Manufacturing Discipline

For the vast majority of my life, I have been something of a sad-sack. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a strong sense of ambition. This is vastly different than actually having ambition. Ambition makes you stretch beyond yourself in order to accomplish goals. A sense of ambition provides you with the same outlandish goals, but without the drive to accomplish them.

As such, I have spent much of my life being keenly aware of all the things I’ve ever wanted… My hopes and dreams have never been a mystery to me… However, when it comes to achieving them it’s like looking through a glass darkly. I was envious of those that possessed the self-control to do whatever it took to live the life they wanted. As I grew up, I became haunted by the word “Discipline”. I became more and more aware that I was going to have to have some if I were ever going to get anything done.

The problem?

I didn’t freaking have any.

Further complicating the matter is that discipline is a trait that builds upon itself. You have to have discipline in order to get discipline. Unfortunately, when my soul was assembled apparently God decided to go easy on the discipline and really lay the “sloth-sauce” on pretty thick. I’ve spent most of my life desperately wanting really great things, but I have lacked even the slightest bit of wherewithal to make any of those things comes to pass.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain of doing something even when I didn’t feel like it became secondary to the pain of living a life of unrealized potential. I knew that writing was my thing. Specifically, writing about the weird intricacies of spirituality. I had been blogging about that very thing for over six years, but writing only when I felt like it. This resulted in several blogs that would go months and years without any activity.

I wanted something better for HfG. And so I decided that this blog would become the focus of my effort. I decided that I would write two posts a week, no matter what. Even when I didn’t feel like it. I’m thrilled to report that I was largely successful in my endeavor. I know that writing two posts a week for a year doesn’t feel like an earth-changing act, but… I think it might have at least been a life changing one.

I’ve found that on the other side of this little experiment, I possess a sense of confidence that I’ve never known. For the first time in my life, I actually believe in myself and my abilities. In November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a 50K word novel in one month. I’ve known about NaNo for over eight years, but this is the first time I’ve actually believed I could do it. Beyond the realm of writing, I find I’m giving myself the benefit of a doubt when it comes to any new projects I take on. For the first time, I truly believe that if I set my mind to something, I can do it.

Prior to this point in my life, all attempts I made to improve myself met in absolute failure. I could stick with it for a few days, maybe even a week or two, but eventually I just… let it go. I’d forget, or decide it wasn’t important. I became a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, just in case there are other sad-sacks out there, here are some things I’ve learned when it comes to manufacturing discipline:

Find something you care about. This is mandatory. Pick something you love. Whether it’s writing, reading, losing weight, playing an instrument, it doesn’t matter so long as it’s something you genuinely enjoy.  There are so many distractions, so many reasons to do something else, that if you’re not actively engaged by what you’re focusing on, you’re not going to make it.

Commit to it. Publicly.  This step is scary. It’s putting it all out on front street. If you fail, if you give up, the world will know. But is it effective? It’s 7:31am on Monday morning. I tried writing a post last night, and I couldn’t come up with anything. The only reason I woke up at 5:30 to write today is because I’ve told the world at large that I would have something for them.

Find someone that won’t take your BS. The majority of the world in your social circle are kind folks that won’t want to rub it in your face if you screw up. Find someone that will. My wife has made it clear on numerous occasions that giving up is not acceptable. She encourages me endlessly, but she’ll call me on it if she sees me trying to take the easy way out. You need someone in your life that will make it their personal mission to make sure you know that they’re watching.

Think about it more than when you have to. I still struggle with this one. The best weeks are the ones in which I have posts written a few days before they’re to be published. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, invest yourself into it. Take some time to plan ahead if necessary. Think about what you’re doing and why. The more thought you put into what you’re doing, the better the result will be.

Sometimes it’s more about doing it than it is doing it well. There were countless times during the last year in which I wrote a post out of obligation rather than having something specific to say. Often times, those posts were not very good. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it. That’s totally fine. But it’s not an excuse to stop. When I made myself write even when I had nothing to say, I was actively learning discipline.

