Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Discipline, et al.

“Self discipline is overrated and undependable.” – Tim Ferriss, Author of 4 Hour Work Week and 4 Hour Body

I think my MPA program is getting in the way of my blog. Right or wrong, this gives me agita. So I’m taking a break from writing my paper that’s due tomorrow night to get down some thoughts I’ve been having about discipline, and how discipline relates to my life and my objectives for the year.

For the past hour, I have been typing at my kitchen nook on my laptop, with my paperwork piled around, the space heater running at full blast, and an unopened bottle of Cabernet sitting a foot away from the computer (as I’m sure you can guess, the bottle is no longer unopened; which leads me to a semantic aside- if I can “open” a bottle of wine, why can’t I “close” it? Well, yeah, sometimes there’s no wine left to be closed; but when I’m alone and done for the night and I have to “close” the bottle of wine, I have to come up with some other term, like cork or seal. I guess I can think of a ton of examples where the word open requires some specialized version of close, even though we think of open and closed as being exact opposites, right? They’re on the front and back of the same hanging sign in every old-school retail store. You can open and close a bank account, but you can’t open and close a present. I don’t even think you’d say you closed the jar of peanut butter after you opened it. What would you say? Put the lid back on? Why does our language require five words for that which is the opposite of a one-word phrase?).

So anyway, the reason the closed bottle of wine and creepy illustration of Paul Newman on said bottle of wine were eyeing me while I typed is because it was motivating me to write. I told myself that I had to finish one of the assignments before I opened the bottle and had a glass. And it worked. Would I have typed up the assignment without the wine staring at me? Yes, of course. But keeping the wine hostage in the bottle like I was some shrewd Somali piratess gave me a little feeling of empowerment and provided me with some kind of immediate reward for doing something I really didn’t want to be doing.
Paul, you were a gorgeous man, but it's just lost in translation.

I feel like I do things like this all the time. Yesterday, I told myself I had to plant my ass in front of the computer with my documents for a few hours in the afternoon and then I could make a yummy dinner and watch the Bachelor for two hours. True story. And that worked too. When the long-term reward is in the distant future (i.e. a degree two years from now, or not having a heart attack at 40), it takes some serious manipulation for me to stay disciplined enough to get anything productive done. [insert thoughtful exploration of the motivation behind procrastination, or possibly draw on Louise’s academic studies about discipline and self-control- later]

That’s one of the reasons why I find the exercise class paradigm works better than a gym for me. Many of these studios make you reserve a space in the class online, and you’re charged money if you cancel within an hour of the class. Brilliant! The only thing I have to do is remember to pack clean clothes in my little work out bag (which has become routine), and then I have no excuse to not go to a class after work. I can’t come home first, or else the whole plan implodes, so I have to drive straight from work to go get my tuck on (Yes, tuck. I’ll discus the Bar Method & Pop Physique in a separate, grueling post).

Discipline is a complex issue, though I wonder if it’s any different than playing mind games with yourself to achieve results. Which brings me to Tim Ferriss. This is the self-aggrandizing yet admittedly compelling author of The Four Hour Work Week, who now has a book out about all of the experiments he’s done on his body (including “cold exposure” to lose weight). Disclaimer aside, it’s refreshing to read Tim Ferriss’s diet plan in the Four Hour Body, because it doesn’t have any pretense. He doesn’t pretend that anyone has the discipline to keep “domino” foods in the house without overeating (in which he listed “hummus” as one such food- chagrin). He claims that self-discipline is overrated anyway (yeah it is!) and it’s not reliable (no, it certainly isn’t).

What’s also refreshing about the way he presents the Slow Carb Diet is that he doesn’t pretend for a second that losing weight and becoming an accomplished cook go hand in hand. Why do diet book authors, or even women’s magazine columnists who write about diets in pseudo-scientific ways, assume that everyone wants three original meals a day with two unique snacks. It’s absurd and WAY too daunting for someone like me, who hasn’t even bothered to lobby her landlord for a working oven in the year and ½ I’ve been in my apartment. Seriously, pick up or google the menu plan for the South Beach Diet, and you’ll be totally overwhelmed. In contrast, Tim Ferriss actually recommends eating the same thing over and over, and not having any delusions about becoming a cook if all you’re used to doing is pressing “start” and opening lids. The idea is to have each meal be some combination of protein, beans/legumes and vegetables. I need to eat more beans anyway- they’re good for you, and as we saw in a previous post, very cheap. I also need to eat more vegetables, which is sort of funny coming from a vegetarian, but who doesn’t? So this morning, I made an attempt to eat a vegetable at breakfast. I microwaved egg whites and fresh spinach in the kitchen at work, then ground some pepper and salt over it. Pas mal! I think this is a diet I can trick myself into having the discipline to do; I don’t have to be original, and I don’t have to do anything outside of my normal routine for feeding myself. I just have to buy the right things to throw together.

So in preparation for wanting to look fierce on my birthday, I’m going to attempt the Slow Carb Diet. I’m gearing up for it right now by adding things like protein at breakfast and beans in more meals; I’ll try it full-force after this weekend binge in San Francisco. It’s sort of like when my brother would steadily cut bread and pasta and anything tasty out of his diet as he got closer and closer to Cancun spring break in college. (Me: “So what do you eat if you’re still hungry late at night?” Devon: “Tiff, microwave a bowl of broccoli and think about your abs.” Sigh…)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, a couple glasses of red wine are totally allowed, if not encouraged, on the Slow Carb Diet.

I’ve got about a month to go until the big day. I wonder if I should measure myself and aim for lost inches. If only I had the discipline to go do that…

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. Speaking of things that can be opened and closed...I was thinking about gallery openings and closings. There's no champagne at the closings. :( Also what about those instances when being open-minded means you may have to be closed minded to not being open-minded. English is weird.