12 Weeks of Self-Discipline

This is an excerpt of the book.

1 ROOTS OF THE DEMON I was told this story, and I don't know where my former coworker got this, but it resonated with me, and I held onto it for the years after I heard it. There a man -- I hate generalizations, so let's call him Tom, that's a good name -- and his job was rocky. He was battling up against his own capacity, With all that stress at work, he did what many people do, he suffered bouts of sleeplessness, tried sleeping pills, slept too long, adjusted for that and he ate so much more, because stress can be misinterpreted by the animal mind as famine, triggering stress eating. He gained weight, needed larger clothes, and his relationship with his wife and children strained. The company needed to restructure, and he experienced pay cuts, but to make up for his company added intangible benefits. Bills fell behind, creditor calls increased, and so did his eating, sleeping and marital strain. He strained to put socks on, had to pack into his car to fit in it -- the changes painfully illuminated themselves. When going through his desk drawers, looking for his old pack of cigarettes because he wondered what, if anything, would get him out of pain, he found his old insurance policy, about which he hadn't thought about in years. A $200,000.00 policy, something in his head immediately calculated the languishing bills, the house pay-off … The thoughts lingered with him and bothered him. When he sat at dinner with his wife and child, he suddenly saw an overview of the table, saw himself waver, transparent, until he disappeared, and he saw his wife and children go about their business … another day. After work, when he walked to his car, Tom felt his heart pound, heavy, under the layers of his chest, and it fed into his thinking. A path seemed quite clear, so Tom wrote notes on his computer, left a note in the top drawer of his desk at home, and then he went out front to drink a bottle of cold beer while everyone filtered off to sleep. He thought about all the beautiful things he had known in his life … light through the trees, dancing over high grasses, cool and cloudy days, lightning over the beaches where he had abandoned his swimming for awe and wonder … and as he looked at the full, round moon, he rocked forward to stand and felt his heart pick up pace at just such a simple thing that the plan formed. He left the empty bottle on the wooden planks of the porch, walked to the yard's edge, and then leaped out for a pounding, jarring run, each stomp sending reverberations through his wobbling, slapping body. He ran and ran at the top of his capacity, trying for the pain down his left arm that would bring him to the tunnel of white light. Tom aimed for death, because the small pain of death would end the massive miseries of all the people closest to him. Down his country road he pounded, until he slowed and fell over on the embankment of a neighbor's field. He heaved breaths so urgent one came before another could finish. Unsuccessful, he returned home to shower and then go to sleep. This would become his mission: it would look like a natural cause, but he would solve all the problems of the ones he loved. He did note that he slept better than ever before, and he had forgotten to take his sleeping pill. The next night, he waited until everyone went to bed, and he did the same, but it took a little longer to wear him down. Tom had another wonderful night of fully restful sleep. He did this for weeks before he noticed his pants fit better, his appetite dropped, he felt calmer, happier, and he wondered why in the world he would linger at this job that asked more of him but gave back less, so he put his resume out to headhunters, kept up his nightly running ritual, and found he dealt with his children in a calmer, more loving manner, opened up to his wife about recent developments, and after six months the running -- he did it because the rich oxygen made him feel wonderful, his heart pounded less than it did, he felt calmer and happier. When he received the acceptance offer, Tom hadn't been that thin and energetic since high school. His sign-on bonus paid off the trailing bills. Everything looked up for Tom. But he still ran. I've heard plenty of stories like this. A person drifts downward as every precipitating factor builds around, higher and deeper, broader and longer, until one is ready to leave the abyss and everything with it, but that last blow-out, that last goodbye, offers something stretching a person's capacity into unusual growth and tremendous self-discipline. When speaking of groups, be it children or adults in classrooms and workplaces, we have all heard of discipline, maintaining order within a given sphere, but self-discipline is a self-motivated capacity to remain on task, maintain order internally and externally. In the place where things happen to a person, where a person seems to lack agency, we automatically see this as lacking self-discipline, so self-discipline is where a person seizes his or her agency in all things to create results. A person who procrastinates is seen as the opposite, so a self-disciplined person maximizes his or her output, squeezing the most of each moment. Self- discipline over time would be called persistence. So I think we can boil this down: Self-discipline is the self-driven seizing of one's own agency to produce in the most efficient use of time and resources. Because they are within my realm of use, I will collect personal stories that I hope to which many can relate. As a child, at six or seven, I saw a picture of an angel in a book, and it occurred to me someone had drawn or painted that. It seemed I had forever that day, so I sat a stack of paper next to the book, and I went to reproduce what I saw in the book. That result looked off-target, so I tried again. I refined again and again and again until I tired of the effort, but I knew I would try again later. I did, and I employed this sort of empty-minded focus -- a pursuit without measure of time, no thoughts, no feelings, no nagging voices, just a calm peace and only one possible outcome: success. I've been drawing and painting for the last forty years, and it takes me to that same place of tireless calm. Later, I struggled with multiplication tables in school. My stepfather took a piece of paper and folded it over so many ways. He instructed me to write 2x here, 3x here, 4x here and so on. I went to the dining room table and went to work. At the end of it, he looked it over, marked all the wrong answers, and then sent me back with a fresh sheet of folded paper. When I finished, he would pop quiz, and any wrong answers at all sent me back to the table with fresh paper. This went on for weeks, it seemed, until I answered correctly every time. Something in these last two occasions spoke to me throughout the years, and it became clearer later. Like most people, my teenage years were a struggle, to say the least, and two things made those worse: the discomfort and social calculations of peers culminating in horrible, bullying behavior … and my responses to it all. That period of my life filled me with self-loathing and defeat so vigorous it rippled through decades so that I took up their work and generated my own misery. I dropped out of high school, sinking in the kaleidoscope of horrors that represented those years. My youngest childhood had been profoundly abusive, and now my forced social sphere took up the same behavior. When I moved off to my grandparents' farm, the world was wide open. I sought some sense of meaning, I read The Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, The Circle of Zen, sutras … I read all these books, but because my grandmother loved yard sales, almost every summer Saturday or Sunday, my grandmother's military general-like plan to hit the yard sales within a given area yielded for me amazing finds. Erstwhile college students sold off their textbooks for remarkably cheap prices. I study anatomy and physiology, psychology, biochemistry -- amazing science. My high school biology teacher's wisdom came through to me: he once brought me a stack of biology textbooks after class and said, "Here. You'll learn more from these than I can teach you in this classroom." He possessed that insight. And I ran with it. Reading became action, and when I had gestated the mindset, I found the small, very basic weight set at a yard sale. That went into the barn. More weights joined. I had only been taught bench presses and curls, but I went into the world of rows and squats and lunges. I found an exercise bike to add variety between my sprint days. I found the cheapest possible protein shake at the grocery, and they tasted better than I expected. Every night, I wrote out tomorrow's workout so I would be ready to go. I kept meticulous records, and I could learn circadian rhythms, metabolic specifics, and as I felt better and better from all the oxygen in my system, I found myself quieting my mind in still repose. That leveled me off even more. I had suffered depressions, anxiety and dissociation; that all went away. I felt brave enough to take classes, because groups of people terrified me due to previous experiences. I socialized well and took instruction. Every day, it felt requisite to sit in still meditation for twenty minutes, work up to 1,000 kicks and 1,500 punches a day on the heavy bag, forty-five minutes of aerobics and an hour and a half to two hours of weight training. Some days, the old fears tried to play on me, some days powerfully, but I read something about wu-hsin -- non-thinking -- and wu-wei -- non-doing. These became important. They shut off the voices in my head, the destructive self-talk, that told me I couldn't or shouldn't do something. No amount of reasoning, no amount of self-therapy, no amount of self-help books that give you a list and tell you to run off from the book and complete it, motivated me as much as documenting my work in a journal, devising my plan and then using non-thinking. If, in those days when I resisted meditation and workout, I reasoned with the chugging momentum of my thought-locomotive, I failed. Developing something like self-discipline is a journey, a step-by-step approach shifting the mind as the theater of experimentation, and then putting it into action with small, measurable goals that reinforce this notion momentum in the direction you want.


