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An Attempt at Self-Discipline

As the school year progresses and I feel more and more out of control, I understand what I need to grab hold of my sanity: self-discipline. Unfortunately, this doesn't come easy to me and never has. My mom and dad attempted to instill discipline in my sister and I by enrolling us in piano lessons before we could even reach the pedals. Piano, you see, requires a commitment to practicing, diligence to start over even when the wrong notes are played over and over, and a certain amount of perseverence to continue when the going gets tough (particularly after embarrassing yourself at concerts). The rule was that I could quit piano when I could handle keeping my room clean. Well, I played piano until I graduated high school and my room still isn't clean after all these years.

Right about now, though, self-discipline could come in handy for me. I am struggling with an immense amount of homework and thesis development, a body image issue and need for health, and basically never feeling organized enough to make it through one week without having a mini-anxiety attack. Some people recommend planning out a schedule and sticking to it, to make rules and not exceptions. Well, I love the planning. That's never been the problem. I get motivated to get all of my work done and to stick to the food pyramid and my workout schedule and even to make sure all of my clothes are off the floor before I go to bed. But the next day, the momentum goes back to a realistic level and "things fall apart." I've even tried setting attainable goals for myself that are easily attained on a daily level, but then I don't feel like I'm making much progress.

The need to overachieve in graduate school is a constant pressure. I know some people set aside an allotted time period for study and if they don't complete their work, so be it. Others choose between a social life and work quality, as its barely possible to do both. There is always a compromise to be made - relax and don't contribute, contribute and feel stressed, spend time with friends and hand in an imperfect paper, isolate yourself and achieve your goals. Perhaps for me, this is actually a problem of perfectionism. Although I do not consider myself to be a perfectionist, I won't let myself do less than my best. And I understand my best is not perfect. But I'm okay with imperfection as long as I have tried. I just have a fear of being assessed by others based on work that is not representative of my full potential. Some people may think that I allow others to dictate my self-esteem in this way. True or not, I refuse to hand in work that isn't high quality. Plus, I hold these standards for others, not just myself. Yet I willingly understand when others cannot meet them, but beat myself up over it if I do not.

In a popular womens' magazine recently, a celebrity was describing her struggle with depression and stated that perfectionism is a form of self-abuse. For me, this perspective was enlightening. Instead of allowing ourselves to tote our perfectionistic attitudes in job interviews or group presentations, we can actually realize that we are in fact holding ourselves to impossible standards. These impossible standards institute a constant feeling of failure.

So, this blog marks a beginning for me, or an attempt at a beginning, if you will. While trying to increase my self-discipline in terms of balancing work with social life, diet/exercise, and organization, I will also not chain myself to the ideals of perfectionism. This will be an experiment. In graduate student lingo, my research question is: Can we increase self-discipline in our daily lives while decreasing perfectionistic behavior and attitudes?

I'll keep you posted...
Libby Plowman