So I'm one of those people who needs an overarching concept, idea, or goal to introduce any semblance of discipline into my life. I spent a lot of my twenties (the late ones, even, not so much the early ones) drinking more than was tasteful (or affordable, even), smoking, eating a lot of chocolate, indulging in all manner of tasty things, and so on. There was certainly an overarching concept at work here: that's delicious, I want more.
There was not a lot of examination of how these things were making me feel. Even the pragmatic arguments against these practices fueled my special brand of decadence; when smokes in NY went to nearly $10 a pack for non-rez prices, I justified this as showing particular commitment to my hedonism, budget and lungs be damned.
(I'd also like to note here that I'm not griping about any of these practices per se, but rather my relationship to each of them.)
Various things over the years have led me to quit drinking (though I'll toast a friend at a wedding), and to quit smoking. I probably still eat too much chocolate. But the lifestyle changes - what to tend to eat, how to make it, from where to procure it - that I've come to think of as good, and perhaps even necessary, have been really hard to stick to. I've gone vegan and/or gluten free for a couple of months at a time, and loved that special sense of privileged, austere right to judge that came (for me, anyway) from those designations. I'd identify myself wholeheartedly - and really find a lot of meaning in that designation... and then inevitably I'd fall off the wagon. And off that wagon I pretty much have no self-control.
This same pattern can also be applied to my work ethic, at the least when it comes to my dissertation. I'm either working and really feeling the whole "I'm really kicking this being a grad student thing in the ass" vibe or feeling like a total failure. There's little time spent in between, and honestly, less time spent on actual nose-to-the-grindstone work than either daydreaming about productivity (talking myself up to it!) or shirking those responsibilities altogether.
I've been trying to think of this differently, since I think it's probably obvious that there's something not working in the way that I have been doing things. And this is what I have come up with: two questions.
Who/what do I want to be tomorrow?
What can I do today to make that happen?
Really, this is just one way of understanding karma. It's also a bit like the "one day at a time" mentality so touted to/by some 12 Steppers. But it's something that I've been pondering over and trying to instill in myself, and slowly, it seems to be working. Instead of focusing on what it might mean to name myself as something (a drinker, a smoker, a non-smoker, a vegan, a hedonist, a scholar), I'm trying to put the emphasis at each individual decision, and how that might or might not work with the aggregate of qualities, dispositions, and accomplishments that I'd like to exhibit in that hypothetical tomorrow.
Benefits abound! I feel like I'm actually starting to listen to myself, and to take care of myself. I know it's a process, and that these few days of what feels like healthy micro-decision making don't necessarily mean anything. But I do know that this mantra makes me feel much better than that old delicious one ever did. (This is in part, of course, because there's no lack of delicious - and maybe even more of it - in taking care of myself in this manner.)