Leonid Rogozov, a handsome young man, resided as the only doctor at the

Novolazarevskaya Station, a Soviet research facility set up for the sixth Arctic expedition. At the beginning of an Arctic night that promised to last sixth months, massive snowstorms made travel impossible. He kept up with his comrades on base, laughed with them, but that smile covered a suffering he kept secret: he had begun experiencing nausea, inflammation, and he wrote about his local, first level treatments of localized cooling and taking things a bit easy. He believed it was his appendix, and while he believed there was no threat of perforation, his symptoms grew worse. In his journal, he wrote that over time and exacerbation of conditions, he would decide out of necessity to perform the surgery himself.

To the average person, that seems a shocking assessment, and to a general practitioner such as Rogozov, while in the field of medicine, surgery was a bit of a different beast. On 01 May, at 0200 local time, he took the assistance of a meteorologist and driver who held the mirror for him and handed him instruments. He took 45 minutes to perform the appendectomy on himself, feeling faint and seeing everything in reverse via a mirror.

Rogozov defended a thesis regarding re-sectioning the esophagus in cases of esophageal cancer and served as head of surgery in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) until 2000. He died in 2000, at the age of 66, from lung cancer.

Around five years after this successful act of courage, 27 year old Angus Barbieri grew tired of the confines of his size. He weighed in at 456 pounds (206.8 kg), and the constraints of his own body, combined with what had to be deeply cutting ridicule and a clear vision of what life would be like at 180 lbs (81.6 kg), he checked into Maryfield Hospital for evaluation. He told the doctors he was done with food, and while amused and certain his determination would wane with seeing small results, they evaluated him and prescribed him essential vitamins. He fasted. He checked in for evaluation, and he took black tea, black coffee, and sparkling water along with the prescribed vitamins. Having forgotten the taste of food, he finally ended his fast after one year and eleven days, having reached 180 lbs., with a slice of buttered toast and a boiled egg, stating he felt very full. Mr. Barbieri never got over 196 lbs for his life, having passed away at age 51. According to some sources, his cause of death was stomach bleeding and obesity, but this comes from unconfirmed sources stating a drive to obtain his death certificate. The common belief is that he regained the weight. The drive to accomplish that thing -- surrounded by temptation, surrounded by people who said what everyone says to someone who is fasting ("If you don't eat, you die!") -- ended with an amazing momentary achievement.