Celebrate your success and gloss over your failures. While taken to an extreme this may seem like the credo of a hedonist, I found it to be a good strategy. There will be times in which you fail. You are. It’s totally going to happen. And that’s fine. Honest, it is. You just can’t let it throw you into a guilt or shame spiral that destroys your momentum. If you screw up, if you fail… fine. Move on. Do it better next time. And when you do, freaking celebrate! Call your friends, tell them how good you are. Let facebook know you’re awesome. Set mini-goals and reward yourself when you meet them.

So… I guess that’s what I’ve learned over the course of this past year. I hope it helps some of you. If any of you are thinking about trying to build your discipline, let me know in the comments below. If you’d like an extra pair of eyes on you to help encourage you, I’d be happy to help.

Photo Credit: alicexz

7 responses to “Manufacturing Discipline

  1. Great post. I find myself in a similar situation, lacking that drive … Or having it for moments that just aren’t long enough. I get distracted ridiculously easily because I have interest in a vast number of things. I’m trying to figure out how I can use that to my advantage …

    • I’m the exact same way. I’ve found the only way I can remain productive is to embrace the fact that my interests are so fleeting. Because I’ve always been this way, I’ve learned that my interests tend to be cyclical. As such, when I feel inspired or have an idea that interests me, I dive into it and go as far as I can before I start to feel pulled toward something else. I give myself permission to have a ridiculous number of projects in various states of completion because I know that eventually, I’ll come back around to them. For an example, check out my storyline page: I’ve got ideas, scripts, thoughts all over the place… And I think I’ve become pretty okay with that.

  2. Really appreciated this one Paul as I am right here with you! Read this on my morning commute and am now working on finishing my next imperfect mini-post I began 4 days ago, b/c like you said it’s better to just get something completed than hem and haw over whether or not its perfect or brilliant. HFG often functions as a mirror and an avenue for challenge – so thanks for keeping it up twice a week! I am proud of you for doing that, and reaping the benefits!

  3. It makes me genuinely happy to know that my silly words sometime say something meaningful. Thanks so much for the encouragement, it really means the world to me.

    • So as a fellow ENFP, I would love to know what your process/time commitment looks like for getting out two blog posts a week. I struggle severely to even dedicate 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon, which in theory is one of the days with the most “free time.” I struggle to balance all of the tasks and roles that are expected of me. How do I be a good wife, friend, housekeeper, full-time employee, volunteer member of my church’s social media team, soon-to-be dinner group leader, regular exerciser, AND blogger? Time management is and always has been my absolute biggest weakness. So… any tips on what works in regards to writing?

      • One of the things I’ve recently discovered is that putting a post off until the last minute rarely makes it as good as it could be. My best posts are ones that I remember to think about throughout the week. I try to build a few thoughts and ideas during idle moments and scribble them in my ever-present journal. On really good weeks, I’ll write the post a few days in advance so that the day before it goes live I can proof it with fresh eyes.

        In reality, however, Sundays and Thursdays have a nasty habit of sneaking up on me. On those days, it’s essentially just a matter of priorities. I used to sit at the computer and try to force words, but that was hit and miss. Lately, if I’m coming up empty I’ll take a little time to meditate and really try to focus on what’s in me and what I’ve been thinking.

        As far as finding all this time goes…I don’t give myself a choice. On Sundays and Thursdays no matter how late I get home, no matter how many things I have to do, I don’t go to sleep until I’ve gotten /something/ out. Part of that is because I’ve made a commitment to the readers of the blog, and part of it is not wanting to admit to my wife that I got my fail on. I guess the bottom line is I knew that if I gave myself an out, I’d take it… So the only answer I could come up with was to make sure I didn’t have any.

  4. Pingback: Gaining Momentum (and Shedding Pounds) | Married in Mile Square City·

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