Self Discipline

Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda

Self Discipline is often the one single element that determines success in life. The act of self control is the ability to move in a direction despite internal resistance. Self discipline provides the momentum and drive to keep going and to follow through in the promises that we make to ourselves and others. When others are not looking or directing us to do something it is self discipline that we draw on.  We may not want to get out of bed in the morning to shiver in the cold, the thought of working when we could be resting might not appeal yet we do it.  The only thing preventing us from making the wrong or most preferred decisions and taking the easy option is Self Discipline.

 

“With self discipline almost anything is possible” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

Hard Benefits

The benefits of self discipline extend in to all aspects of our lives and lead to success in virtually every endeavor. Self disciplined individuals are more focused on their task. They are committed to achieving desired outcomes and will stick with a task to the end. Being driven they will often lead from the front. Self disciplined people are less impulsive and more in tune with their emotions, they are less likely to lose their temper or panic. Being motivated and mission orientated means more efficiency and productivity; time wastage is reduced. The self disciplined often seem to have more free time and are less stressed and more in control of their lives than those that are ill disciplined. Besides being successful, those with self discipline are also happier.

Self Discipline is the ability to conquer one’s self and to hold that fort indefinitely. It is about owning ourselves and taking charge of our thoughts, words and actions.

 

In reading the lives of great me, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self discipline with all of them came first” – Harry S Truman

 

Taught not enforced

Self Discipline is a key Jedi Trait. Without it a prospective Jedi would be unable to complete the rigorous training and character formation required to be a Jedi Knight. Luke Skywalker lacked self discipline when he first met Obi-wan Kenobi on Tatoouine. He was impatient and impulsive and highly idealistic.

By the time Luke met Yoda on Dagobah he was no longer a young and inexperienced farm-hand but he still required training in self discipline. Luke had been through some adventures and had lived through some close calls. Among other things Luke had destroyed the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin. Quickly ascending the ranks of the Rebel alliance Skywalker continued to see action including a decisive battle on the frozen planet of Hoth. Despite his military rank and  war experience, Luke still lacked self discipline until Yoda began to train him on Dagobah.

Although some people have inherent self control, self discipline is generally inspired and taught by others. We see the benefits through positive example and with guidance from good mentors we learn the art and skill of self discipline. A Karate instructor  for example will teach his students self discipline through constant positive reinforcement, mentoring and instruction. The students observe the instructor and through example and encouragement begin to apply the skill in their training. With time and practice the skill translates in to other areas of life such as study, work and relationships.

 

I think self discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets” – Daniel Goldstein

 

 

“Disciplined”

When I was young I was impatient and ill disciplined. I also had beliefs and opinions on things I largely knew little about. Schooling was disciplined. Corporal punishment was still used then and I was no stranger to the cane. My father also had very strict rules and did not hesitate to enforce them with a heavy hand. In the Army the practice of “hazing”, “blanket bashing” and physical punishments from NCO’s including beatings was still common practice. The culture still a few years from being pushed in to the shadows. As in school I continued to learn lessons the “hard” way and after a while became numb to the abuse.

In order to function I turned to booze. Alcohol became a readily available means of blocking out the world; I could care less when I was drunk. My mind would no longer torment me and I neither could the world. This was not an environment for self discipline. I was bent till I snapped.

 

Tenacity

Despite being served up plenty of discipline I was never taught self discipline. Many years later I came to realize that even as a mature adult I was completely devoid of self discipline, it had never been instilled in me. Not by teachers, parents or my superiors in the military. Yes, I could get out of bed in the morning and go to work, even inebriated from the night before, but that was fear in action, not self discipline. I could take order begrudgingly but that was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Making my bed every day and having a “clean cut” appearance despite hangovers was not self discipline it was habit.

Being able to have the self control to drink in moderation and go to bed early enough to wake up in a condition “fit for work” is “self discipline”. I failed there many times and eventually ran out of chances with frustrated and exasperated employers who had given me many chances. Allocating time and setting priorities to ensure assignments were submitted on time and being fully prepared for exams at University is self discipline. Procrastinating until the last minute and then cursing my stupidity through the fog and misery of a hangover was not. By some miracle I was able to complete my studies and earn a degree. Tenacity is also trait common in Alcoholics.

