RE-Defined: DISCIPLINE

I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot. People have asked me how I accomplish things, and I never have a clear answer. I think I do now. Discipline.

In 2009, I quit a school instructional coaching job so that I could focus on finishing my dissertation.

“Who do you know that can actually make themselves sit for hours during the day to write?” my very good friend had asked when I shared my decision.

“I can,” I replied.

And that’s what I did. While Dwight was at work and the girls were at school, I analyzed data and wrote eight hours a day for nine months. I know my friend’s comment wasn’t a judgment against what she perceived me to be able to do or not do. It was more about what many people cannot and will not do…discipline themselves to achieve a goal.

But I want to be clear. I didn’t magically wake up with a spirit of commitment towards projects. It was taught.

typewriterYears ago, when people typed things on typewriters, I had a fifth-grade report due on Haile Selassie and Ethiopia. I’d made several mistakes and had to use that awful liquid paper/correction fluid stuff to cover it up and re-type words. It was a bumpy sludge of a mess.

My English major mother peered through her glasses to see how it was going.

“Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.”

I didn’t say anything back to her. In 1983, children simply sat there and seethed with anger and did what they were told. Or at least that’s what I learned to do.

I sat at that brown dining room table for hours. I wasn’t allowed to watch television until I finished. I ended up re-typing that essay three times, well past The Love Boat and Fantasy Island…and well past my bedtime. But it was done properly. What’s more is because of my mother’s correction I’d learned self-discipline. I’d learned the importance of focusing on one task (typing) and ignoring others (television). I learned to sit quietly and perfect something until it was “right.”

Today, being disciplined has served me well. I function within a distraction-based society by turning my phone over when I’m working and turning it off altogether while I’m sleeping. I’ve learned to take social media breaks when I’m indulging too much, so that offscreen life and people can take precedence. More importantly, I still practice sitting quietly and focusing on the day’s project until it’s complete.

Thirty-something years ago, I typed and re-typed those words through ten-year-old, tear-filled eyes. Now, I’m grateful for that early lesson because I see it as having shaped a positive and useful trait: discipline.

What about you? Do you have a positive superpower that you attribute learning from your parents’ rules? Are you disciplined? Do you want to be more disciplined? Feel free to share below.

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65 thoughts on “RE-Defined: DISCIPLINE

  1. Loved reading this. Discipline (or perhaps focus) is the ultimate superpower. Without it, nothing of any worth gets done. Have you ever read ‘The War of Art’ by Steve Pressfield? I think you’d like it. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I don’t know how this post got past me – anyway! I greatly admire your deep discipline practice. (And I remember those typewriter days!) Have you ever heard the Bobby McFerrin song “Discipline” ? Some of the lyrics say “no discipline seems pleasant at the time/but it’s painful”….

    I’m not sure if these are “superpowers” or not but right off the bat these two things come to mind: (1) having a sense of what constitutes a job well done – from having my chores inspected and being made to do things over and over until they passed my parents standards; and (2) self-examination – from my mother’s refusal to accept “I don’t know” as a reason for having done something [inappropriate]. “You sit down in that chair over there and think about your actions. When you’re ready to explain yourself you can get up!”😂😂

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    1. I haven’t heard of it. Come to think of it, the only McFerrin song I know is “Don’t Worry; Be Happy!” lol

      I’d say those ARE superpowers, especially that last one. Omgoodness…I was never allowed to say, “I don’t know” either. smh…I guess it’s helped me to maintain a reflective blog 😉

      Seriously though, I do think self-examination is important. It teaches us how to take ownership for our actions and lives…I think.

      Glad you ‘found’ this one! I know sometimes Mek says my posts don’t show in her reader. WordPress is fickle like that.

