Duality: an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something.
There is light and dark in every aspect of life. Without night there is no day. Without hot there is no cold. Yin vs yang. Discipline is no different, behind the the focus and determination there is fixed, immovable rigidity.
Now, I believe that we all need to make sacrifices and commitments to reach our goals. I believe in hard work and perseverance. But what happens when you become so adept at being so completely disciplined that it starts adding undue stress and pressure into your life? Where does one draw the line between ‘I am doing this to achieve a dream’ and ‘I am doing this because I am so afraid to fail that I can’t see that it’s hurting me?’
I find myself walking this thin line…constantly.
In late September, I set out on a mission to finish off the last 100 days of 2017 with a personal challenge. I vowed to write everyday for 100 Days. I did this because writing is something that I enjoy and have been wanting to make a habitual part of my life for over 5 years now. In the past, I haven’t quite been able to create a writing habit that would become part of my lifestyle. I thought that by challenging myself and announcing my personal challenge in a very public space that this would keep me accountable and on track with my goals.
Good News: It has! I haven’t skipped a day. Coming up to Day 50!
Bad News: I am stressed about writing. I’ve noticed lots of anxiety around trying to get it done everyday.
Because of this, I am learning a lot about self imposed rigidity surrounding self discipline and how that effects my life.
This 100 Day Writing Challenge isn’t my first 100 day challenge. In fact, I have made it a habit to give myself new challenges on a regular basis for the past 3-4 years. Sometimes the tasks are simple like drink more water or stretch a bit more. Other times they are more complex like do qi gong every morning for 20 minutes, or meditating everyday, or don’t eat any sugar…etc. These challenges run anywhere from 30 to around 100 days or more and I have a very high success rate. I actually made a goal to meditate everyday for an entire year and I’m still going strong. Haven’t missed a day in 2 years. So when I said I was going to write every day for 100 Days, that means I will fucking write everyday even if it’s super late, extremely early or I have to write in my car or at work. I have set a fucking goal and put it out into the world, so that means I will do it. Period.
I operate with this “All or Nothing, Give 100% 100% of the Time” mindset on a regular basis, so much so that it’s become a huge part of my identity. I am known for my intensity and drive for perfection. I believe this tenacity is a product of my lifetime as a elite and professional athlete. I have spent A LOT of time practicing. Millions and millions of hours. When I was young, I was expected to be working hard 100% of the time and our practices were often 6 hours or longer. I have been practicing like that since I was 5 years old. I’ve since come to realize that I have been practicing how to practice in the same way I have trained for many of my physical skills. Repetition, trial and error, then more repetition. Plus, the practice of disciplined practice has become an essential part of me adult and professional performer life because there is nobody but me telling me what to do. I have to be the one to motivate and inspire myself. And I have gotten REALLY good at it. Almost too good at it that I am not sure when to let myself off the hook sometimes.
Now, this perseverance has served me well, in many instances. I would not be at the level I am at, in as many capacities that I am, if it weren’t for my ability to put my head down and get to work. I have been called a workhorse on a number of occasions, and I usually take that as a compliment. Lately though, I am not so sure.
Turns out, my boss is super strict and demanding, she expects the best, every single time. She doesn’t let up. Perfect practice makes perfect, you know. Have I said that before? Shitty thing is, I am my own boss. I am the one kicking my own ass.
Suffice it to say, when I put my mind to something, I do it. I do whatever it takes to get it done. I am an all or nothing kind of women. I ambitiously pour everything I have into my goals, bulldozing down opposition and distraction. And while this is an admirable trait, I am beginning to see it’s shadow side. I am observing the side of discipline and determination that becomes detrimental to my health, relationships, work and life. Being so self disciplined that I stress out and create anxiety around almost all aspects of my life. This is discipline, it’s rigidity.
Extreme Example, though the mindset is not that uncommon for me:
That time I starved myself for a year because I was given a task of losing weight. I was adamant and unforgiving. It was 150% or nothing. There was no room for ANY sort of deterring from the path. No days off, no cheating, NOTHING. The idea of failure was way more terrifying than the damage I was doing to my body at the time. Success was my only mother fucking option, failure was not. (Shout out to Marshall Mathers.) I did not go out for dinner or hang with friends. I did not engage in any of my relationships. Unless I was training or working, I was not going to allow the distraction of enjoying life take my off my path. YES, I achieved my goal, even though it was sickening and unhealthy, but I did it. I was also miserable and completely lost so much so that I have to walk away from my life for a time to recover. Unrelenting self discipline gone awry.
Michelle, Michelle, Michelle….
The truth is, I’m not perfect and there are days that I am tired, busy and/or stressed, meaning that I am not operating at 100%. Not doing my best, falling off the wagon, not training or when I haven’t sat down to write yet, make me feel anxious. It’s literally all I can think about. I said I was going to do this thing and I am not doing it so that must mean I am failing, what will everyone think of me when I have to admit that I missed a day and couldn’t give myself a sticker? It sounds ridiculous but fuck, I want that sticker!
The other thing that worries me is that I am afraid that I will fail. That one missed day will turn into 2 missed days and then into 3, 4 , 5…and so on. So here is the predicament that I find myself in lately.
My extreme discipline and integrity, are actually causing more stress and anxiety. Totally not serving me at all.
Being in the Flow
Self discipline is easy when you are rested. Not so much when your energy is being split between 12 different avenues. Seem pretty obvious right.
Rigidity is fragile. Anything fixed and unmoving is likely to fracture.
Bruce Lee said “being like water.” Which I never fully understood until only recently. Fluidity is where balance lives. Coming and going with the ebb and flow of life. I see that holding myself to such high standard is admirable and helpful but only in some instances and circumstances. There has to be room to breath. I have to have space to let myself off the hook sometimes. Just because I miss a few days of a writing challenge or another goal, doesn’t mean the whole project is derailed. It simply means I missed a few days of writing. That’s it.
AND…I realize that I am not always in that state of rigidity. Sometimes, I am quite fluid and in the flow. Letting the pieces fall as they may. These past few weeks especially. I have been busy with working, teaching, packing up my apartment on the other side of the country, moving into a new space in Vancouver, plus trying to run my social media and get my training and writing done. Fuck man, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to exert so much self control. And what I am learning in to have peace and compassion for myself around that.
Discipline will always live with me and will always be something I can call upon when it is needed.
It is no fun to be so hard on myself all the time. What I actually need more of now than anything is a little bit more joy and fun in my life. The mask of discipline I have been wearing for 30 years has been battling with the free spirit soul for so long and I think it’s time to let that spirit fly a bit. Discipline will always live with me and will always be something I can call upon when it is needed, but that mask does not need to be running the show every minute of everyday. Even since writing this post and acknowledging the rigidity that I often find myself in, I have begun to release it. I see now that the answer is actually a lot more simple and easier than I thought it was. Because by allowing myself to take the space I needed with in my 100 Day Writing Challenge, by allowing my self a day off with out judgement, I have released the anxiety surrounding the task. I actually haven’t skipped a day and yet, I am willing to let myself off the hook and forgive if I do. There is always the next day and then the day after that…
Suddenly, I feel free.
Why Failure Doesn't Exist
March 10, 2016
Atlantis: A Retelling of Day 2 on the Camino de Santiago