 

Self disciplined begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you can control what you do. Simply, self discipline enables you to think first and act afterwards” – Napoleon Hill

 

Will Power

Trying to get sober on will power alone taught me an important lesson; self discipline is not enough especially when you don’t have any. Where alcohol is concerned, the moral and intellectual will power that is required for self discipline is often missing. Alcohol tends to short fuse that part of our brain. Every good intent is thrown out of the window for no rational reason. It just does, we cannot explain it.  We can have the most important day of our life planned and prepared for and then someone hands us a drink and we fail to show up.

On the night before my wedding, my best man was wise enough to cut my supply of booze and insist I get to bed early. I never realized it at the time but he knew that he would have had hell to pay if I’d missed the ceremony or arrived red eyed and stinking. Compliance was granted because I could follow orders easily when they made sense, I was lousy at regulating myself if left alone without someone telling me what to do.

It was not my fault, I just didn’t know. People would say “you were a professional soldier, didn’t they teach you discipline?” If that meant blind obedience to orders, then yes; the Army wants people who unquestioningly follow orders especially when instinct is screaming no. For a start, pointing a rifle at another human and firing “center of body mass” is not a natural thing for most people. Self discipline is different and based on what we want to do, not what we are forced or compelled to do due to fear or blind obedience. One cannot have self discipline forced on or beaten in to them. Even the indoctrinated can eventually see through falsehoods.

Being self disciplined is being able to self regulate. No one need look over our shoulder or check what we are doing. The assumption is that a person with self discipline and integrity can be left alone to do their task or fulfill a promise. With recovery we start to learn the benefits of self discipline. Like any skill it takes time and practice to become second nature. Once we develop self discipline we find we are able to do things that previously we were unable or unwilling to do without being pushed or forced to do. The mental barriers that prevent us from our goals start to fall down as we apply ourselves and follow through with our commitments. Self discipline becomes the engine for positive and continuous change in our lives. Self discipline then equals success.

 

“Whether you call it Buddhism of another religion, self discipline,  that’s important. Self discipline with awareness of consequences” – Dalai Lama

 

Try it

Challenge yourself to being more self disciplined. Even for a few days try one or some of the following if it is not already part of your routine. See if you can make it a habit. These are daily activities that I started and stuck with applying the Jedi principle of Self Discipline:

  1. Exercise daily: Do 30 minutes or more of exercise within your physical limitations. This might be a brisk walk, a jog, a fast paced run or a strength or endurance based activity in the gym or at the park. You decide, the key is to get moving especially when you don’t feel like it. Just Do it.
  2. Meditate: Sit for 15 minutes or more. Focus on the breath. If your mind wanders to stray thoughts or you are distracted gently return to the breath and continue. There are free meditation apps and podcasts as well as guided meditations on Youtube* to assist. It take self control to sit for more than 5 minutes without being distracted by the “monkey mind”.
  3. Fast: Cut one temptation from your life for a period of a week. It may be junk food, soda, alcohol or tobacco or another food item you have been wanting to cut back on. A week long sugar fast may be one that will challenge you. Try extending it longer. Intermittent fasting also takes self discipline however before you start fasting a day or two a week or change your diet speak to a health professional and listen to your body. Health and Safety first.
  4. Shut it Down: Social Media (Face Book, Twitter, Instagram) is distracting and can be a huge time waster as well as introduce toxic energy in to your day. The news media is another source of negativity that demands our attention and emotional response. I find taking time out from Face Book and switching off the news when it comes on spares me potential anxiety or anger. Leave the TV switched off and leave your cell phone on silent for a day. The world can function without us being tuned in 24 hours. You won’t miss much if you media-fast for a week.
  5. Don’t Wait: Have you been putting off a health kick for a while waiting for the right time? Are you thinking about starting martial arts but have been making excuses and keep passing up the “try before you buy: three free lessons” offer at the local Krav Maga class or Karate Dojo? You bought a guitar but don’t seem to ever be in the mood to pick it up and start learning? Well, just start, stop procrastinating and do it. These things will not happen by themselves, you have to decide and act accordingly.

 

“Do or Do Not, There is no Try”

Yoda reminded Luke Skywalker that it was entirely up to him whether he chose to succeed or fail as a Jedi. Luke had been taught much by the Jedi Master and was shown the path that he needed to take to fulfill his destiny. It was now all up to Luke what to decide and how to act. Self discipline was going to be the virtue that took him there.

