Dabbling versus Discipline

In one of my summer readings, I came across the concept that a life of discipline leads to fullness of life (happiness).  

“With a life live with discipline, we become a better version of ourselves every day, able to fulfill our destiny and find happiness.”  Mathew Kelly

As I continue to process my acceptance of my dabbling and engagement retirement lifestyle philosophy (versus a disciplined mastery and achievement focus), this struck me hard.  I felt at first, “I’m doing retirement life wrong.” I needed to “unpack it” (in old corporate management terms) to really understand what a life of discipline is.

Our culture of instant gratification and minimal effort seems to ignore the idea of discipline. There are so many examples of lack of discipline:

  • Quick fix diets versus (disciplined) lifestyle changes. The diet industry is one of fastest growing industries in the USA and yet we also have the highest overweight and obesity levels ever!
  • Sound bites versus in-depth learning or understanding.  And not giving respect to those who have the knowledge, mastery, and experience (achieved via discipline). 
  • People are not willing to put in the work (discipline), expecting top-level benefits on day 1.  People expect to achieve stardom overnight or quickly turn a small side hustle into raking in the money (speed versus discipline). 

Looking at what lack of discipline entails pushed me to the side of agreement to a life of discipline.   But I also realized at this point in my life I no longer want to focus on achievement or mastery!

What was defined as a life of discipline?  It encompassed 4 key elements, which are surprisingly similar to my life vision statement of Active Body, Connected Heart, Creative Spirit, Contemplative Mind.  The 4 disciplines are:

  • Physical discipline – eat well (foods that respect & fuel the body), exercise often (movement, flexibility, strength), and sleep regularly (body)
  • Emotional discipline – give priority to important relationships, help others (heart)
  • Intellectual discipline – study vision of self and God through contemplation & reflection (mind)
  • Spiritual discipline – daily prayer and/or transform daily activities into prayer through gratitude and mindfulness (spirit)

I do believe I live my life in many ways with discipline of body, heart, mind and spirit.  (Whew – so not doing it wrong!) Others might find fulfillment in a disciplined pursuit of mastery in their retirement years, but I am finding fulfillment in the dabbling (crafting and study areas).

Do you feel you live a life of discipline?  Are you a dabbler or working towards mastery?

Picture: Our Florida Christmas Lights

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17 thoughts on “Dabbling versus Discipline

  1. I would say that I have a mixed approach. There are some areas where I feel like I am quite disciplined and others areas where I am not. For me personally, controlling every aspect of my life is just too rigid of a way to live. For example, I do intermittent fasting every day but Sunday. I start the day with Bulletproof coffee and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I don’t eat until dinner time. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I eat lunch at about 2-2:30 pm. I stick to this schedule pretty faithfully though there are occasional exceptions for special occasions. I also take a concoction that I call a “gut health tonic” along with an array of supplements each day. I might miss about one day per month, but again, I am pretty compliant. I drink 72 oz. of water each day and currently only drink alcohol three days per week. I try to exercise daily, though this is a place I am not as rigid. Some days, I just don’t feel like it, though I am trying to work my way to routinely exercising 7 days per week. I also try to read at least 10 pages of non-fiction (at least) every day.

    A place where I need more discipline is doing things that I find distasteful. Instead of just knuckling down and doing it, I can procrastinate with the best of them.

    With regard to dabbling or mastering, I do a combination of both. I have really been intent on mastering the arts of smoking meat and mixology and I think I have done pretty well on both. I would say I am intermediate in mastery of wine though I am well beyond dabbling. I have also worked on mastering various aspects of woodworking, though woodworking is so broad that it would be hard to master all of it. For example, I have mastered making Shaker oval boxes and carriers, but I am a long way from mastering furniture making. I would also like to master golf, but I’m a long way from that as well. My definition of mastery there is to become a single-digit handicap. Again, I am well beyond dabbling, but also far from mastery.