While the health of Mr. Barbeiri's approach is highly contested, and doctors even then thought he would throw in the towel. People have died from such treatment, and it's known that zero nutrition can cause weakening of the heart muscle; this is why people with anorexia suffer heart attacks and heart failure. But these are the drastic steps a person with an addiction will take to cure the illness. I don't know if you've ever grappled with an addiction, but this is an unnatural pull. Just as the limbic system drives the human organism to fighting, feeding, fleeing and reproduction, the pull of addiction can feel just as vital. If you use this book as tool for addiction, I would recommend you run through the book first as a general guide, and then run through it a second time as a specified guide. That aside, these large, seemingly superhuman feats of self-discipline could be dwarfed by the testimonials heard in AA and NA. Working in psychiatric care, every Monday evening brought a procession of faces, all gathered to testify to the power of addiction, but also the greater power of self. That's all I can say about this, but there are so many mutations of addiction and so many strange turns it takes, but it relies on the same thing -- a drive to return to patterns established. Sometimes these neurological networks are powerful, but if you can gain the notion that your brain is a work in progress, driven by powerful consciousness, you have a good foundation.

The other issue centers around Removing a Thing from Your Life. I wrote it that way to impart the importance of what that means. Remove a peg, and you have a gap. This is why it is vastly important to have something of some relatively equivalent benefit, or a replacement that serves you in some great capacity. Another challenge is the matter of impulse; when you face a pivot, a strong drive -- even if consciously enforced -- towards any of your range of alternatives is warranted. After a time, your mind tires of the mental game of firing one set of neurons to be redirected to another set of neurons, and the secondary path becomes stronger than the first. Impulse, if not properly managed through rehearsal, can provide a flash of thoughtless relapse, but if the supporting framework is built, there is at least a struggle against impulse.

My hope is that this book will be a one shot for you, and you can move forward with strict determination towards what you want with what you've learned, but my other hope is that this remains as a steadfast guide -- that if there is a struggle with old impulse that ends in a way which is not amenable to your desired outcomes, you can always return, put the steel of spirit to the forge or the grindstone, and come out sharper and better.

The work for this introductory week -- no, you will not be performing appendectomy -- is quite a simple set of mental exercises, and the reasons these are written out and repeated each day is to use the neurology involved in writing, something on which you must focus, a physical and visual act which requires your agency, and repeat it. This is training, and training requires the introduction of a skill and its repetition. That repetition is what builds the impulses in the brain, cross-correlates to related neurological clusters and makes the skill quicker and easier. Efficiency is effectiveness as quickly as effectiveness can be maintained, and we enjoy much more those things we can do efficiently. We do not enjoy the process of acquiring new skill, because our neurons are firing in new directions and redirected clusters. However, there is one thing I will ask you to consider fully.

The prospect of exercise, at one point in my younger years, felt -- at just the prospect -- like a horrible fate, sweating, panting, lung-burning horror … until I reached a breaking point and began vigorous and extensive study. I grew fascinated with an anatomy and physiology textbook bought at a yard sale. The machinery moved in my mind. I bought a weight set much like the ones with which I had suffered ephemeral flirtations over the years, but I put this one to work, finding weight training suited me. Aerobics then suited me. Martial art then suited me. On many workouts, drenched in sweat, breathing hard, I smiled a lot. It felt wonderful. Achieving that state, knowing I had overcome my Self, my built inclinations, felt like a major personal victory. This is what motivated writing this book and its siblings -- to master self, and while I read wonderful suggestions, none of them put me to work like I needed to be. This one has.

We will define self-discipline. We will define self-discipline in terms we can accept, because not every definition clicks with every person. This is why we end up reading the same advice over a range of books and wonder why we haven't advanced. In classwork, we are introduced to information. If it doesn't coincide with previous knowledge, we struggle with absorbing it as part of our knowledge. During this work, when I ask you to rest5ate things in your own words, it is an exercise to extend meaning to you personally. Your understanding and terms will evolve over use, thereby setting the idea as a guiding factor in your mind while also increasing your personal relationship with the information. We will then do what I like to call Positive Practice, Positive Assimilation or Positive Rehearsal. Pick the one you like. Having done a lot of stage work, rehearsal, that level of repetition, appeals to me.

Before we get to work: I told you the story of Dr. Rogozov not to make you cringe or consider such action for yourself, but to let you know the lengths a human being can go to in achieving something. There are many amazing stories out there, but it has been a guiding principle in my life that if a human being is capable of something, given physical limitations and differences, I can do it. I want you to go into this with full cognizance that, while we are not called to it every day, we are capable of massive things.

Let's go to work …

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