My friend Roberta called me “disciplined” on Facebook the other day. I thought to myself “Disciplined? When did this happen?” Growing up with ADHD no one ever compliments you on your self control. In fact, “You lack discipline,” is a phrase you hear all the time. Mostly from your parents but teachers, scout leaders, and pastors too. Even a few nuns from back when I attended Catholic school in Maine chastised me for lacking discipline. On top of the ADHD I was the kid who lost his jacket EVERY winter. I could never remember to bring supplies to school with me and I still can’t stop biting my nails.
So when did I become this grand exemplification of discipline to others? To be clear Roberta was referring to how good I am at sticking to my diet despite having a sugar addiction. It seems the ability to adhere to a diet has become the cultural yardstick by which we measure a person’s self discipline in adulthood. But I know better. The only way I’ve ever been capable of self discipline is to assume I don’t have any.
If you operate under the assumption that trying to be disciplined is only going to lead to failure, then you can start finding other means of achieving your goals. For example, if I go to work with a credit card but no lunch, my food choices come lunchtime are limited by my food environment. The food environment around my job is mostly fast food restaurants, a barbecue joint, and a Starbucks. When faced with that sort of food environment the best I can do is go to the barbecue joint and order some grilled chicken with a side of green beans. But since I don’t have any discipline to speak of I’m much more likely to hit up the Whataburger drive-through. It requires a Herculean mental effort to force myself to drive to the BBQ joint and order chicken whereas it requires no effort at all to pull into the drive-through. Like everything else in the universe I always follow the path of least resistance. I know this about myself. So instead of testing my own self discipline by forcing myself to choose between boring chicken breast or a burger, I simply change my food environment.
Changing my food environment is simple, I just make sure to bring healthy food with me everywhere I go. Now my food environment includes an already prepared delicious meal that doesn’t require me to leave the building. It would actually take more effort to go out and get something unhealthy. Now the path of least resistance is diverted to the healthy food I brought with me. Sure I have to meal prep once or twice a week, but if you can’t find one hour a week to meal prep then it’s not a discipline issue, it’s a lack of sufficient motivation to change in the first place.
There’s nothing magical about what I do and it certainly has nothing do with an abundance of discipline. It’s just about realizing that there are a million ways to fail your diet and only one way to succeed. You have to be prepared. You have to take “discipline” out of the equation. Those nuns may have been right about me, but hey, they’re all dead now. What I lack in self discipline I more than make up for in self knowledge and introspection. Two things they don’t teach you in Catholic school.