I have never been good at discipline. I’m not sure if the code for that gene was missed in my make-up, or if I just didn’t get enough structure as a kid, but I have always resisted, ignored, avoided, and otherwise dragged my heels at any kind of task that had to be done in small increments on a daily basis. I remember cramming in four hours of violin practice on Sunday night before a Monday lesson, memorizing poetry in the car on the way to acting classes, doing homework for the next class in the class before. The biggest problem with all of this, really, was not that my performance suffered, but that I got away with it. So I learned at a young age that doing things every day like you were supposed to, was really for other people. Not me. And I felt cool. Kind of like a last-minute super-hero. I loved seeing people’s jaws drop when I told them I pulled off an 80% on the essay I wrote at 2am. It was how I rolled.
Since then, I have discovered that a) doing everything at the last minute does affect the quality of the work and b) there are certain things like flossing that just have to be done every day. If you want to be really good at anything, the only thing that pays off is consistent effort. You can’t write a symphony the night before the orchestra plays it (not that I’ve ever tried that one). You can’t floss for five hours before you go to the dentist and fool them into thinking you’ve been doing it all along. And so, since my mid twenties, I have been working (albeit inconsistently) on gradually introducing more discipline into my life.
I now floss daily. Although I still have a lot to learn about managing study time (because I’m still going to school), I no longer complete homework the morning it’s due. There are still some things I’m working on, though – like focus; just picking one or two things and being really good at them (probably more on that later), and exercise. Regular exercise, as in three times a week over a period of months, or years. I would like exercise to be as consistent as sleep, but for some reason, other things always seem to be much more important. Things like: studying, or time with loved ones, or the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Also, I would like to meditate daily. This is because I have found that the days I meditate for even five minutes are better days. It’s not that things don’t go wrong on those days, or that I don’t get upset, but I never have what I (and this lady) call “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days” when I meditate. Everything is just tuned down. Things that would annoy me a lot on a non-meditating day just don’t seem so bad. Plus, psychologists have discovered all kinds of wonderful benefits to meditating, so it’s a good thing to do.
But, for the past few years, I’ve been going along, thinking to myself, like most of us do, “I really should exercise more, I really should meditate more”. New Year’s resolutions would come and go, and there I would be, making promises I didn’t keep.
A few weeks ago, I went to what I will call a “flaky, hippie conference“, although there weren’t really many hippies there, and I’ve ceased to consider a lot of things “flaky”. But the speakers were what some might call “New Age Thinkers”, talking about things like affirmations, spirituality, etc. And many of them stressed the importance of exercise and meditation. The conference was full of good vibes, and inspiring, and so, on the last day of the conference, I swore that I would exercise regularly and mediate every day.
But how? I have sworn these things before, and more, and failed to follow through. Because you see, there’s a part of me, a small inner child that just does not want to go for that walk, sit still for five minutes or eat her vegetables. In the past, when I have succeeded, I have found that offering bribes to this inner child helps. For example, when I had a gym membership and didn’t want to go, I would tell myself that I could watch trashy TV shows while on the elliptical machine, and it worked for a time. Then I remembered that once, I got myself to exercise about six days a week for some months. And what helped in that case were stickers. Yes stickers. Childish, ridiculous stickers that I would put on my calendar. If I exercised one day, I got a little sticker, and if I met my goals for the week, I got a big sticker at the end of the week.
Remembering this at the conference, I thought that the formula of blissful inspiration added to my new maturity added to stickers might just be what was needed. I bought some new stickers, and woke up on Monday determined to give it a go. I put the stickers on my calendar at work where I can see them; hearts for meditating, ladybugs for exercise.
We are now in the beginning of the third week, and the stickers are working a kind of magic. They are shamelessly shiny, and I love them. I love getting to put a new one on the calendar. There have been times when the promise of stickers keep me going. I love the sense of accomplishment I get from seeing all the stickers I’ve amassed. Because really, they are not just stickers, they are little tiny symbols of my commitment to myself, to my own health, and it feels good to see that demonstrated in a very concrete way.
So, for the time being, my inner child is successfully placated. And the adult me is amused that I can be so easily bought off. The ladybug stickers that I get for exercise do seem to be a little more scarce in week two than three, but still, they are there, and the promise of new stickers motivate me to do better this week. I’m not sure how it’ll all turn out, but stay tuned dear friends, and hope for me that the stickers continue to weave their glittery spell.
Can anyone relate to this, or is my inner child the only one that needs this kind of reinforcement? Do you have rituals that keep you motivated? Seriously, I need to know just in case the sticker magic wears off.