Experiment: A Glimpse Into Discipline

Checklist Category Scores

Main Objective:

Explore the concept of self-discipline.

Sub Goals:

  1. Improve my relationship with the Infinite
  2. Increase my physical health and well-being
  3. Bolster my propensity for financial success
  4. Raise my skill with the tenor saxophone
  5. Harness a more focused inner state of mind

Duration:

31 days (02/02/13-03/04/13)

Background:

There are monks that begin their mornings by moving a pile of small stones from one location to another, one stone at a time. The purpose of this particular activity might not be obvious. It might be arbitrary, but nonetheless the benefits are enormous.

I began to wonder about the effects of daily ritual on a person’s focus, tranquility, and level of discipline. I decided that in the midst of this experiment, I would also conquer a few additional goals.

Hypothesis:

If I complete a checklist of relatively brief tasks every day for 31 days, then I believe that it will train me to be a more disciplined person. Additionally, I believe that I will dramatically improve in each of the areas outlined in the Sub Goals section.

Assumption:

When it comes to practice and training, consistency is more important than duration.

Method:

Every day, complete all tasks on a 12-item checklist without letting anybody know about it.

The List:

unchecked

I used the app “Simplest Checklist” for Android. It’s the best.

Here’s the list in its preferred state:

checked

  1. Pledge of Secrecy
  2. 5 Minute Stretch
  3. Toothbrush Method
  4. 10 Minute Music & Sax
  5. 4 Glasses Water
  6. 15 Minute Sunlight
  7. 5 Minute Meditation
  8. 15 Minute Reading
  9. Chip Away at DWOG
  10.  Pray Before Each Meal
  11.  5 Minute Checklist Reflection
  12.  5 Minute Life Reflection

The entire list of 12 items takes 60-90 minutes total, depending on if I did two tasks at once or not.

1. I decided to make this a highly personal goal by not telling anyone that I was even doing an experiment.

2. Various intuitively-guided arm, leg, and core stretches focusing on hamstrings and lower calves. I wanted to be able to squat comfortably on flat feet like indigenous people can do.

3. Three mantras that I wrote on the bathroom mirror: 1) There is nothing outside of me. 2) All things that I perceive as negative are [actually] clues. 3) ‘Tis nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

I would recite these mantras, with as much feeling and earnestness as possible, each morning after brushing my teeth. I contemplated the meaning and the anthropological implications of each statement. I’d spend anywhere from about 30 seconds to a minute doing this.

4. This started off being either playing my sax or studying music theory. I then decided to change it to strictly 10 minutes of playing the saxophone every day. I’ve had the horn for a couple years but it sat dormant for over a year. I wanted to revive this passion of mine, as it’d been months since I had picked it up last.

5. Probably the most important substance any human can put in his or her body is water. Four glasses of day was a huge upgrade from the [maybe] one glass I was drinking per day up to the experiment.

6. Nothing can replace the endless benefits of sunlight upon one’s flesh. I tell ya…February in Santa Barbara is brutal…just brutal. 65 degrees…brr!

7. Many a times I’ve tried fruitlessly to meditate for an hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes… So I decided that I’d start smaller.

8. I read these two books during the month: The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy and A Guide to Your Supreme Power by Mark Brener & Cecil (Cece) Suwal; and I started on Walking with God by John Eldredge

9. DWOG is an acronym for a top secret project I’m working on. As of now, that’s all the information I can provide.

10. Before taking my first bite of each and every meal, I said a prayer of gratitude and asked that the meal help me with whatever goal was on the forefront of my mind at the time.

11. A hand-written reflection at the end of each day based on my performance, thoughts, and feelings in regards to the checklist.

12. A hand-written reflection at the end of each day based on significant ideas or happenings in my life as they pertain to my growth and development as a human being and all the roles that I must fulfill.

Scoring:

Each night, while writing the checklist reflection, I scored myself on each of the 12 categories. The breakdown is as follows:

√+ = 7 points

√ = 5 points

√- = 3 points

X = 0 points

On 1. 3. and 10. I was unable to earn a √+. Earning a √+ meant doubling the required amount of time for the task. It was not my goal to get a √+, only when doing more felt natural and good. My main desire was not to skew the results of my hypothesis, which only accounts for the required times of each task.

I have transcribed all of my daily checklist reflections, as well as daily scores, from this experiment and they are available here:

Checklist_Reflections.pdf

Performance figures:

Daily Checklist Scores

Checklist Category Scores

 

Results:

Did I meet my objective?

Yes. I thoroughly explored discipline, how to build it, how it feels to be disciplined, and better ways to improve discipline.

Did I meet my Sub Goals?

Goal #1: Yes, I did improve my relationship with the Infinite. The experiment did not focus on any particular deity. I did experience very powerful emotions while visualizing my dreams. These feelings gave me the sense that my visualization actually existed as a creational possibility somewhere far away in another dimension.

Goal #2: Yes, my physical health and well being improved substantially as a result of drinking water and stretching. The water improved my complexion and radiance on the face on my skin. My hair got softer and shinier. My body felt lighter after stretching. I targeted my calves a lot with the intention of being able to squat flat-footed on the ground. I achieved this and now need to improve it so that it’s comfortable to sit like that for extended periods of time.

Goal #3: Yes, I know for a fact that I worked toward my financial success as well as bolstering my relationship with it. I do believe that I’ve removed lots of resistance from my financial goals by overcoming limiting beliefs and negative emotions associated with making progress on these goals. Just from the simple fact that I accomplished something worthwhile has increased my self-confidence immensely.

Goal #4: Yes, I definitely improved my skill with the tenor saxophone. First and foremost, my embochure shot through the roof. This improved my tone on the lower notes and also my ability to transition between the upper and lower octave. Moreover, I learned about scales, chords, and key signatures. I can now play C Major like a boss.

