Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 1

Exercise, Discipline, Sleep

Sometimes you need a little discipline. But perhaps not the way you think.

As I wrote  earlier on this blog, discipline is not the way to get going or even keep exercising.

For that, you need a Purpose. Otherwise, you’ll fail, or be very miserable in the process (or make a lot of people around you miserable, which is worse).

Discipline has more to do with strict regimentation of activities. It is a control mechanism, an enforcer of behaviour, not a motivation mechanism. So it is often tiring to use, depleting of energy, and detrimental in the long term.

But discipline is useful in many ways to keep you on target.

When you have a Purpose, at times you need to make sure you are able to stick to an exercising routine. You need to ensure that you do not put obstacles in your own way as you head towards a specific event/objective, or as you work towards better health through fitness.

So discipline enters into it, although perhaps not in the way you might expect.

This series of posts will discuss and illustrate what discipline is all about, and in which aspects of your life it can help you to move towards your goals.

There are essentially 5 ways, or 5 practices, of discipline to consider, in my estimation. Today I’ll cover the first practice; it is one that you may never have thought of as having anything to do with “discipline.” But under my definition it is.

Discipline Practice 1: Sleep

Get enough sleep, every day (night), both in quantity and in quality.

In a society where sleep is vilified, derided as a waste of time, is it any surprise coffee shops are doing so much business?

We live in a time of denials: denial of our deep connection to all living creatures, which causes us to destroy our environment; denial of our own limited knowledge, which causes us to think we can feed ourselves highly processed nutrients and it will be just as good as natural foods; denial of our animal nature, which leads us to believe we can function outside of the natural cycles we have evolved with.

I want to focus on the third of these denials, because it is driving us crazy, and preventing us from being as fit and healthy as we can be. I’m talking about our conviction that we should only sleep a few hours per day.

How often do you hear someone say things like “I only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night”? Or make even more extreme claims of that nature? Yet science is pretty clear on the subject: we need 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, on average, to be fully functional.

Sure, you can get by less than that for a night or two in a row, but when you start accumulating a sleep debt, you rapidly get in trouble. Some people, a very few, can get by with less than the average (that’s why it’s an average, but that also means some need more). Those of us not getting enough sleep are asking for (and often getting into) trouble.

Read the Signs

Our society is making it sound like sleep is useless. But just watch the daily habits of those “more than 6 hours of sleep per night is a waste of time” folks. I guarantee you’ll see more than one of the following behaviours:

  • Lot’s of coffee drinking in the morning
  • So-called “energy drinks” during the day
  • Pastries and muffins for breakfast
  • Sweets and high-calories snacks
  • Meals eaten “on the go” for breakfast and lunch
  • Working in the evening
  • Not much exercising; if any, typically short and intense workouts
  • TV watching late at night

It is a “go, go, go!” lifestyle fueled by lots of drugs (caffeine, mostly, I hope) and lots of stimulating food (i.e. sugary, fatty). And with a constant bombardment of false urgency coming from work and the media, and the occasional short burst of intense activity.

When they finally fall asleep, it is only because their bodies are so tired that they manage to overcome the stimulants. Then they wake up groggy and tired, but won’t admit it, and start the cycle all over again.

This is no way to live. It takes a toll on your body, in many ways: lack of energy, weight gain, trouble sleeping (paradoxically, but not unexpectedly).

So, what are we to do about it?

Let’s face it, a healthy lifestyle starts with good sleep.

That’s why the first practice of discipline consists in going to bed; having what some call “good sleep hygiene.”

So the first discipline you need to cultivate is to get to bed at a time that allows you to get enough sleep to fully recover from the hard labours (including exercising) of the day.

What does “get to bed” mean, exactly?

Getting to bed is not a milestone, a point in time: It is a process. It begins earlier in the evening, or even earlier in the day. It includes:

  • Not drinking coffee or tea, the caffeinated versions, in the evening or even the afternoon.
  • Choosing calming activities in the evening; if you need to exercise in the evening, do so earlier in the evening, preferably before dinner.
  • Establishing a routine (brushing teeth, perhaps a shower, some light stretching, etc.) that excludes watching TV or surfing Facebook before going to bed, or worse, while in bed.
  • Doing some light reading with yellow-neutral lighting for a few minutes before falling asleep. (And I do mean reading from one of those old-fashioned things called “books,” not from the screen of a computer or tablet…)

Until it becomes an ingrained routine, a habit, you may need to force yourself. You may need to discipline yourself to sleep better. It may feel strange at first, as if you are letting someone down. But in fact you are putting your health first, and that’s a good thing.

