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I wrote, recorded, and put together “Discipline For A Better Future” in May of 2019. I had experienced some major benefits of being disciplined in my life, and I wanted to share those experiences with others. I really believed that I had accomplished something huge in my life, and to an extent, I had. I proved to myself that I was capable of setting a goal and pressing forward and achieving it. Much of that discussion was covered in the podcast episode.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of podcast interviews and I have begun reading really great books to learn as much as I can. It’s taken literally my entire adult life, but I finally have come around to understanding that I’m not going to be able to think my way into understanding something new. 99.99% of the time, new knowledge will come through reading, or at least through some outside stimuli. Through reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, I have realized that although my journey gaining more discipline in my life is a good thing, it may not have been as simple as “I have decided to become more disciplined”.
The book describes the myriad of factors that go into creating new habits and breaking old habits. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to reflect on how the material is relevant to me and my own life. It has become clear that me becoming more disciplined can be broken down into some easily identifiable changes: my identity changed, my environment changed, and as a result, my habits were able to change.
Change #1: My Identity
Before I started dating Kathleen, my life was similar to many other bachelors: I was able to do whatever I wanted. Although I had a job in an orchestra, I was still partying on the weekends with friends, and generally speaking, not being very productive outside of the requirements for my job. Living that way is completely fine, it’s not bad. Quite the contrary, it was actually really fun. However, upon meeting Kathleen, things changed for me quite a bit. Yes, we were in a relationship, but that wasn’t the big change. The biggest change was in how my identity changed. I went from having very few reasons to be responsible to having 3 very big reasons. And after some time, Kathleen and I got married. About one year from when we started dating, I became a husband, and I officially became a step-dad. Some pretty big changes right? It was pretty overwhelming, especially in the beginning. But like I said, because my identity changed, I saw myself differently. I now wanted to learn how to grow into the best version of myself possible. Anyone who is married or has kids and is doing it the right way will very much understand what I mean when I say that being a husband (or wife) and a dad (or mom) will give you many opportunities to look at yourself in the mirror and say “Am I doing the best job I can for my family? If I’m not, how can I be better?”. In a flash, I had accountability, and I embraced it with my whole heart.
My physical environment changing around that time was another key component in having the ability to pave the way for better habits to be formed. When Kathleen and I were together, I wanted to have the opportunity to support her in raising her kids and to learn how I can best serve her needs as a mom, a woman, and a musician. Atomic Habits discusses how changing your environment can be one of the key drivers for being able to be successful in creating new and lasting habits. If we try to create good habits in an environment that isn’t supportive of them, or makes it difficult to achieve them, they won’t last. For me, moving into her house and physically changing my environment, as well as spending time with her and mentally/emotionally changing my environment was huge. The support she gave me in my life was invaluable. I mentioned this towards the end of Will Baker’s Freeway Philharmonic episode. Having people who support you can help you tremendously in your quest to achieve your goals. My life began to have structure in this new environment. The kids had to be at school at a certain time, we would have to work at a certain time, we have to pick the kids up, feed them dinner by a certain time, get them to bed and after bed was our time to watch a show. Throw in some structured gym time and I was starting to reap the benefits of organization in my life without even knowing it. Although I may not have been as busy or as disciplined with how I organize my time as I am now, it was very clearly the beginning of that path for me.
The reason I went into depth about my circumstances with Kathleen, and the reason I am writing this post at all is to talk about the rest of the changes that have happened for me: my habits changed. This is the part of the equation that is the most interesting to me. When I wrote the podcast episode about discipline, I was under the impression that me, myself and I were the reasons that I was able to make those changes. I thought I had made a decision to better myself, and that I was better off for it. And while that might be true in some sense, it’s very clear to me now that the path to making that kind of change in my life was made much easier by how much my identity and my environment changed before it.