    I would say that I “dabble” in biochemistry. I try to learn various aspects of the field as related to health and nutrition, but I will never be a card-carrying biochemist. I have also dabbled in learning to play piano. I would love to learn to play, but am not sure I want to devote the time and energy it would take to be reasonably good.

    I have often admired people who devote their entire lives to truly mastering one area. I don’t have what it takes to do that because I just have too many interests.

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  2. This is the classic dilemma for me. I agree with Suzanne — I’m a disciplined dabber. I admire people who can find a singular focus and commit themselves to it, but that’s not me.

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    1. Like you, I admire those who have taken on new area in retirement with a singular focus to achieve mastery. But it ‘s not me either. Accepting that dabbling is fine has been a mindset shift.

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    1. Ahh, but the question remains. Do you really need to be disciplined to be content? Or is dabbling away OK? I am finding a balance – discipline in some things (moderation in eating for example) but dabbling in others!

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  3. Hi Pat, I think of myself as a disciplined dabbler – focused on the things that are important to me, (maintaining balance within mind, body, and spirit) but not trying to master anything in particular. I no longer try to force things into place and I’m okay with letting go of drains on my happiness – both people and things. Great post with lots to ponder.

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    1. Suzanne, Ha – disciplined dabbler! Accepting “not trying to master anything” has been a huge shift in mindset for me. I’m not 100% there, but definitely moving in that direction.

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  4. I’ve NEVER thought of myself as disciplined, unless I’m staring down a deadline. Someone once told me that Geminis thrive on keeping too many balls in the air; I stay busy dropping & retrieving, or reaching for a new one. But I essentially meet your four disciplines so now I feel better. Good piece!

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    1. I used to describe myself as very disciplined – a rule abider, good with detail and follow-through, work hard and achieve mastery. Accepting being a dabbler, reaching for something new without having mastered the last bit… that’s new to me. It’s fascinating to hear how others were fine with living another way!

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  5. Hi Pat – I’ve led a hugely disciplined life – responsible oldest child, faithful church goer, committed wife and mother, dilligent employee etc etc. I think my self-worth was based very much around keeping all my ducks in a row and trying to do everything “right”. The last 5 years or so has taught me that it’s okay to let that level of discipline go, that the world won’t end if I stop spinning….and to allow myself some grace.

    Retirement has taught me the joys of having the time to dabble. I love that I have so much more flexibility in my life and that I can keep what works and allow myself to play with new things to see what I’d like to replace the discarded ideas with. It all comes down to balance – discipline + dabbling = contentment.

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  6. Another thought provoking post Pat!! I’m disciplined when it comes to doing for others (people pleaser) but not so much when it comes to my wants & needs. However I am doing better with that these days now that I don’t have the demands of working. This summer I changed my eating lifestyle to follow how they eat in the Mediterranean (not a diet). And even though my husband and friends still eat a very ‘american’ lifestyle, I have not given in to peer pressure. We still go out to eat and I usually order chicken with veggies or sometimes just a couple of veggie sides if they have more than one. I’m pretty proud of myself for that discipline 🙂 I do want to be more disciplined with taking care of my body – exercise wise – I really need to move & stretch more. Hopefully I can work on changing that part of my lifestyle too!

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    1. Good for you in being disciplined in your eating! I’ve done the opposite – been more disciplined in movement and stretching, but not in eating. I am trying to eat more fruits as snacks and smaller portions as well, but it’s still a very American diet and high on carbs. Lifestyle changes are quite challenging, aren’t they?!

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  7. Good question. Based on the above, I’d say I’m not very disciplined. However, in some areas of life I think I’m quite disciplined. I’ve always been able to save for the future, as well as not feel I have to do or have everything right now. I’m definitely also a dabbler when it comes to creative pursuits, although I’ve tried to focus a little more in the last few years instead of jumping on whatever the new bandwagon is. Now, I just need to be more disciplined when it comes to buying the supplies my hobbies “need”. Ha!!

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