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  3. As always, a very good post, dear Dr Garland.
    You pedal to the core with this word, Discipline. You made me think and realize how important it is for me. Starting early on I was solely under the influence of my father, a very strong character. He raised me to be tough, very organized and punctual in the extreme. I loved the way he taught me, through jokes and amusing scenarios that carried the right lesson. My (tough) sport routine is a “by-product” of these hard-earned lessons. As everything is attainable only through relentless hard work. And oftentimes hard work and discipline are not enough. That is why we must do our job and our best with “ears turn off”. 🙂

    “Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.” These words echoed in my heart. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Iulia! I’m touched that this seemed to have touched you so much. It’s funny how we can have similar experiences that impact our adult lives and then help us connect. Your dad sounds like my mom. I like that phrase, “ears turned off” because that’s exactly how it feels to me when I’m focused.

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  4. Hi Kathy, I read this the other day, but somehow couldn’t comment from my phone. It has been on my mind since I read it. This topic is so dear to my heart, because I have had trouble disciplining myself in my younger years and my early adult years. Outside of my son, disciplining myself to write has been a bear. Thankfully, after studying my patterns and knowing what is best for me, I realized that the only way that I could discipline myself to write, if I woke up in the morning. As a child discipline wasn’t explicitly taught. I don’t believe it was displayed either. I truly believe this is an area all parents need to talk to their children about and teach it explicitly and implicitly. Charlene

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    1. Well, that’s strange. I wonder why you couldn’t comment. I’m happy to hear you did some reflection and figured out what’s best for you. I think that’s something else we don’t learn. I agree about teaching children some form of discipline. It might not be how I’ve describe it here, but I think it’s a valuable lesson that shows you how to complete a task.

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  5. Self-discipline is something that I definitely need to work on. When I get into the flow, I’m fine. It’s what happens when that flow is disrupted and I attempt to find my way back. Thank you for sharing this! It was a good reminder of how I need to jump back on it and make the decision to have more self-discipline practices in my life.

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    1. You’re welcome and thanks for reading. I agree that it’s the disruption that we all have issue with. A lot of times “disruptions” are things that we feel obligated to participate in, or that others have deemed more important than what we’re doing at the time.

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  6. Hahahaha, so recognizable again…I have a terrible handwriting (hallelujah for the invention of computers), so yep…hours and hours of re-writing too. I am an, as they call it, average learner, so took loads of discipline to keep on studying to grasp what I was learning..while listening my friends play outside, or later on had to cancel appointments to go out and dance. Like you, I now can focus when needed…only difference, I need some sound (music preferably ) on the background. Now I think of it, maybe as an substitute for the noises of friends back then? Hmm..

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  7. I think I achieved discipline through the fear of failure, which is probably not the best way to acquire that characteristic, but in the end, it made me a more responsible, organized and productive person. I am in awe of your dedication to writing by the way. Also your mother’s quote I have a feeling will be stuck in my head on future rough drafts.

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    1. I understand exactly what you’re saying. I know that discipline will take you far as you complete your doctor of vet med. Thank you so much for noticing that. I’m glad my mother can live on through your active use of her words 😉

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  8. I do want to be more disciplined. I really do. It’s as if I avoid writing sometimes. I don’t know why. I often wonder if I’m just lazy or could it be I just have so much running through my mind that I don’t even know where to begin. That’s when I just tell myself “you can’t write, you will sound bat shit crazy rambling”. Kind of what I’m doing here. Ha. If I rush to write something, well, it’s just crap basically. I really need to focus on time management and write out my thoughts as we all know it’s good for our souls to get things off of our chests and filter it out. People like us are big thinkers and have so much bottled up. Thanks for this reminder as you always ignite my thoughts 🙂

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    1. Heeeey Lennon! I think with writing, sometimes it is that we have soooo much going through our heads that we can’t/don’t just sit down and write SOMEthing. Then, you add some negative self-talk, and you know the rest, I guess 🙂 You’re welcome! Thanks for coming by ❤

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  9. “In 1983, children simply sat there and seethed with anger and did what they were told.” — I have tried to explain this to my daughter when she asks what I would do in her shoes (me: “I would have just done what my parents said”), and she just cannot fathom/comprehend it.