What will you do?

 

 “No person is free who is not master of themselves.” – Epictetus

Jedi have patience

Jedi choose to act with patience, and not to react with anger.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Patience..

Patience is a virtue. How many times have we heard it? The times we want to jump the gun and rush headlong in to something without a second thought. We can’t stand waiting for anything we think worth having now. It can take real presence of mind and self discipline to take a step back and patiently wait.

Patience is what we exercise when we listen to people when we want to speak. It is being able to sit when we want to stand. Being patient is willing to wait for our turn and graciously letting others go before us. Patience is knowing that things often happen in their own time and we must allow for that.

“Patience my young Padawan” – Yoda

 Learn Patience

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda encounters Luke Skywalker who has crash landed on Dagobah and is seeking a Master Jedi, a great warrior. Luke is brash, rude and impatient and has little time for Yoda’s antics and gets frustrated in Yoda’s hut. All at once Yoda speaks to no one in the room “I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience”. A disembodied voice responds;

The boy will learn patience” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Patience is a virtue and a discipline. It is the simplest lesson to learn but the hardest to practice.

I was always impatient in life. Whether it was people, place, jobs, circumstances, money, relationships there was never a time other than the right now. Bar attendants were never quick enough with service. A plane that was running late was a unforgivable inconvenience. Subordinates who could not deliver on time were useless. People I instructed who failed to catch on quickly were stupid. Someone who took their time explaining something was not worth the time. There was a perpetual sense of urgency and impatience. I had to be getting, going or being right now. No time to wait.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear. Can you remain unmoving until right action arises by itself” – Lao Tzu

Are we there yet?

One of the most important virtues we learn in recovery is patience  with our selves. It pays to understand that progress takes time. Often the journey to that destination makes it all the worthwhile. A long rain that soaks in is far better than a fast and heavy rain that washes off.  I have found that trying to rush my physical training leads to injury. Attempting to achieve milestones without taking enough time leads to failure and frustration. So it is with most things.

In recovery we take it “one day at a time” and handover the outcomes of our efforts to our Higher Power. To try to rush emotional and spiritual growth only leads to disappointment and frustration. Lack of progress or failure in one area can lead to despair or anger and force us to make reckless decisions.  Progress, not perfection should be the key. Take it slow and steady. Give yourself time.

No great thing is suddenly created” – Epictetus

Show people the same courtesy and patience that you expect from others. Especially those that are further back in their life journey. They have a lot to learn and we can help and guide them on the path. We must also learn to be patient with people who are rude, obnoxious or obstinate. There was a time not long ago when we were like that and were given allowances. We can be patient and respectful with others no matter who they are. Our principles and our self esteem must also be respected. We are no one’s s door mat.

Be patient, be Jedi

Next time you find yourself getting impatient with someone or are sitting in traffic ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why am I impatient?
  2. Is it worth the stress?
  3. Can I do anything about it?

The answer to the first question will reveal that the situation is largely out of your control. You probably can’t do anything to make the person change and the traffic jam exists despite your frustration. The first answer should lead to the second answer which should be no unless it is a “life and death emergency”. If there is nothing that can be done about it, why get angry?

If the last answer is yes then consider that option and take action. Otherwise give the person time or space and take time out yourself. Allow yourself to move through the traffic. Eventually it will clear. Deal with any consequences as they arise.  Lastly  take deep breaths and smile. What’s the hurry?

Cognitive Dissonance (Part II)

Part II: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance

Several days ago a Friend of mine who runs a martial arts business posted a poignant piece on the psychology and the consequences of quitting. My Friend was not talking about quitting a destructive habit such as compulsive drinking, gambling or drugs but on the perennial challenge of seeing new students quit within two weeks of signing up.

The truth is that quitting is a hell of a lot easier than sticking if the activity is difficult but beneficial. This is why the majority of candidates on the BUDS program for the Navy SEALS bomb out in the first 48 hours. They figure to themselves “this is harder than I thought”, “why don’t I quit now and save me further pain”. The training Staff are experts in picking up doubt and mental weaknesses and pounce at any sign of it. They actively encourage the candidates to quit, to ring the bell and throw in the towel. The SEALS want men who are mentally and emotionally resilient and who stay the course. Physical toughness is only about 30-40% of BUDS. Mental and emotional strength is the key to getting through.

