Dec 25, 2019

Leading a disciplined life in 2020

Before I proceed further, let me state upfront that I'm quite far away from calling my life a disciplined one. But discipline is something that I constantly strive towards. This word "discipline" came into my life many years ago and I remember that evening sometime in Nov 1991. I was in 6th grade and I returned home with the progress report card of my second midterm exams. I had secured 2nd rank in class and my mom was furious. I was a 1st rank holder during the first midterm and Quarterly exams. I slipped to 2nd rank. In hindsight, this might all sound ridiculous, funny, does-it-even-matter etc. But let me tell you what my mom told me that day - "Discipline ee illa ippo ellaam. romba neram velayadikkittu irukke nee" (No discipline at all, playing a lot these days). My mom inculcated the competitive nature in me and her insistence towards 1st rank helped me in many ways during my childhood days. There are pros and cons to this parenting approach and I'm not going to discuss them here. 

She then motivated me to prepare a timetable for myself and allocate time for play, study, TV etc. For most of my school and college life, I continued this habit of maintaining a schedule. Though Dil Chahta Hai is one of my favorite movies, I don't like the scene where Sameer makes fun of Subodh (Pooja's boyfriend) for his rigid adherence to schedules. No, time tables are NOT boring.

Let's come back to the topic - Self Discipline. 
The dictionary definition states that Self Discipline is the ability to make yourself do things you know you should do even when you do not want to.

Warren Buffet says, "We don't have to be smarter than the rest. We have to be more disciplined than the rest."

I came across this beautiful proverb in Tamil -  Manidhanai maattri amaikkum vidhi avanadhu ozhukkame (The rule that propels man towards change is his discipline). 

Luke Coutinho emphasizes discipline and consistency as two important criteria for good health and well-being.

There is a strong correlation between self-discipline and success in all aspect of our lives - be it our career, health, relationships and our personal growth.

As we are ready to step into a new decade, I wanted to highlight a few new trends introduced in the 2010s that are coming in the way of leading a disciplined life.
  1. Proliferation of Smartphones - We are glued to our smartphones, right from the time we wake up till the time we hit the bed. Studies show that an average person accesses his smartphone 110 times a day. Any fleeting moment of boredom, we quickly reach for the comfort of our smartphones. There's hardly a minute of do-nothing in our lives. How did this habit got so ingrained in ourselves in just a matter of a few years? Let's look back at our lives at the dawn of this decade. For instance, in 2010, I had long commute times to work and I used to take BMTC/Volvo buses (shift 3-4 buses to travel one way) every single day. I used to either read a book, listen to music on my iPod or just look outside the window and be with my own thoughts.  Fast forward to 2019 - A few days back, I was on a BMTC Volvo bus and all I could see was everyone glued to their smartphones, engrossed in some form of visual stimulation.
  2. Digital streaming platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar) - Given the low data costs, we now have access to so many movies and web series at the touch of a button. Terms like "binge-watching" and "binge-racing" have become common parlance. Gone are the days when we would patiently wait for the weekly episode of our favorite serial. These new streaming platforms provide such instant gratification and push us towards watching the subsequent episodes in a matter of 3-4 seconds. We might have started with an episode for 20 minutes and the next thing we know, we are seated on our comfy couch for 2 hours and have watched 6 episodes. How do we ensure we don't succumb to these addictive behaviors? The need for self-discipline and setting rules for ourselves is the only way to gain control of our lives.
  3. Availability of more processed foods - Although processed foods had started pervading our lives from the 1990s, they made inroads into common man's hands in the 2000s and 2010s. Most of these processed foods are designed to be addictive. Until and unless we set some ground rules for ourselves, we can easily get into the rabbit hole of getting addicted to packaged foods for the sake of convenience, taste and herd behavior. The fast-food chains have setup shop in every nook and corner of all cities and even Tier-II towns across the country. It has become so much easier to get a pizza than get a plate of paniyarams.
  4. Food delivery services - In the 2000s and early 2010s, pizza delivery was the ONLY kind of food delivery service that was available. Thanks to smartphone penetration, numerous food delivery services are accessible at the touch of an icon, well supported by the ample funding by VCs. The way we think of food is changing in many ways. We order food, just because we are bored. We order desserts at random times, just because we crave something sweet or because we are upset. The fact that these food items come in cheap plastic containers doesn't seem to be bothering most of us. Convenience seems to be the top priority for every single decision, especially those that are related to food.
  5. Shopping apps - The introduction of EMI and cash-on-delivery options on e-commerce websites, not to forget the SALE (with discounts galore) running throughout the year, we are constantly being tempted by offers and deals. We end up buying stuff that we don't actually need. Fast fashion with trends changing every 3-4 months and sale promotions emphasizing "refresh your wardrobe" / "update your wardrobe" ensure that our wardrobes are cluttered with clothes that we haven't worn more than 3-4 times. Clutter comes in the way of leading a disciplined life, causing stress and affecting our mental peace.

One might argue about the benefits these trends have brought in, but my main issue with these trends is how they can quickly derail our efforts into leading a disciplined life. I'm not blaming these technologies but it is our responsibility to be aware of our cognitive biases and behaviors.

If you believe in setting goals for the New Year, I would highly urge you to think about goals that can help you inculcate discipline, amidst all these distraction-causing trends.

A few ideas to get you started:
  1. I'd watch ONLY 1 episode per day of this series I'm watching
  2. I'd stop using all gadgets post 9PM
  3. I'd start using my smartphone ONLY after an hour of waking up
  4. I'd incorporate do-nothing minutes in my day
  5. I'd just stay in the moment and pass my waiting time (in a queue for eg) instead of mindless scrolling through my social media feed
  6. I'd schedule fixed time for social media and stick to it
  7. I'd place a max of 2 orders per month from food delivery services
  8. I'd pick up ONLY 1 pack of processed food during my weekly shopping
  9. I'd buy clothes ONLY once a year during Diwali/Christmas
Do feel free to customize these triggers according to your needs and context. A disciplined life helps us in many ways:
  1. Helps us to simplify our days
  2. Helps us to differentiate between our needs and wants
  3. Empowers us to focus on the essentials
  4. Supports us in reaching our goals
  5. Drives us towards mindfulness and being aware of ourselves
Do share your thoughts on how you are leading a disciplined life amidst these distractions.

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