Goal #5: Yes, during the experiment I was able to harness a more focused inner state of mind. But it was fleeting. There were many times when I felt inside me a strong power to focus on and achieve my goals. After the experiment, I was struck with feelings of an inner weakness. Like I had lost a power center in my life. Actually, it was more like losing a close friend who supported you. It was actually kind of sad. I felt lost after the experiment…like what the heck do I do now?

Did my hypothesis pass?

Yes, my hypothesis passed. The list certainly took a lot of discipline to accomplish each day. I was able to train my mind to accept the fact that I needed to complete each item on the list, every day. This meant exhibiting a controlled form of behavior and thinking in order to stay strong for the entire month.

Additionally, all of the areas outlined in the Sub Goals section were dramatically improved by doing this month-long experiment. I am very excited about the results and I’ve even found ways to make these results more fruitful.

Analysis:

This experiment will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions — from proud and productive, to down and disheartened. There were so many times that I didn’t want to do a certain activity but I kept my head down, stayed focused, and got it done (almost every time).

I truly felt like I had made a new friend in myself. I had a buddy, a friend, and a companion. Doing the checklist was like doing an internship or a group volunteer effort. The list and I…we had something in common. We had a bond in our mutual circumstance that couldn’t be broken. When the experiment ended, I encountered feelings of great loss and lonliness. I felt fairly aimless, as if now I’m just meandering through life. For a couple days after the experiment, I felt confused and empty-handed.

The craziest thing is that I said I was going to keep doing at least a few of these activities. But it’s now March 15 and I haven’t done one of them since. Not one. This is perhaps the most surprising part. I maybe have 1 glass of water a day. I don’t meditate. I haven’t played the sax since the experiment ended. I still pray, but only before dinner. I have still been working on DWOG, so that’s good. But none of the other tasks made their way out of the experiment. Which is a little sad, but mostly intriguing. Does that mean, then, that in order for me to accomplish anything I have to basically be my own boss? Sounds like it. This means writing my goal down, checking it often, and making a fresh, new commitment to it each and every day.

But is that true discipline? It’s certainly mechanical discipline. But I guess I didn’t do the experiment long enough to cultivate lasting, internalized discipline. Discpline that you don’t even have to think about. I think that, with anything, you’ve got to first do it mechanically/consciously before it can be automated/unconscious.

The reason why students and employees do tasks that they don’t care about is because they have a teacher or professor there making them do it. Well this experiment taught me that I can actually fulfill this role on my own. Only I’ll use positive reinforcement to bolster my strength and enhance my will to grow as a person. In this experiment, my failures were all positive. And since the majority of the experiment was a success, I couldn’t be more happy.

I have yet to cultivate complete autopilot discipline, but I do believe that could take many years. I’m not even sure if I’d want to do that. I mean you have to stop sometime right? Take breaks? Otherwise I’d be doing this checklist for the rest of my life. At least now I know that I can do difficult things if I set my mind to them, and I’m pretty stoked about that. Overall, I feel very fulfilled at my accomplishment and my performance.

In many ways I did fail. Not just by missing tasks, but by not being “on top of them”. Sometimes my old habits of procrastination leapt in and I found myself trying to cram 4-5 activities in before bed. When that happened, I usually let myself fail. This experiment was not about how well I can cram stuff in just to get it done. This experiment was about cultivating a mindset, keeping your head down, and staying on the straight and narrow. And, as far as that’s concerned, I succeeded.

Conclusion:

I’m actually quite shocked at the rich amount of data I ended up getting from this experiment. It was a lot of fun. And it was a huge leap forward in my ability to design a better test next time.

The journal entries were huge in tracking my progress. Additionally, the life reflections help me to see my progress (or lack thereof) as a human being. There is massive benefit to taking 5 minutes to journal every day. Especially when you have a lot of goals. You just cannot rely on your memory alone.

I found time and time again that whenever I had a good idea about something, it was essential that I write it down. During the month, I failed to do this and I missed out on at least a dozen potentially good ideas. I just think it’s foolish for any human to rely 100% on their memory. Still, despite how beneficial journaling was, I’ve only done it two times since the completion of the experiment nearly 2 weeks ago. Kind of a bummer. But at least I know that I can do it if I absolutely committ to it.

This ended up being a Smorgasborg of many experiments rolled into one. Which, in some ways is unfocused. But it ended up being great to have a broad, sweeping overview of many elements at once. It was a perfect way to kick start my journey with life experimentation.

If I Could Redesign This Experiment:

There were too many elements going on at once in this experiment. Too many variables. To fully isolate the variable of discipline, I think it would be better if I had just one activity to do for the month. Ideally, an activity that’s pretty arbitrary and doesn’t carry with it any other inherent value.

Also, I would have liked to figure out a way to actually quanitfy discipline. That would make it somewhat less of a subjective science. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about this until halfway through the experiment, and it was too late to turn back.

I realized a very crucial element to building discipline after I had already started on the experiment. This is the element of time. Discipline means having a controlled and predictable set or pattern of behaviors. I found it to be quite important when building discipline to do the same things at the same time every day. Not necessarily clock time; but, for example, having a glass of water and stretching right after waking up. Or playing the sax while the sun is high in the sky. Or reading during my down time in the evenings. When I realized how important this element is, I was somewhat disappointed that I had already begun the experiment without considering this factor.

Also, I didn’t intend on this being a fully-documented experiment until I started. More planning might have been helpful. I would have been more clear about my use of variables and the rules for the experiment. Going forward, I’ll be sure to take the time to really hone in on specific, measurable questions.

Finally, starting with a couple days of preparation, like doing a self-assessment, would have enormously enhanced the efficacy of this experiment.

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