I have been thinking a lot lately about discipline. Not whips and chains discipline, but the ability to stay focused and follow a course of action with precision. A lot of what I do at my day job involves helping healthcare providers act with greater discipline to reduce errors. Most of my time is spent on the students but, every now and then, I examine the role of discipline in my own life.
Last fall, I taught myself to develop black and white film in my kitchen. Developing film requires some discipline. You have to execute the steps in the proper sequence or you land up with junk. Consistency is very important. If you add a few seconds to one part of the process, you must do so for all subsequent steps. I take the mission very seriously and mix the photographic chemicals as if I were mixing medications to be given to a patient. My first rolls of film came out alright.
More recently, I decided to have a crack at developing large format film. It’s a similar process but with different equipment. Somewhere in the process, however, I had a failure of discipline as the picture above illustrates. I missed a step, mixed the chemicals incorrectly or, more likely, I forgot to adjust the exposure when making the picture. Disappointing, but not life threatening. I’ll get another chance to get it right next weekend.
During one of my frequent extended internet surfing sessions, I found my way to Neil Peart’s website. For young readers of this blog (don’t worry, no one reads this!), Peart is the fantastically talented drummer of the band Rush. I caught a documentary about the band on cable this past week. I’ve always liked their music but only recently realized they are three really thoughtful guys. Far from your typical airheads. It turns out that Peart is very concerned about discipline, too, both as a musician and a person who likes leisure.
In this article, he talks about being disciplined as a motorcyclist. Riding safely, wearing the proper gear, maintaining the bike, anticipating what other motorists will do all contribute to safe riding. From both a musical and motoring standpoint, he doesn’t like surprises; therefore, he works at being disciplined in his actions and thoughts. As a person who sometimes commutes on two wheels, I can appreciate what he is talking about. You don’t get a second chance on the road if you are sloppy or inattentive.
As motorcycling and bicycling season will be starting back up in a few weeks, I hope I can maintain discipline and ride safely. I’ll probably take a motorcycle skills refresher course. Maybe I should also take a course in developing film!
Some things you can practice at, make mistakes and no one cares. Photography is like that. In other endeavors, a small mistake can mean death. Motorcycling is like that. You don’t get to throw out the rider and try again, like the negative from the picture at the head of this post. Whatever your endeavor, spend five minutes today reflecting on your personal discipline. What can you do better? How can you make the thing that you do the best there is, whether it’s a picture, a left hand turn or a meatloaf?
Identify opportunities for improvement and excellence.
And then make them happen.