When all-or-nothing thinking becomes nothing at all

I sit reflecting on the first week of my digital detox and I have a curious thought. I’m not sure I could have made it this long a couple years ago.

I pause to consider this and find that I agree with this thought. I laugh to myself as if enough time has finally passed that such a pathetic truth is finally funny.

You see, while this is the first time I’ve done a digital detox, it isn’t the first time I‘ve set a goal with the desired outcome resulting in a specific behavior change.

The scar tissue on my ego was formed by the long trail of failed self-experiments.

In hindsight, I can see that past failed experiments had very common shape to them. I’d obsess over the goal and carefully plan it out. I would build it into a grandiose thing in my mind and pump myself up. I’d sprint out of the gate filled with zealous determination. Yet, something would inevitably go wrong. I’d stumble a bit and get back on the path but with my determination shaken. The wind in my sails would eventually die down and I’d give up.

Months would pass. My ego would mend and I’d think up the next goal, making it bigger than the last one (as if the reason I failed was because my goal hadn’t been big enough)

This happened for years every time I tried to improve my diet or build an early morning exercise routine or develop a writing practice or make a habit of mediation or try to read more often.

I could never do it how I envisioned. Dejected, I’d eventually give up. I became blinded by my own mental distortion.

So what makes this experiment different?

I finally understand the truth of discipline.

It’s not rigid, like I once thought. It doesn’t live in perfectionism’s shadow. It isn’t all or nothing.

Rather, it’s about having the humility to show up each day (especially after I’ve failed). It is the ability to get back on the horse. Nothing more, nothing less.

This means that even after an epic failure – like realizing I spent the last 15 minutes lost in my phone (like a techno-zombie) within hours of waking up on day one of my detox – I don’t beat myself over it. Just because I failed, doesn’t make me a failure.

Rather, I reflect on how it happened. I adjust accordingly and start over without the emotional heft of self-criticism. After all, if I fail to learn from it, can I rightfully call it an experiment?

This is discipline.

You just have to show up.

Once you do, you’ll find it’s nearly impossible to not continue moving forward.

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