Hacking Discipline

As committed as I am to my dance passion, I have to admit that I have a small problem with discipline. That is, I seriously lack discipline. Shocking, I know. I work so hard to improve my dancing and fund my training and competition. How do I do that without discipline?

I’ve had this problem since I was a child. I remember when I started taking piano lessons. I loved music and thought it would be so cool to be able to create it myself. It also helped that I had a friend who was awesome at playing the piano. The lessons with the piano teacher went well, but I quickly lost motivation to practice on my own. Maybe it was the basic drills that got boring or the frustrating feeling of stumbling through a piece of music so slowly that you would never be able to tell what it was actually supposed to be. Whatever the reason, I didn’t have enough discipline to push through the boring or difficult parts. So I gave it up.

Looking back, I can see a pattern of me picking something up, excited and motivated at first. The beginning would come easy to me, but then I would give up when things started to get hard. I lacked the discipline to stick with it.

Maybe I lacked the discipline because those things weren’t really meant for me. I’ve certainly hit a LOT of difficult times with ballroom dancing, but I’ve pushed through. My passion has been strong enough to drive me forward. Still, I feel like I’m slacking.

I’ve been working on a practice schedule this week as a way to conjure some discipline into my life. I practice a lot, but it’s mostly in bits here and there. I engage my core while I’m driving, pull my lats down and push my chest up while I’m sitting at work, or keep my eyes up while I’m walking the dogs. I aim to go to the studio once a week apart from my lessons to practice my routines. I actually make it about half the time.

I feel like I should be doing more. I’ve read and heard a lot of opinions on how much time you should spend practicing.  An hour practice for every hour lesson. Two hours of practice for every hour lesson. At least 30 minutes every day. At least two or three hours every day. What’s the right answer?

No matter what it is, I don’t think I’m doing it. Maybe I get 30 minutes in every day if you add up all the little bits. But it certainly isn’t 30 minutes in a row. Should it be?

Another problem I run into is what to practice if I do go to the studio. I can run through the choreo of my routine. I can go through a couple drills I got from Teacher or a recent workshop. But all that takes only about 15 minutes. Add maybe another 10 minutes before that for warm-up stretches. 25 minutes? It takes me longer to drive to the studio and back home again.

I thought if I made a plan ahead of time, with Teacher’s help, I could better motivate myself to go to the studio because I would have a clear idea of what I would do when I got there AND it would take long enough to be worth the drive. I also thought with a plan, I could get myself to practice every day for longer stretches of time, even if it was just at home.

So I drafted one in a spreadsheet. I included different aspects that I need to work on plus a frequency goal. Here’s a screenshot of the first draft. I even got fancy and added color coding.

Yikes.

Even though I set the frequency goal for each thing pretty low (only once or twice per week), when I put everything together, the whole plan seems like a lot and frankly, overwhelming. I still have 2 jobs and 2 dogs to attend to outside of dance, not to mention this blog and my next book. I thought it would be smart to focus on one dance at a time, but I usually work on choreo at the studio because I have the room to dance there, plus I don’t have to worry about one of my dogs jumping on me because he wants to dance too. Does that mean I’m going to the studio 6 days a week including lesson days? That’s a lot of extra driving (and extra gas for my car). My dogs would not be happy with me. I can hear voices (not sure if they’re internal or external) saying, “Of course you should be going that often! If you’re really committed to your dancing, you should be in the studio 7 days a week!”

My resistance to a schedule like this is a sign of my lack of discipline, I think. This is the point where I would have given up back in the day. 

My other issue/demotivator is having everything scheduled makes them feel like obligations. I don’t just want to do these things, I have to do them. Obligation kills the enjoyment for me real quick. I want to practice every day, or at least I like the idea of practice every day. But feeling like I have to do it on this day at this time starts to make it feel like a drag. What if I’m drained from work and I just want to spend the night with my dogs? Do I get a “Fail” that day because I didn’t drag my butt to the studio to do my scheduled practice?

Side note: my lessons with Teacher are different. Yes, they are scheduled for specific days and times. But it’s not just me showing up. Having that other person to work with, who shares my passion and commitment, erases that obligatory drag feeling. The missing discipline comes in handy when it’s just me who needs to show up.

So without this discipline I don’t seem to have, which would make it easier for me to get to the studio 6 days a week while still keeping the rest of my life in order, what am I to do?  I still need a plan, but a flexible one. Perhaps one that outlines what I should practice in a week, but not necessarily broken down by day. Having a week to complete my practice goals feels more doable than only one day, even though the list of goals for the day is smaller. Am I making any sense?

I’m still figuring it out, but the gears in my head are turning to produce essentially a hack to my discipline problem. You’ve heard of life hacks, right? They’re little tricks usually used to solve annoying problems or save money. Well, I need a hack to get around my own apparently lazy nature. I need to trick myself into having discipline without naturally having it.

I’m focusing on the problem of dance practice feeling too much like an obligation. The first part of the solution is going to be minimizing the scheduling by day. Just knowing I have something I have to do every evening after a long day at work is exhausting. So I’m telling myself I don’t have to, I just need to get it done sometime this week. The second part is going to be gradually building up to the full plan. I’ve been suffering from burn out recently and thinking about implementing that entire first draft right off the bat…ugh, I need a nap. So I’ll start slowly. I changed my morning routine this week by putting on some music when I first get up and doing some light stretching movements to wake up my body. I also did a Blogilates video on Sunday as my supplemental exercise. That’s all I’m adding this week. Next week, I think I’ll add two days where I set aside more than a couple minutes to do technique drills at home. I’m good at getting in practice bit by bit, so that’s how I’ll work in the bigger plan.

I also need to figure out how best to track what I’ve done to hold myself accountable and also be able to feel accomplished. Adding the different things as “goals” in my Google calendar won’t work because I would have to pick a specific day and time. Calendar or tracker apps that I could install on my phone won’t work in general, I think, because they’ll require more specific scheduling than I want to do. I may have to go old school and break out some paper products. I’m thinking maybe a weekly planner and post-its could be useful…

I’ll be sure to share once I figure it all out!

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5 thoughts on “Hacking Discipline

  1. BCBallroomdancer says:

    Advice I can offer–whatever you do, it has to work for YOU. Try not to focus too much on what others are doing or say you should do and be sure to ask yourself if what you are doing really works for you. Work with your teacher too. Perhaps he can give ideas for what specifically to focus on for short term goals to help narrow things down 🙂
    I wish you best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

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