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Inflexible Disciplines

“I have always believed that exercise is not only a key to physical health but to peace of mind. Many times in the old days I unleashed my anger and frustration on a punching bag rather than taking it out on a comrade or even a policeman. Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity. I found that I worked better and thought more clearly when I was in good physical condition, and so training became one of the inflexible disciplines of my life. In prison, having an outlet for one’s frustrations was absolutely essential.” — Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

Life spins along at a rapid clip. It’s easy when we’re busy to push some things to the side and realize one day that we haven’t done something essential for some inexplicably long time. Habits we’ve folded into our identity can slip away in a few weeks of inaction. If we are what we repeatedly do, we are also what we repeatedly don’t do. So we must zealously hold on to the things we want in our lives. I can’t help but think of Nelson Mandela as I write that. He had a rigid exercise routine throughout his life that began at 05:00 every day. This carried him through his worst days in prison through his best days as President of South Africa. Who am I to use excuses for not being more disciplined?

This idea of inflexible discipline is the key. We all must have our line in the sand of what we will always do or not do. This is our core identity. For me it includes writing and publishing something every day, along with a key set of other habits I track daily. A fitness routine is woven into that essential habit list, but it comes and goes like the breeze. As with writing, it has to be a box that must be checked every day. And as with writing, it’s better to check that box early in the morning before life’s distractions stack up against us. Like Mandela and others in human history who represent a disciplined life of fulfillment and transcendence from the ordinary.

Our actions determine who we are and will be. It seems that being inflexible with ourselves may be the difference between reaching a desired identity and forever punting it away. Decide what to be and go be it, as the Avett Brothers put it so well. Being it begins today and every day.

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