100 Burpees and Questions of Discipline

I’ve done 54 burpees so far today, and I’m halfway through my requirement for the day — 107 because I owed myself 44 for today, 43 for yesterday, and 20 for Tuesday. This morning I was looking forward to doing them. Today’s my rest day, and it makes me a little nutty to do absolutely nothing, so I thought the burpees would be a good way to sneak in some activity.

But ’round about 3:30, I started feeling tired. True tired, not lazy tired or low-sugar tired, and I thought about skipping the burpees. That seemed like a really bad idea, so I tricked myself and just starting doing them.

10 then put away a pile of laundry

10 then drink some water

10 then pick up the newspapers for recycling

Like that, until I was halfway done.

This 100 Day Burpee Challenge has had me thinking a lot about discipline. I’ve been hearing from people quite a bit that I’m “so disciplined,” and my stock response is, “Not really, I’m just stubborn.”

I believe that’s true — or maybe for me, they’re the same thing.

Earlier this year, I was part of a book club that read The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. I didn’t love the book, but there are some solid ideas for breaking down barriers to creativity… helpful stuff about getting past fear and finding ways to play, all of which seemed applicable to my commitment to lose the excess pounds and follow the Zone.

While we were reading the book, Dave said often that my “artist’s journey” was not about writing as we’d originally thought, but was about re-shaping my body and my self-identity. He called it the “dancer’s way,” which was surely the first time anyone had ever put me and “dancer” in the same sentence. I liked it.

That Dave is a smart man.

Anyway, when I got to chapter nine of the book, I took issue with the following passage. In fact, I disagreed with it so much, I stopped reading the book. I couldn’t decide at the time if the real problem was that I disagreed with the author, or that it hit too close to home, and I repelled it because it was mucking with my worldview. Being disciplined (a.k.a., stubborn) is pretty core to who I am.

“It must take so much discipline to be an artist,” we are often told by well-meaning people who are not artists but wish they were. What a temptation. What a seduction. They’re inviting us to preen before an admiring audience, to act out the image that is so heroic and Spartan — and false.

As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will only work for a while. By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived.)… The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point.

I think that discipline for the sake of discipline can be immensely valuable and does break down mental/creative barriers that we can get pretty comfortable just accepting. The 100 Day Burpee Challenge is a great example.

I know I can physically do 100 burpees. The challenge is making and keeping the commitment to do them everyday, according to an arbitrary set of rules.

The value in that, I think, is that when discipline really does matter, when I’m truly trying to change my life, or do something bigger/better/scarier/more meaningful than before, I’ll have the confidence of knowing I can do whatever I commit to doing.

All because I did the damn burpees… just because I said I was going to.

What do y’all think? Is Julie Cameron right? I know I have a little vanity problem… am I just feeding my ego with “discipline”?

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  • Roni says:

    As your mother I know first hand that vanity and ego were never your agenda. Not when you was a toddler dancing around our living room. Not when you were in kindergarten and scored the lead in your first school play. Not when you were a teenager fighting for your position in the social network in high school. And surely, not a year ago when laid out a plan to change your life to do something “bigger, better, scarier, and more meaningful than before”.

    I will never forget (and I’m sure you won’t either) the first day your showed me your stubborn side. Remember the oatmeal? Even then I knew your stubbornness would mature into your greatest positive quality.

    Your stubbornness is the key to your discipline, That discipline is your strongest and greatest achievement. I love you, your dad loves you and we are so proud of you what you’ve accomplished.

  • Melicious says:

    Damn it, Mom. You made me cry at work!

    Heh. The oatmeal incident… I was just telling someone about that the other day.

    I’m trying to think of myself as ‘relentless’… sounds a little more positive than stubborn, no?

    Love you, Mom.

  • Marilyn says:

    Are you still doing 100 burpee a day challenges? I’m on day 10 and I so wish I knew someone else who was doing them.