The opposite is true for things that are seemingly bad for us or contrary to our cause. These things seem extremely hard to quit particularly if the habit is addictive or reinforced in any way. Drinking and taking drugs for example is extremely difficult to quit despite the obvious harm they do us. If anyone had asked me which would be easier, quitting smoking and drinking or getting through something like BUDS I would have said BUDS. Most of us want to quit but cannot find the mental, emotional and spiritual resilience to last the distance. We relapse when we try on will power alone.

The Serial Quitter

I can sympathize with my Friend for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a serial quitter and know all about it. I have taken up a number of activities and made up excuses and quit. Cross Fit, Kickboxing, Gym memberships and even martial arts. Those were sporting and recreational pursuits. I also gave up on jobs, career paths, studies, relationships, sobriety, life….The excuses were less than adequate but it all boiled down to two things; fear of commitment and intractability.

For some reason I have always feared commitment. Most things I ever did I did so because I felt under pressure in some way. When it came to applying effort under my own steam voluntarily and without obligation I would find something else to do and eventually give it away. This was because it was easier to default to the softer option. I also imagined that I was not good enough, or I looked stupid or having stumbled and failed once I decided what was the point. In this state a person suffers a crisis of self confidence and fails to commit. Alcohol or drugs provides a convenient remedy as it dulls our sense of accountability and reassures us that we are better than we actually are.

Intractability

Intractability is being obstinate and difficult to manage. Alcoholics generally have a rebellious streak and we are rooted in our flawed belief system. Self discipline and the ability to commit are concomitant in sticking with a program of recovery, martial arts or BUDS selection. Alcoholism on the other hand tends to throw self discipline to the wind as soon as the first drink is ingested.

The mind set is reinforced in Alcoholics to reject opinions or information that is contrary to our world view. We may be brilliant when we want to be but the second something tips us over or someone gets in our way, we throw the whole lot in, stamp our feet and quit. We proclaim that “they don’t know that they are talking about”. Our only Master is Booze, she is the one we ultimately take orders from.

In a Dissonant World

In today’s society we are increasingly left feeling isolated, in conflict and under tension. Technology dominates every aspect of our lives. Morality seems to have fallen by the way-side or at least replaced by a type of righteous political correctness which stifles discourse and counter views. Society has become polarized. People are feeling less connected within the community and despite the prevalence of social media are feeling increasingly marginalized. This environment has given rise to an unprecedented level of cognitive dissonance in society. Fortunately there are ways to break free from it:

1. Question your views.

In a critical and objective manner dissect your belief system. Challenges assumptions and question everything. Ask if you are not holding on to beliefs that are flawed. Do you have your hand in a Monkey Trap?

The Monkey Trap requires a monkey to place it hand inside a box with a small opening large enough for a hand to fit through but not a balled fist. The Monkey will reach for the treat inside the box and clutching on to it is unable to free itself. If it could only let go of the treat is would be free. This is how some of us hold on to our ideas and prejudices. We convince ourselves of a reality that does not exist and we hold ourselves to that despite evidence to the contrary. Seek evidence and reject what does not hold true.

In the case of Martial Arts, the belief that “I can’t do this” is self perpetuated by quitting. If we break down a problem in to smaller portions and focus on achieving milestones the challenge does not seem so momentous. With a change of perception we entertain the possibility we can achieve. As they say in AA, “take it one day at a time”, the miracle may happen tomorrow.

2. Get out of your Comfort Zone.

Trying new things is absolutely essential to growing as a human being. Have you ever observed a child? A two year old will explore everywhere it can, pick things up and make a mess. She is learning at a phenomenal rate about her world and place in it. We never stop learning and the best way to keep growing as a person is to expose ourselves to new things that are outside of our comfort zone.

The British SAS has advice for candidates on its selection course; “embrace the suck”.  They reason that the cold, hunger, fatigue, uncertainty and exhaustion are guaranteed so might as well embrace it. The course is undertaken in a manner where the candidates never know what is happening or going to happen. If one approaches the course with a “Can Do” attitude rather than a fearful one they are already half way through.  It is a mind-game. With practice and perseverance we arrive at confidence that we can do this. Start off with a “Can Do” attitude.

