Discipline Spillover

Date: Oct 15, 2018

Huge thanks to my friend Ramkumar Natarajan for coining the term Discipline Spillover. When I met him at Pittsburgh a few weeks back, I was describing a vague, inchoate idea and he able to come up with a beautiful term for it.

A while back, I read an answer on Quora that talked about runners having their act together. The author of this post claimed that he has never seen anyone who runs regularly with a life in shambles. He was of the opinion that runners have their life under control and are always working towards something that makes them happy. It made sense to me. When you run, you are literally ignoring every instinct in your body that begs you to stop and rest. It needs a great deal of self-control and determination. These are the essential traits of a successful person. That said, I don't run. I'd like to, but I find it incredibly boring (unless in a picturesque setting). Yes, more so than lifting weights. I workout and do some yoga. However that's beside the point.

A moment of honesty - I had a rough couple of months this summer/fall. Due to unforeseen circumstances and a few events beyond my control, for the first time, I felt completely overwhelmed in life. I was thousands of miles away from my friends and family and didn't have a strong support network to lean on. Worst of all, I bottled up all my emotions and never uttered a word until recently. However, I did manage to collect the broken pieces of my life and put it back together. The process was slow and painful. But I managed to pull through. All because I had a semblance of sanity and discipline left in me.

On a particularly introspective evening, I was looking back at some of the most significant events in my life. Sitting at the edge of the rocks in Trillium park, I was gazing at the moon, the water and the beautiful Toronto skyline. I closely scrutinized all my bad memories without reliving them. I still do not know how I managed to do it, but I was able to recollect past events as if I were a distant spectator. I found one common thread - amidst all the colossal mistakes and self-destructive tendencies, I always had one small part of my life under control. For example, if I had four things going on in life (for e.g., research, gym, yoga and music), no matter how bad things were, I worked on at least one of them with commitment and self-discipline. I guess that was my way of keeping my sanity intact. A creative diversion that slowly, but steadily helped me rebuild a sense of who I was and get some focus in my life. That, my friends, is what I mean by discipline spillover. Get one small part of your life under control and it slowly spills into other aspects of your life. This discipline is a precious, finite resource. It can be increased by dedicated training and decreased by unrestrained debauchery.

Unfortunately, in my experience, this path and transformation isn't linear. It requires a motivating factor (something that gives meaning to your life), endurance, perseverance and restraint. Whenever something drastic happens, my self-discipline takes a huge hit. With each blow, I find myself handling it better, but there's still a lot of scope for improvement. When I crack the code for consistent excellence, I'll be sure to write a post about it. Until then I guess I should just keep my chin up and trudge ahead :)