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    1. Listen. They don’t know the struggle Akilah lol Sitting there saying all kinds of stuff IN YOUR HEAD. And you better not look like you wanted to say something back lol I parent the total opposite because of this, and yeah…I get lots of shared thoughts, instead of just doing what I asked.

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  10. My eyes teared up with this read, Doc. Our mothers, aha. How they hurt our feelings the worst, yet implore us with the finest rules of life that gird us for our purposes. #discipline. I have to get back to it. Thank you the write, for the reminder, for the love.

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  11. Oh Kathy this is inspirational. Your mom sounds like quite a powerhouse. 💜💜 I love how you see this as a lesson that supported you in your life. So so touching! Thank you for sharing your heart and the blessing of your mom.

    My mom taught me to have compassion and caring for everyone, whether I knew them or not. She gifted me with her open heart. I love that you helped me remember this so soon after the anniversary of her passing. Thanks Kathy 💜
    I love you! Debbie

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    1. Thank you Debbie! She was a very inspirational person, herself. Having compassion and caring is something I value, so I think that’s a great thing, especially the part about whether you know them or not. Hugs to you because I know how trauma can replay itself around annual times of remembrance.

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  12. I employ a lot of discipline in my daily life. Chores need to be done… as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to play outside or watch TV until my homework and chores were done, a habit that has stuck through the years. I don’t like to exercise or floss or clean the house, but if I don’t, I pay the price later. With writing, it’s a case of making time and showing up, putting pen to paper. Different teachers have called it “stick-to-it-tiveness” and “chair glue.” I agree with your mom, sort of, about the importance of your work looking neat and professional. A few typing errors would be par for the course for a fifth grader… No one would expect perfection, but if uncorrected, sloppy kids become sloppy adults. I’ve been handed paperwork ringed with coffee stains, full of spelling and grammatical errors and believe me, it does NOT make a good impression. A great post, Kathy! 🙂

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    1. “chair glue,” huh? That’s quite descriptive. I tend to agree that however you were raised (e.g., sloppy kid-sloppy adult) is indeed how you will probably be as an adult, unless there’s a major shift. I’m not sure if perfection was the goal, although now I’m starting to make connections here between an implicit idea I had stuck in my head “things must be perfect.” I’ll have to think about this further. First impressions are important as well…I’ve always told my students if you can at least get the paper to LOOK organized and neat first, then you’ve won half the battle lol

      Thanks for reading Joan!

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  13. We’re the same age and seemed to be raised by very similar women. I’m not sure if I would say that I’m disciplined. Rather, I know what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and I do it. My strength seems to be more in prioritizing.

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  14. SCREAM. First of all, I cannot take my eyes off that red typewriter!!!! I LOOOOOVE IT!😍 Red is my favorite color and after some seeking and searching, I found a red laptop! I had no idea if it existed or even how much it would cost. Then, when I least expected it, I found it. Patience, my dear Watson. Patience. Lol Now I’m on a mission for a red typewriter!!!!!!😄 Ok. Ok. I digress.
    When I decided to go to grad school, I had to figure out which was the best way for me to complete assignments and work full time. I was overwhelmed. Nonetheless, I pushed forward. I came up with a timeline. I went to my employer, asked to work a set shift. They agreed. So, I worked until 4pm, and grad school twice a week in the evening. The other days were studying time. Fast forward a couple of years, December 1, 2003 to be exact, I had completed my thesis and ready for graduation. I went to work, passed out Christmas gifts to my coworkers with a permanent smile all day. However, that smile quickly turned upside down when I returned home to find my apartment broken into. Not money, furniture or jewelry. Just what was easy to walk out without suspicion, my laptop, bag and accessories. I was devastated! What was I going to do?! Family was hounding me to move and all I could think of was my thesis. After days of throwing up and crying, I pulled myself together and pushed forward. For the next five months, I went to work, the library, sleep and repeat. Saturdays I was at the library from open to close, sleep and repeat Sunday. I did not answer my phone, I did not answer my cell phone and messages only at work. I didn’t spend the holidays with my family or friends. I was pushing forward. And I recreated my thesis with a very, very rough draft my professor had kept and all my thoughts stored in my head!
    So, you say discipline. I say determined. Everything from that point forward, writing my books, public appearances, goals ( and now that red typewriter!!), it all starts with a timeline and determination!😄

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    1. Ha! You, me, and RED! I have a red cover for my laptop.

