How to Remain Self-Disciplined Mentally

A four-month summer vacation started today in Israeli universities. This means that my sabbatical also started today in practical terms, though it will only start officially in October after the end of this summer vacation. Of course, I am very happy to have this present of time away from the obligation of teaching as well as most of the bureaucratic work in the university for about 16 consecutive months. But I also have to be very strict with myself, as it would not be very difficult to pamper myself, making all sorts of excuses. So I have been asking myself recently the question of how to remain self-disciplined for this long period of time when only I am responsible for myself in time management.

I am quite self-disciplined about daily routines that are not related to work, including keeping the same early hours, eating meals at a fixed time, and running and swimming regularly. It is easy at least for me to remain self-disciplined about these daily activities as they do not require any mental concentration. The only "enemy" I have to fight inside me is physical laziness, which I have already tamed since I was still in my teens.

My main problem with my own self-discipline is about my work of producing new ideas in the forms of lectures for conferences and articles for periodicals. This kind of work, unlike the above mentioned activities, requires mental concentration, only through which I can be inspired to find new ideas and putting them into words. By its very nature, such work cannot be planned, that is, one cannot plan in advance and at will when one is inspired. But I believe and hope that there must be ways to raise the possibility of keeping my mind self-disciplined, as it were, during my work hours. Now I am reminded that what sets the standards for the rest of the day for my body is when I get up and what I do upon rising. This must also be the case with my mind.

I am afraid that many people, including many intellectually workers, start their daily mental work with no or little mental warm-up. Actually, I am one of them. Since I would like to make the best use of my sabbatical and get as many things as possible done which I am planning to do, I would also like the best use of what little mental capacity I have. So I wonder what can be the mental equivalent of this physical warm-up I can do in the early morning before starting to work. What I am planning to try is to dedicate an hour upon getting up to learning a book that requires mental concentration.

From my recent experience of learning the Talmud, though with a far more knowledgeable person, this can be an effective way of warming up my mind, even by myself with no study partner. So I am also thinking of joining the so-called daf yomi 'daily folio (of the Talmud)', that is, a daily study framework of the Talmud that was initiated in 1932 and has been accepted widely in the Jewish world. Many people throughout the Jewish world study the same folio, that is, two pages, of the Talmud in the cycle of about seven years and five months, and the new, 13th, cycle will start on the 3rd this August. This may be a good opportunity to join this regimen from the new beginning. Having such a framework will surely help me persevere. Although I am not sure yet if I can read every superficially one folio of the Talmud alone in one hour, it seems worth my while to try this.