Change #2: My environment
I was already someone who spent time in the gym at that point, so continuing that part of my life wasn’t difficult for me when moving in with Kathleen. However, I did start a brutal workout program (I mentioned this in the episode), which was a major first step in me proving something very important to myself: I can set a goal and I can work to accomplish it. Even though I had experience with self discipline in how I forced myself to finish each workout (this helped me develop mental strength and much more grit to stay strong in difficult situations), it still took some time for that to affect my life overall. As I got busier, more structure needed to exist. I started making practice program to organize my trumpet practice. I had specific days on which I taught my students in order to reduce confusion. I had to plan for things like making dinner to be able to support Kathleen when she would teach later on into the night. None of this is groundbreaking, but for me, someone who has never really been organized at any point in his life, it was huge. I was proving to myself that I could do. I started to identify as someone who could be organized.
Now, as I enter this next phase of my life, I’m starting to recognize the value and benefit of creating positive habits BEFORE I need them. This year I will release 40 podcast episodes. As least that how many I’m planning right now. Next year, I will release 52. I would like to spend time every day reading and growing as an individual. I have ideas for projects that will hopefully come to fruition in the future. If my life is only going to get busier from here, I need to develop great organizational habits now to better serve my future self.
Change #3: My habits
The first way I’ve done that came from watching videos from Vanity Fair’s YouTube channel. The videos were interviews that they did with famous or successful people cataloging what they do each day. The first thing I noticed was they all got up earlier than I did. The second thing I noticed was their whole day was scheduled. They could say with certainty that “From 8-9 AM is breakfast, then 9-10 is spent reading. After that, I hit the gym from 10-11:30, and then shower”. My day did not look like this, so I thought I should try to make that change. My identity as someone who wanted to be productive motivated me to develop habits that would allow me to be productive. So far, it looks like this (this model also uses the concept of habit stacking from Atomic Habits. It’s a great way to link one habit into another to create a routine):
- Wake up at 5:30 AM
- Get coffee
- Go to my office
- Read a devotional
- Read another book for 30 minutes
- Make kids lunches at 6:45 AM
- Make breakfast at 7 AM
- On days that I do not have to take the kids into school or go to work, I will then work until about noon. This time is more unstructured, and I organize it by deciding “What is the most important thing that I need to get done right now”. Examples include:Practicing the trumpetRecording/editing/mixing podcast episodesWriting blog postsOther writing projectsMaking social media postsMore reading
- Doing things around the house (dishes, laundry, cleaning up, etc)
For the time being, I am ok with letting this time be unstructured, but I am sure the day will come when I will need to order the things on that list from 1-10 and knock them out in order, so that I am always working toward finishing the things that NEED to get done.
What does this mean for you?
We should consider this post to be a “Discipline For A Better Future part 2”. Although I fully stand by my content in the podcast episode, I have since learned that deciding that you will be more disciplined isn’t always the final step. It’s a necessary first step, a step that guides the steps you will take after that. But hopefully through reading about my journey to more productivity, you can see that my path was made easier by the changing of my identity, the changing of my environment, and the love and support I received from Kathleen and others that I was surrounded by. If you are someone who is struggling with creating newer and healthier habits, I would recommend a few things.
- Go buy and read Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s an incredible resource for understanding habits
- Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself who you want to be. Do you want to be a more disciplined person? Do you want to be someone who wakes up early? Do you want to be someone who wins an orchestral audition? There are all sorts of paths and decisions to make, but asking yourself what you really want is the first step.
- Get yourself into an environment where you can be successful. For the orchestral audition takers, being in an environment like school can be incredibly important. Being surrounded by others who have a similar drive that you do and will be there to support you is invaluable. To those who don’t have an environment like that, seek it out. At the very least, I am here to help the best that I can, in any way possible
- Use your new identity and your new environment to help you create great and lasting habits that will help you reach your goals
I hope you enjoy the podcast episode. And seriously, go read Atomic Habits.
Here’s the list of people that I quoted in the episode:
Until next time,
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