Dirty Laundry: How To Be (Un)Disciplined – Dirty Good Co.

Dirty Laundry: How To Be (Un)Disciplined

Today marks thirty-three days of our new, mobile, dirty-good lifestyle. Although we’d been practicing living out of the Beaumont for the better part of July and August in Bend, there was some housesitting mixed in, a job to go to and friends and family to keep up with. So it’s been four weeks of a truly new beginning and our intentions to create daily routine and be productive (this is not a vacation!) have been more of an effort than anticipated. I’m an expert at scheduling, my willpower is generally unmatched, but this daily morning writing has been the only real habit I’ve been able to adopt so far. In fact, these four weeks have offered healthy lessons in un-disciplining.

Across the board, I am a model of discipline. I can make a slice of paleo banana bread from the local bakery last three days, easy. I don’t like sleeping in; it feels wasteful of the day and unproductive. I naturally prioritize workouts and have no trouble getting to the gym for a twice weekly strength session or out the door to run even if my mood suggests otherwise. If the weather is extremely frightful I’ll knock out ninety minutes on my trainer in the garage without complaint. I’ve stuck to strict vegetarian, vegan, primal, paleo, low FODMAP diets in attempts to figure out some digestive woes, though admittedly these could be excuses to feed my unhealthy restrictive tendencies. I like to save everything for later. I rarely make impulse purchases. I’ve obsessively counted miles and calories and made sure quotas for both are met daily, weekly, annually. I keep my emotions in check to maintain an even temperament. Only recently have I allowed myself to stop reading a book midway through if I’m not enjoying it. I like a plan and I like follow through. I like to succeed.

Well, I have found a remedy for an overly disciplined, compulsive character: while sidelined with a no-end-in-sight running injury, decide to whittle your possessions down to the bare minimum, sell your car, quit your gym membership and travel in a van for an undetermined amount of time with a companion who has his own ideas of what this journey entails, who always keeps a ready supply of peanut M&Ms and who shares your weakness for chips and salsa to campsites where it’s too cold to put out your yoga mat, at destinations with unknown and unguaranteed running and riding routes while adopting a food budget that rules out local-organic-gluten free-grain free-vegan-all natural anything but somehow allows for local coffee shop baked goods (because I’m a baker and I need to conduct research) as standard breakfasts and sometimes-greasy tacos for dinners, all concurrent with daring to start a couple of public writing projects.

Many of the hollow goals, disciplines and distractions I’ve comforted myself with over the last ten years have pretty much flown out the Beaumont’s window. Sleep is dictated by the daylight now, and while I’m not exactly wasting the day away oversleeping, I’m having no trouble staying cocooned in the van until the sun peeks over the escarpment, warming our campsite. I have surprisingly easily ditched my detailed excel spreadsheet meticulously documenting every workout for the last eight or nine years. The combination of managing a stress fracture and the unpredictability of trails where we end up has squashed any plans for racing along with my usual compulsive, unhealthy mileage goals. Last week in Mammoth I hiked and hiked and hiked through trails that feel like home, all (uhh, mostly) without caring about my mile pace or calories burned. My vegetable consumption has fallen far below what I normally find acceptable, and in turn the proportion of chips & salsa, brewery fries and cheap beer has risen.

Most significantly, I have been finding my emotional willpower releasing. Since beginning this journey I’ve felt more exposed, raw and temperamental than ever. Even if my audience is scanty for now, putting words onto paper – or screen – for anyone to read and judge is scary. Each time I hit “post” on this blog, or even Instagram or Facebook, I experience at least a quick moment of intense vulnerability, panic and tears. The feedback I’ve gotten from friends and family is encouraging, but also tends to add to my amplified emotional state which is a place where I’ve historically been uncomfortable. An old friend used to encourage me to say things out loud, because that makes them real. He was referring to setting goals and making changes, but writing about the struggles I’ve faced makes those real, too, and makes me face having to deal with them all. As I’ve said before, it’s okay to be happy but it’s also okay to be sad and angry and scared sometimes.

Besides experiencing this virtual vulnerability, I have to take into account the fact that I’m living in a ridiculously small space with another human and without normal boundaries. I’m used to privacy, personal space, selfish decision-making and have enjoyed traveling solo my whole life. Now I can’t reach into the cooler (our fridge) without worrying if my bum is in his face. After some thoughtless acts on my part I have realized that not only am I sharing my life with him, but he is sharing his life with me; there is a difference. My body, my wildly fluctuating moods, my indecisions and desires are hard to hide, leaving me agonizingly exposed.

Last night I was going to scratch this piece, as I was feeling pretty disappointed in myself, for a few reasons. We had spent forty-eight incredibly gratifying hours up in the Sierras just outside of town and I found I was actually able to run the trail up Bishop Pass and down into Kings Canyon. Immediately my mind raced with ideas for more, longer, more strenuous adventures and started calculating miles again. Forget the damn mountain bike that I suck at riding! Running has returned! Never mind taking it slow and listening to the little soreness that still remains… Argh. It took all I had to stop and walk periodically, although thankfully the lack of air helped reign me in. The next day as I forced myself to hike most of a staggeringly beautiful Piute Pass, we started discussing the direction of our joint project and quickly became frustrated with how little we have actually committed to it yet. That evening we returned to Bishop and headed to the local brewery to celebrate our one month of road life. Despite feeling depleted from our weekend activities and meager camp food I could not force myself to order anything more than a veggie hummus plate – a sad return to that comfortable place of deprivation and yes, discipline. So frustrating because rationally I know better and I’ve sworn to move past this safety zone.

“People talk about discipline, but to me, there’s discipline and there’s self-discipline. Discipline is listening to people tell you what to do, where to be, and how to do something. Self-discipline is knowing that you are responsible for everything that happens in your life; you are the only one who can take yourself to the desired heights.”

— Mike Shanahan

I ran across this quote and like its unique perspective. Self-discipline should mean recognizing what is important for yourself long-term and renouncing what feels good short-term. This means different practices for everybody, but the same self-love. It means not looking for validation from anyone or any dogma when choosing your actions. I do want to re-commit to a daily yoga practice, and I need to start controlling my spending more these days, but more so for me it means self-disciplining to be less disciplined, less restrictive, less demanding but rather more relaxed and generous with myself. Today is a new day, it’s a rest day and I ordered a breakfast burrito. It’s a start.

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Susan Barrows
Susan investigates wellness practices and educates people on how to nourish themselves for a balanced and joyful life. She is an Ultrarunner, Yogi, and Dirty Good Co — Founder.