Self-discipline. Rituals. Customs. Habits. Apply.

In the Collin’s English Dictionary, self-discipline is ‘the controlling of oneself, of one’s actions’. Being disciplined means ‘training that develops self-control’. I remember a year or so ago meeting up with a fellow runner, and we discussed the idea of being disciplined in life, how it helps, or hinders. He took the stance that to be disciplined was to be overly strict with oneself, lacking in freedom, and almost Draconian or Victorian in one’s behaviour. I thought the opposite, that to have self-discipline was to create a healthy framework for myself within which I could do my very best. Our very different views on what self-discipline meant, still stick with me today, so I thought it worthy of a blog!

I value structure in my life. I create my own tightly organised timetable in order to ‘get stuff done’! Running, for me, gives me a framework upon which to structure my day. Five days out of seven, I am up and out and running by 7.30am. It does not matter what the weather is doing, or how sleepy or cranky I feel. I know that the sense of achievement I gain from running for an hour or so each morning is huge, and its positive impact lasts for the rest of the day. I have accomplished something before my day has even begun. My regularity with running supports my fitness, has an amazing physical impact on my body, improves my immune system, and of course gives me a runner’s high. More importantly, I know that nobody else has pushed me out of bed and got me out the door, donning my head torch when it is raining, cold, or I just don’t feel like it. I feel good because I know I have the determination and strength within myself.

I apply the same ethos across the rest of my life. The physical act of drawing is something I know can, from experience, become rusty; if I do not do it every day my drawing muscles lose their fitness and strength Practice! Practice! Practice! It is like doing musical scales. I spend time warming up my arm, hand and brain, just free mark making on loose sheets of paper, almost like handwriting, to get myself in the drawing ‘zone’. Artists all work so differently but, for me, it is crucial to build a structure into my weeks, or months, and stick with it. I see self-discipline as another word for self-care. I thrive on routine, repetition and regularity. Although that may sound boring, it is crucial to how I work. I had an interesting discussion recently with a fellow creative, a writer. Her working day starts much later, and she carries on being productive well into the late afternoon, sometimes evening. I have to ensure I start early, with an almost ritualistic waking up, running, porridge and tea routine and then immediately start to work. At the other end of the day, especially in winter when the daylight hours are short, I stop working at 3 or 4 pm. I will walk again, and this gives me space and time away from my visual work, to consider what I am doing. I often work out creative problems when I am outside walking. My evenings are spent reading. At the moment, with a dissertation deadline looming, most of my reading material is challenging and academic, so it is a relief when I can head to bed early with a fiction book to look forward to!

Running has always been a constant in my life, whatever else has been going on, good or bad. It is my place of security, of strength, and almost meditative. When I am struggling with my drawing, or I produce paintings that will never ever see the light of day, I know that going for a run will enable me to see life with more balance, and greater clarity. I am disciplined in my approach to many areas in my life, and this sense of self-awareness, or self-imposed and relatively rigid structure, is crucial to how creatively productive I am.

I am always interested in the working days and habits of others. I read an interesting article recently in ‘Painters Talking Painting’, entitled ‘The Morning Routines of Famous Artists’ by Abigail Cain. She describes the strict self-imposed working routine of Chris Ofili, Andy Warhol’s daily morning telephone calls with a friend to discuss his progress the previous day, and Joan Miro’s early morning starts and exercise routine to stave off depression. Some were early birds, others night owls. In Barcelona earlier this year (pre-pandemic) I visited the Antoni Tapies Museum, and spent time looking at his huge prints, inspired by his daily tea making rituals. I read my copy of Huraki Murakami’s ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ at least once a year, because it gives me a sense of self. For him, running is a daily mantra, and of equal importance in his life it seems, as his writing.

Habits and self-imposed structures are vital to each of us. It creates a sense of identity, of safety, a bedrock to enable us achieve our best. For me, running creates a positive blueprint for other areas in my life, primarily my creative one. What is your daily routine? What positive habits and structures do you impose upon yourself that are healthy and productive?