We all define our “own impossible”. If our mind can imagine something then its possible that it can be done. It is about convincing ourselves that we can take the first step and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually we get to our destination if we keep going.

3. Simplify

One of the reasons we stall in recovery or in any other challenge is because we often over complicate it. Most challenges look complicated because we frame it that way in our mind and the easiest option is to abandon the idea. We also seem to use the word “But” to excess. For example, “I want to stop drinking BUT I’ll lose my Friends” or “I would go to Train BUT [insert excuse here]”. We often complain that people get in our way when most of the time it is our own selves that sabotage our efforts.

In every decision there is an opportunity cost. Only the person can decide if it is worth it? Would I rather be sober or get wasted with Friend? Is sitting at home on Face Book instead of attending training a worthwhile use of my time? All we need to do is ask ourselves what is more important; there is no need to complicate. Decide and choose that. If there are obstacles that complicate your decisions either work around them or manage them out. Yes, this includes “Friends” that pull you away from your goals.

4. Keep you eye on the Goal

Visualize the person you want to be. See yourself standing there in a year’s time having accomplished the goals that you set. Keep that image in your mind and if required draw up a battle plan to get there. In that plan set a strategy, determine the resources you will need and set achievable milestones along the way. Keep the Plan fluid and adaptive so it can to survive the unforeseen. Just because you have a plan does not mean that life will come along and try to upset things.

If you stick to your (rough) plan and keep track of progress you will see improvement over time. For the last 6 months I have stuck with a fitness regime which has resulted in significant gains. Daily application and commitment to the program has been the formula. At first I made excuses not to workout but reminded myself of the reasons I was doing it.

Self Discipline and effort are two Jedi traits that are required to keep on track in any endeavor including sustained recovery. Remember that all you really control is the effort that you put in. An Olympian can train as hard as humanly possible but that does not guarantee a Gold Medal at the Games. If we achieve our goals in the time and manner we set, great, if not we should still recognize the effort we put in.

Luke Skywalker suffered Cognitive Dissonance on Dagobah while was being trained by Yoda. The effort and time needed to get through the trials and the study to becoming a Jedi were obviously more than he was willing to invest at that time. The need to be Jedi conflicted with his need to “be elsewhere”. Luke Skywalker lacked patience and the tension forced him to leave his training early and confront Darth Vader before he was ready…Which brings me to the last point:

5. Is it Worth It?

My Friend has taught Martial Arts for 40 years and has been in countless confrontations which he managed to defuse or resolve using skills drawn from decades of training. On quitting he asks his students one basic question to help with their Cognitive Dissonance; he asks “is it worth it?” The price of not learning Martial Arts might mean that they do not acquire the skill set and discipline to confront an attacker trying to kill or rape them. The price of learning Martial Arts will mean years of dedication, hard work, pain and sacrifice.

When we put it that way it often seems more stark. In the context of life and death it does not get much more clear. Some people need more proof than others.

Do I pick up a drink and most likely relapse in to active alcoholism or do I work the program?

Every one of us must decide what we value and act in accordance with that. No one can force us, we must decide ourselves.

Speak

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

Jar Jar Binks was one of the most annoying characters created by George Lucas in the prequels. Many Star Wars fans cringe at the Gungan buffoon and derided the prequels for introducing him. Jar Jar Binks is actually like a lot of people we meet and not all of them act that way when they are drunk though they may at times sound like him. They are usually drawing a lot of attention their way and speaking a lot without actually saying anything useful.

How often do we kick ourselves after we have said something better left unsaid. We often catch ourselves too late. It would be better to think before speaking. There are also times when we wish we had said something but we didn’t. Not speaking up also seems at times as bad as saying the wrong things at the wrong times.

Silence

Silence is a virtue or so we are told. The teachers in my catholic school would remind us often that children are seen and not heard. Silence was imposed and voicing an opinion was discouraged. I have discovered that often the greatest wisdom comes from the mouth of a child. Plain truth belies innocence. One should always speak their truth quietly and clearly. Listen to your kids or Grand kids often.

Learning when to speak and when to keep silence is an art. We all want to be heard. Sometimes we are not given the chance. The loudest and most assertive speakers generally get the floor. Passive and quiet people are usually not heard above the din.