It may feel as if you are not getting as much done, but you’ll soon realize that a lot of what we do is not that urgent. And you’ll learn to prioritize better (because it is amazing how much time we waste in a day).

So, starting now, use Discipline Practice 1. Set a trigger time by which to begin your pre-bed routine, and hit the sack at the time you’ve chosen, no matter what.

You’ll feel better in the morning, and you’ll be more capable of doing all the things you might have postponed the night before…

Sleep, Health, Fitness, Everyday, Exercise, Discipline

Some understand the importance of sleep. And let’s face it: Cats are cute.

Pictures from Pixabay.

In Praise of Coffee

NOT FOOD, Diet, Everyday

Coffee, can’t live without, or can we?

This post could also be called “Almost an Apology for Including Coffee in the List of NOT FOOD”.

A recent post, by which I fully stand, brought me some comments from people very close to me. (Ok, my wife and I had a conversation about it.)

You see, we both love coffee. As I’m sure many of you do.

Yet I went and put coffee on the list of NOT FOOD! Sacrilege!

Well, not quite.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: Coffee is NOT FOOD; it is a drug, albeit a mild one, but a drug nevertheless.

Most of us consume said drug not because we particularly enjoy the taste, but because we believe we need it for going about our daily activities. Or simply as a habit. Much of the blame for that falls squarely on our tendency to get too little sleep (more on sleep hygiene in a later post) and some on “just doing like everyone else”.

It is my contention that given a good regimen of everyday exercise, good sleep, and proper diet, the industry that has been built around coffee would collapse.

Or maybe not. Some people really like coffee. I’m one of those. The bitterer the better. So I drink my espresso black, and I have 2-3 short ones per day, or a short one and an “allongé”.  Almost always before noon.

And I can go days without having any. In fact, I was completely off coffee for many years, at one point in my life. (No, I don’t mean when I was a child, about which I have a funny story, for some other time.)

Coffee is likely here to stay. And that’s OK. As long as we are clear that it is NOT FOOD.

Therefore, when drinking your coffee, beware of the following:

  • It should not be a reflex action. Make it a conscious decision, and be fully aware of what that choice means. For instance, if you don’t like it black, be aware of how much sugar and/or milk/cream/other stuff is in there. Your coffee can all too rapidly become a calorie bomb, and in so doing negate any hoped-for gain in wakefulness by causing an insulin peak and an energy drop later. Then you get trapped in “needing” another coffee to “help” when in fact it is causing more harm. Not to mention the long-term effect of so many calories on your body.
  • A coffee should not automatically be accompanied of something sweet. Forget the doughnut (donut), cookie, chocolate, or whatever you may absent-mindedly just consume with your coffee. Not only is that likely also NOT FOOD, but it probably packs a punch of calories you don’t really need.
  • Coffee should definitely not be consumed regularly in the evening, or even afternoon. While many claim that it has no incidence on their ability to fall asleep, it may have a negative effect on the quality of that sleep. From sleeping badly, to waking up and not being able to fall back asleep. Then, having not slept enough during the night, the cycle of drinking coffee resumes in earnest in the morning.

But it is not all doom and gloom: You are probably not among those I describe in this post. I’m sure you manage your coffee intake well, and that you are aware that it is NOT FOOD. That’s key: knowing this, you can deal with it, and consciously decide to have some, once in a while. Or regularly. But on your terms.

Just in case, try this little trick: When you see a coffee, impose on the image a label that says “NOT FOOD”. That should trigger the correct reaction in your mind.

Then enjoy some, black, no sweets on the side. Or perhaps not black, and some sugar to “kill” the bitterness, but then only a small coffee, and something truly nutritious to dampen the sugar rush.

I know I will.

Photo from Pixabay.