the day went a little something like this:
I will enjoy the power of my discipline.
It felt like a great secret I had stumbled upon: creating discipline for oneself cultivates a potent form of personal power.
Starting a new discipline feels like a secret weapon for summoning movement and inspiration like a powerful current coursing throughout one’s entire life experience.
Every year around this time my personal practice shifts. It’s nearly June, the daylight hours are long, and the garden gets bigger by the day. I feel my skin absorbing the sun’s energy and it gives me power. My body has more energy and wants to move.
All that yang qi makes me crave kung fu. All winter long, and into spring, my home practice is tai chi and qi gong, and lots of meditation. For a couple weeks now I have been intending to begin practicing my kung fu again. It usually takes a while before I can get myself to take that first step in creating the new routine.
So when I realized I was putting it off simply by not remembering to do it, I called upon my trusty reminder methods.
Reminder Method no.1: WRITE IT DOWN
Find a slip of paper, write down your resolve, tape it to the mirror, or fridge, or door, or all of the above.
Reminder Method no.2: PUT IT IN THE DAILY PLANNER
Pick a time, set a date, get it down. If you’re using your smart phone’s calendar, set a reminder alarm for an hour before + at the time of event, and let your device notify you when it’s time to get down to it.
Reminder Method no.3: USE THE HABIT LIST APP
If you’re like me, you like to choose the apps you add to your devices with intention. I recently learned about the Habit List app and it’s right up my compulsive list-maker’s alley. Check it out here. It makes it easy to create good habits, and it’s working for me. (There’s not a whole lot more satisfying to me than crossing something off my list.)
The first step to create a new discipline is to remember to do it. Step two is to act like you’re about to do it.
Now, you may be wondering, “Why act? Shouldn’t you just do it?”
I don’t know the answer to that, my friend. Why don’t we all just do that thing we have such a hard time doing when we haven’t been in the habit of doing it yet? Personally, I can’t really relate to the slogan, “Just Do It.” I like to give myself a prelude to the doing. My slogan would be more like, “Act Like You’re Just About To Do It.”
Hm. Not the same punch. Hear me out, anyway.
Notice in my story how I put my red shoes on. I changed into my kung fu clothes. I went into the practice space. Now, I know, it was just as easy for me to leave that space and take that movie bait, but the point is this: the only reason I eventually began practicing post-movie was because I had my magic red shoes on.
Yes, I call them that. Because when I put them on, even if I don’t feel like practicing with every inch of my snack-craving, duck-watching, book-reading procrastinating self, I have the red shoes on, which means I can’t go outside (they’re my inside-only practice shoes,) and I can’t forget that I am supposed to be practicing.
So if you’re putting off writing something, go sit at your desk, set a timer for 20 minutes and GO--just write whatever comes to mind.
If you want to start a new class, don’t just say, “Yeah, I should give that a try.” Put it on your calendar, invite a friend to go with you and be your accountability partner, and then GET IN THE CAR when it’s time to go.
If you’ve intended to start a new meditation routine, but you haven’t had the motivation to actually sit down and get into it, don’t just wait until you feel like it (because chances are you won’t.) Tell yourself all you have to do is go sit down for a couple minutes. Grab a cushion, sit in a peaceful spot, light a candle—or whatever! Do whatever you can to make it look like you’re about to meditate.
Pretending to Meditate, Photograph by Brea Fisher
No pressure on whether you actually do it at this point. This part of the discipline-setting is simply preliminary.
Now here’s where you take my magic red shoes’ advice.
When it comes to your first few attempts at your new discipline, go into it giving yourself an easy-to-swallow portion, without any set amounts in place. Make it nice and easy. Do it only as long and as much as you need to to be able to say, “Yeah, I did it!”
Here’s what I originally had for a couple of the habits on my Habit List:
Work on Biz Stuff (2 hrs)
Practice Kung Fu (1 hr)
After last night I quickly realized that the time commitment was too much pressure. It made me not want to do it at all. So I took the timeframes out and told myself that as long as I did it even for a few minutes I could cross it off my list.
“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it.” –Earl Nightingale
Don’t underestimate the power of lowering the bar during the initial phases of beginning a new discipline.
Doing something for five minutes a day for a week is way more effective at creating a new habit than doing it once for an hour, and then never doing it again.
What have you been putting off?
Do you want to start a new practice? A new class? A meditation routine?
My challenge for you is to choose one new healthy habit you want to create.
Once you have it in your mind, take these steps:
The great thing about this is that once you start doing that thing you’re trying to create a new discipline out of, you’re highly likely to continue doing it for more than just a few minutes. And the more consecutive sessions (Habit List calls them “streaks”) you get under your belt, the more likely you are to continue doing them for even longer amounts of time.
You know what I did with the rest of my day? I completed all eleven items on my Habit List using the steps outlined above. And even though I went into my kung fu practice thinking I only had to do it a few minutes, I finished an hour and a half later. I even took a nap in the middle of my day, and I didn’t feel guilty about it. I felt more productive today than I have in a long while, and that feeling is pure empowerment.
Make discipline a friend in your life. Create a new habit today, and let yourself really enjoy the power it generates within you
Need some ideas about a new discipline to set in place for yourself? I just happen to be offering some new classes at the Ribera Community Cultural Center. If you’re in the valley, or know someone else who would like my classes, share this newsletter with them and they can try their first class with me for free. My gift to you for bringing in a friend is two half-priced classes and a bunch of gratitude