The Power of Quiet

I’ve usually found the loud, gregarious and boorish types who insist on being heard above others have the least to say. The ability to speak does not always imply intelligence. In our society it seems that the most vocal and the loudest get the most airplay time. There is nothing wrong with that as it is a sign of open discourse which keeps Democracy alive. This is true as long as others are not silenced and forgotten. The loud and arrogant have a right to be heard but so do the quiet and humble.

Usually the quiet types are the ones we need to listen to. Their silence might not hide ignorance but a reluctance to speak. They may also know that saving your voice for when it’s required is often the best approach. You see them in the back of the room at meetings. They are also the silent person at work and the quiet achiever in the team. When they speak up I usually listen intently. The quiet ones usually have something I often lack; diplomacy, wisdom and tact.

“[The Spartans] conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle … This is how you may know that I am speaking the truth and that the Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking: if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child”. – Plato

Who would’ve thought the Spartans were the silent types? Many guys I met who were Special Forces Operators were quiet and unassuming but also sharp as a tack. The mark of a true warrior. A lot of people mistake being quiet for being weak, often a big mistake! The guys you met in a Bar who were loud and telling war stories were usually from rear units or had never served. Big mouths are usually compensating for some deficiency.

Speak Up!

Francis Bacon said that “silence is the virtue of fools”; this is true for those who remain silent when they should have spoken up.  Never remain silent when to do so would be an injustice. If we speak up and learn that despite what is apparent we are wrong then we can make amends. It is too late after something wrong happens that we could have otherwise prevented by raising our voice. It often stuns me when I learn that an accident has happened in the workplace and I hear someone say “I could see that was going to happen”. My first question is “Why didn’t you say anything?” . We all have a responsibility to speak up when it is required.

The fictional Jedi by nature were not gregarious, they were assertive and they did speak up when it was required. They did however speak mindfully; they measured their approach and considered their words particularly over delicate matters. The Jedi used tact and diplomacy. Words were not wasted. They said a lot in few words.

Listen Up!

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” –Zeno of Citium

Being a good listener is also a virtue. When we speak we are moving from the known to the known. Listening takes us from the unknown to the known, we learn something. Then in order to communicate effectively one must actively listen and respond being mindful of what we say and how we say it. Language is only partially verbal; body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hand motions, tone and the most subtle cues often communicate more than words. By listening actively we are communicating.

Women in particular are expert at picking cues and know when a guy is not listening. So for the sake of serenity, Listen!

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” –Wilson Mizner

Meesa throw it all together

Knowing how to listen and when to speak and when to hold tongue is an exercise in self discipline and mindfulness. As an alcoholic I often feel compelled to allow my emotions to drive my tongue. It takes real presence of mind to catch myself. A speech injected with anger or resentment may get an impact but it is one we learn to regret later. Angry or yelling we don’t hear anything, not even ourselves making a mess of things. In recovery we learn that anger and resentment does not serve us. To throw anger at others through our words makes us feel worse not better.

“”First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” – Epictetus

Jar Jar Binks eventually made it to the Galactic Senate and despite his clumsiness with words and actions still proved to be a worthy ally up until the fall of the Republic. The fact that he became a politician seems a parody of our own society where sometimes the politician with the biggest mouth ends up in the highest office. We should still be willing to give those people the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are less than intelligent. After all many of us said things that we wish we hadn’t and expected the same courtesy from others.

Training is Life

 

Training to be a Jedi is not an easy challenge, and even if you succeed, it’s a hard life.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

Life is Suffering

Life is hard and so is recovery. Our daily practices, applying principles and proactively working on self improvement all take effort. Change was never meant to be easy. It can be damn hard. Sometimes it can take everything you have.

The Jedi had a training program which included years of Temple Study in Lore, Ethics, History and Diplomacy as well as physical and martial arts training. There were long hours of meditation and light saber combat. The Jedi student was assigned to a Jedi Knight who acted as mentor and teacher. The apprenticeship lasted as long as was required to satisfy the Jedi Council of the Jedi’s competency. There were also trials the Jedi student had to pass. Training continued for life and Jedi rose in rank as they demonstrated mastery and skill. The Jedi also realized that even after hundreds of years of dedicated training they had not learned everything there was to know.

