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December 27, 2015

To Do or Not to Do—the Joys and Pain of Discipline

New Year is fast approaching and Resolutions are looming.


A New Year

A New Year

Of course, I will trot out my usual list for the New Year. I’ve given up calling them resolutions. Like most folks, my resolutions last about as long as the Christmas turkey leftovers. They are more like hopes. Hopes that this year I’ll actually lose weight, exercise more, eat better, save money, read all the books stacked around me, send out manuscripts, get another book finished . . . the list is endless. But doing all of that requires discipline and the crack of the whip sounds loud in my ears. And we aren’t talking about Fifty Shades whips here, either.




I really admire anyone who has participated in sports. That takes discipline. Up before dawn, to the gym to work out, hours of practice before school, after school, mornings, evenings, weekends. Aching, sweating, painful bodies. Sprains, strains, torn ligaments, twisted ankles. On and on FOR YEARS! Always giving for the good of the team. Why? Because it gives their lives meaning.


I have two beautiful young friends, both dynamic women who learned discipline early while playing on volleyball teams in college. They work as a team and do amazing things together. They are also incredibly self-disciplined. One of them has encouraged and inspired a number of us to join a weight-loss group. Admittedly, she has had to cajole, harangue, berate and shame us into obeying her dictums. And some of us have actually lost weight.

Self-help books

There are dozens of self-help writers out there posting encouraging blogs. The number of books telling us how to achieve self-discipline are legion. Most of them are also cajoling, haranguing, berating, and, of course, offering to sell us video tapes that are guaranteed to turn our lives around. Those also last about as long as the dried-out turkey dressing.


Helping students

Helping students

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and holocaust survivor, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. In studying his fellow inmates in the concentration camps, he found that those who had meaning in their lives, those who had something to live for by helping others, survived far better than those who only sought personal happiness. Seeking happiness is about the acquisition of things. Seeking meaning is about giving to others. For years, I did that with my beloved students. Now I’m still struggling to figure out how to turn my resolutions into meaningful help for others.


Winning NaNoWriMo

Winning NaNoWriMo

We are more successful with our resolutions when we’re held accountable. The NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) helped start the habit of writing 2,000 words a day. But it was under the lash of having to post the number of words for others to see. Losing weight also came as a result of posting weight loss every week. And writing these DAILY blogs since October (seriously!?)  is only because I know that some of you, my friends and family, are out there, coffee cup in hand, fingers drumming, waiting to pounce on the next nonsense I’ve written. Okay, slight exaggeration. I think all of us are much better at doing things when others expect it of us but how do we make our lives meaningful or helpful?

When does painful discipline become comforting habit? I’ve heard that it takes sixteen days to establish a habit. The writing certainly should be habit by now, but I spend time on the blog instead of the novels. Once again, I am castigating myself for failing. And what about all the other resolutions? Will they become comfortable habits?


Speaking at the Ibero

Speaking at the Ibero

Surely there is a little sliver of hope out there. Doesn’t discipline mean we will reach a goal? Perhaps accomplish a task that will give us a sense of satisfaction? Maybe a feeling of euphoria that we have finished something? A thrill of pleasure that we can check that particular task off the list? Maybe even write a book that will help others learn about their heritage? That would be meaningful.

Okay, bear down, teeth gritted, mind focused, whip cracking. Discipline equals success.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Relax! We’re retired.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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