      Sheesh! And look at you now!!! That’s a very inspiring story girl! I agree about the timeline and determination. Some people set out to do stuff with no end in sight. Timelines are imperative.

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      1. Thanks for this! I was just lamenting that discipline is NOT my strong suit and I have no idea how grad school is going to look. You reminded me that my Ph.D. in Stubbornness and Determination will see me through!

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  15. Our generation in Guyana was schooled in discipline – at home, at school, and at church – with lashes when needed. My seven years of discipline in a RC convent finished the job to overflowing. Over the years, I have had to learn to be gentler with myself and others. But discipline, however learned, arms us with purpose and focus to achieve whatever we put our minds to.

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  16. I really related to what you wrote in regards to retyping that assignment so it would present better. I hated liquid paper, too! But I am a consummate perfectionist and sometimes I put far too much pressure on myself because of that.
    I am very impressed about your discipline. It is so easy to get distracted and I liked hearing how you avoid that happening. Kudos to you!
    I think I could do more if I wrote lists of goals and deadlines. My biggest distraction are my three children. Even though they are older – I find there’s never a dull moment connecting to their lives. Of course, it is my greatest pleasure, too!

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    1. Liquid paper was the worst! That and that other stuff that was like dry and white…correction tape? Anywho, distractions abound, especially in today’s society. It’s like being in a megastore 24/7. Three children sound like a healthy distraction 😉

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  17. Also my Dad and the Army taught me professionalism. Many times in this life we must do things we either don’t like or want to do. How to work with people we don’t like or those boring tasks that need to be done. We all have tasks, duties and obligations in our lives. Follow-through. Your Word is your bond.

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  18. My two Discipline Super Powers were my Dad and the U.S. Army!! My Dad was a a very disciplined man. I grew up during the 60s and 70s and well remember typing my High School reports/term papers, etc. on my Dad’s old manual Remington Typewriter! Brings back memories. Like many teenagers I did not like going to school nor did I want to get out of bed. My Dad would wake me up after he finished in the bathroom. If I did not get up he would come in my bedroom and splash me with cold water!! Nope! My Dad did not play!! There was no such thing as being late or as Dad called it CP time! He taught me pride in myself and who I am as a person.

    It’s been about 40 years since I served in the US Army I still have the same habits of waking up early and I’m never late unless something goes badly wrong on the subways but pretty much I arrived to my job an hour before my shift. Yes the Military is regimented but the rules, regulation, and discipline has helped me throughout my working life.

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    1. Oh my! I don’t think I could handle the cold water DeBorah! But I suppose it wouldn’t take long to get the message either. That’s so funny how you’ve maintained the same habit you learned decades ago. I’ve heard the military is notorious for discipline, but I understand why…can’t have people doing their own thing if their supposed to be protecting others.

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  19. “Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.”

    Yeah, so I did retype it and had different sludgy messes in different places. Then tried to xerox it to give a proper finished look and got accused of merely copying some one else’s publication. Simple word processor was such a great advance. In order to do research we had to use actual books back then.

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    1. lol – see you would’ve been still sitting at the dining room table lol

      Yes – the move from typewriter to word processor to computer was enough to make me jump for joy! I can’t imagine the process I would’ve had to use to write a book back then :-/

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  20. Respect is what I learned and I think as much as discipline it’s a dying thing. Not respect in terms of profanity and such, deep seated respect for the living, for peoples things and feelings. I liked this “old school” post. Although I’m much younger than you, I think I’m conservative in the same ways

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  21. Lol. I’ve been thinking of writing on this subject too. For me, I call it being hyper-focused. I have my to do list, I prioritize the goals, determine the tasks that need to be done so that it’s thorough and I zone in on that task until completion. It’s like even my ears turn off. 🤣

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