In recovery there is no graduation day or total mastery where we claim a cure from alcoholism and the problems of life. We may be recovered and strong in our sobriety however we are not immune from life. We can never truly rarely say we are cured and then return to drinking assured that we will be able to drink normally. There is always doubt, we might relapse back in to alcoholism. We don’t know everything and we never will. There is always more to learn so even the wisest and most experienced old timer never stops learning. If one is wise he will not grow arrogant and drink again.

To claim “complete mastery” over any subject and announce that there is nothing more to learn is fool hardy at best, dangerous at worst.

The Best School in the World

I like to say that the only alma mater that matters is the “school of hard knocks”. After years of formal study and training in various professions my greatest life lessons have come out of the hard experiences in life. The let downs, the disappointments and rejections, the failures and falls. The Buddha said that life is comprised of 10 000 joys and 10 000 sorrows. We shed a torrent of tears in a life time. We all experience the suffering of life. The experience makes us smarter and stronger. We learn from our mistakes and our misfortunes. In doing so we grow.

Some of these times in our life truly sucked, they were hard and tough but we got through them and they made us a better person. An old Martial Arts instructor once told me that anyone can wear a black belt. They cost a few dollars but only the person who has poured heart and soul in to their training can claim any meaning to that milestone. Its not the belt, but the pain, suffering and perseverance that it represents which matters. The black belt takes years to earn through dedicated training and application but only a moment to lose through poor choices. The Sensei can take it away at anytime, it is a distinction not an entitlement.

You only get out of life what you put in. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

In the same way I view sobriety. My sobriety is a “daily reprieve contingent to the maintenance of my spiritual condition“. What exactly does that mean? To me it means I must work daily to ensure that I get through each day. My aim is to improve with every day, to rise each day a better person than I was yesterday. I do this through Training and practical application of what I have learned. I know that if I become complacent and drop the ball I may backslide, I can end up back in the hole I put myself in all those years ago.

Daily Practice

My daily routine is a simple one but it does take effort. The benefits cannot be understated. Very often what we most need is routine and a set of goals. The best way to set goals is to break them down. With simple and achievable targets that challenge you, you will progress. Over time you ratchet up the effort a little. Always start slow but be consistent and work to improve.

My daily routine comprises of practices I have adopted from the 12 Steps, the Jedi Path and the Stoics. Feel free to come up with your own program and stick to it for a while, then modify if required to suit your lifestyle, limitations and needs.

Morning

  • On rising, practice a short period of gratitude. Remind yourself of one or two things you have to be grateful for as you come in to this day.
  • Welcome the  day. A new day means new opportunity. Be thankful for it. Every morning I try to greet the sunrise in its splendor. Otherwise I take a quiet moment and imagine the sun coming up over the horizon. I take a moment to contemplate the grand scale of the cosmos and infinite time and to remember that I choose life.
  • Spend a minute as you get ready for work or your days activities to plan the day. Set in your mind or on paper three things you aim to achieve today.
  • Consider the things that may go wrong. Remind yourself that through the day you will encounter people who are rude and obstinate and your plans may get derailed. Resolve not to let them beat you down.
  • Do my daily Readings.

During the Day

  • Do one act of kindness every day to someone. It can be anything, random or predetermined; an offer of assistance or help to someone struggling with a load, giving up my seat on the bus, a simple courtesy such as opening the door. A smile or kind word or an act of charity.
  • Deny myself something nice or practice some form of denial to remind myself not to get too attached to comforts and ease. I practice periodic intermittent fasting on occasion. In addition to reminding myself that food is a precious resource not to be taken for granted I find that occasional fasting makes me feel better. I may decide to leave my jacket at home on a cold day. Run the occasional cold shower!
  • Take a moment to undertake negative visualization. Consider a realistic scenario that might occur which could ultimately change your life or at least make it unpleasant. This could include ill health, unemployment, poverty, ridicule or hate from others, betrayal by friends or colleagues. Imagine yourself dealing with the situation and overcoming it; see yourself practicing acceptance and equanimity.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical training (this can also be in the morning or evening). Remember to have rest days to avoid over training (Stretch / Yoga on off days).

Evening

  • Spend at least 20 minutes in meditation (this can also be during the day or in the morning).
  • Review the day, what went right, what went wrong and consider how I can improve.
  • Journal my thoughts.
  • Take some quiet time, relax.
  • Thank the Force for another day.