What Covid Taught Me – Discipline is My Best Friend

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 I once had a very wise coach who said, “Discipline is your best friend.” Years later I have come to realize how true that statement is. The global pandemic has provided time for all of us to reflect on what is working and needs to change for us to align our actions with our values. That is precisely what has happened to me once I was forced to step off the merry-go-round of consulting and endless business travel.

During this time, I have grown – in fact I have flourished. I think I am certainly an outlier. Most of the people I know are feeling isolated, burned out, and frustrated. It makes sense considering the state of our planet, our discord, and our uncertainty. So why am I doing so well?

Who am I to prosper during this time of suffering and crisis? I am just a person in Portland Oregon who accidently discovered how effective lean thinking can become when combined with a daily habit of yoga and meditation. That’s it – no big secret revealed here, just a lot of hard work invested in developing good daily behaviors.

This whole realization crept on me. I am surprised as much as you. I have struggled with food, relationships, self-esteem, body image, and discontent that borders on depression. My whole life up to this point has been a blend of moments of flashing brilliance with monumental train wrecks. It’s kind of a miracle I am here at this place – physically, emotionally, and mentally.

I learned about lean and continuous improvement in the late 1980s and have made a career coaching, consulting and training clients around the world. My focus has always included leveraging technology to enable flow (Lean IT) and creating cultures built on respect (Lead with Respect). I never imagined how mindfulness and meditation would complement connecting people and building cultures of excellence in a digital world.

I’ve experimented  with different styles of yoga and meditation on and off since the 1970s – that’s fifty years of dabbling around, never committing to a single discipline, or forming a daily routine. For some unknown reason, I got locked into a daily habit and have been practicing yoga every day for about 15 years now. The impact of a formal daily routine transformed my life and provided an unexpected payoff when the pandemic arrived. I have no intention of ever stopping. Like a magic spell, my practice has provided deep insight and a level of acceptance that has helped me thrive during these crazy times.

So how has my practice prepared me to flourish over the past two years?

What have I learned that has enabled me to rise above the discouragement of world events?

What can I share with you about this discovery? 

Reflection: Live in the Now

Let’s start with the first question. When Covid arrived in the United States I was spending 75% of my time traveling to client sites across the US as well as Europe and Australia to train and coach process improvement, Lean IT, and cultural transformation. I loved the work and the people I met, but life on the road was brutal. Living on planes and sleeping in hotels for over 10 years placed a huge toll on the things that matter most in my life – my family and my health. Fortunately, my new lifestyle has created rapid healing and recovery!

Being physically grounded due the pandemic enabled me to become mentally and emotionally grounded in aligning my actions with my values. Without inner alignment, I think we are just adrift with no real direction or meaningful purpose.

What Helped Me Most

 In a word: discipline. I believe that any healthy habit and daily routine may have led me to this place but it was yoga and meditation provided the perfect balance of body, mind, and heart that I needed to heal. You practice yoga to strengthen and quiet the body so the mind can meditate. Meditation brings concentration, then focus, and then insight. The insight is a realization of what it is you need now, in the moment. If all this sounds a bit too New Agey, all I can say is this: it works!

What Might Help You

 Take stock of your life and determine what is working for you and what is not. To do this, you need to get clear on your personal values and purpose. There are many resources available to assist you with this. Think of the degree of disciplined habits in your life and ask yourself if something needs to change. Are there behaviors that need to go? Are there new habits that need to be made? Consider the value of naming your purpose and finding a daily habit (through discipline) that allows you to focus on moving towards it. Your personal discipline becomes the fuel for you to show up as the best current version of yourself!

As you reflect on these questions, I want to leave you with this motivating quote the philosopher Epictetus that sums this up well:

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer.

Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren’t a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you’ll be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you know you are capable of better.

From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.”[1]

[1] Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, Epictetus, Sharon Lebell (with thanks to James Clear)