“Discipline, schmiscipline, and the paradox of freedom through boundaries” by Bonnie Hutchinson

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BonnieHutchinsonToday’s guest article is brought to you by Bonnie Hutchinson.

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I once said to my mother, “It’s easy for you. You have self-discipline!”

I was an adult at the time. (I would never have said anything like that to my mother when I was still living at home.) I meant it as a joke, and my mother laughed – sort of. On reflection, it wasn’t a joke.

She did have self-discipline. I did not and do not.

For most of my life – beginning in childhood – I considered my inability to make myself do things regularly and consistently as a character flaw, another example of my defectiveness. I struggled to do better, tried to will myself to change. Each attempt merely reinforced my inadequacy.

In the absence of self-discipline…

I know more now. For example, I understand about Attention Deficit tendencies.

Attention Deficit “tendencies?” I can hear a couple of my friends guffawing. Okay, I’m off the top of the thermometer in Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) characteristics.

I know now that my all-over-the-map-ness and difficulty focussing is actually related to how my brain works. It may be a nuisance and trigger frequent distractions, but it’s not a character flaw – and it does come with some brilliant abilities.

By the time I reached mid adulthood, I knew that personal freedom was my highest value. For many years as an adult, I resisted any kind of structure. I considered routine to be a form of imprisonment, interfering with my freedom to learn and grow and experience.

At work, I resented “administration” – regular systems and procedures that set out how things must be done. I considered these to be oppressive tools designed to squelch creativity.

Could it be…

Gradually, I came to see there could be benefits to consistent routines. They could actually create more freedom and enhance creativity. Who knew?

One of my friends captured it exactly, during a time when she worked for an organization that was lacking in administrative structures. She said, “I never appreciated the value of good solid administration until I worked for an organization where you didn’t know for sure that your paycheque would arrive on time – or if it did, whether it would clear the bank.”

I came to appreciate that a river couldn’t be a river without river banks – the water would just dissipate into marshy swamp. A caterpillar couldn’t become a butterfly without a cocoon, a container for its transformation.

Our brains and bodies have systems and routines that keep our blood circulating, keep us breathing, digesting and eliminating. We don’t have to think about these functions consciously – our miraculous bodies keep them going routinely, freeing our minds and imaginations to have adventures and discover and invent new things.

The trick is…

But here’s the trick: how to design systems and processes in our lives that free us from having to make decisions or concentrate on regular things that can benefit from routines, in a way that accommodates our styles and preferences. I’m talking about routines we will actually follow – even if we’re all-over-the-map resistant to structure – that create containers and stability to allow greater freedom and creativity.

First, we need to be true to ourselves. We need to accept who we are and how we are. For example, I know that any system that requires self-discipline from me is doomed to failure.

Second, we need to be able to identify areas of our lives that could benefit from regular routines or systems.

Third, we may need to ask for help from others. We may need to ask others help us to design systems and routines. Perhaps we need to figure out a way to delegate some tasks to others because we are never going to get good at them or never going to do them consistently. Getting help may require some negotiation or exchange of service with others.

Fourth, we need to keep tweaking and adjusting our routines and systems, which need to change and adjust as we do.

What areas of your life could use some new routines?
What routines in your life need some adjusting?
What routines in your life no longer serve you? (For example, I was a smoker for decades and when I quit 23 years ago, had to eliminate or change dozens of daily routines of which smoking was a part.)


And by the way…
For help with those questions, join Sandy Martini and me for “Setting Up for Success: Creating Routines Your Way” webcast on Thursday, July 21. Click here to find out more and register.