The title is confronting, I know. I imagine readers are staring at their screens, eyebrows raised wondering what in the world I put in my coffee this morning.
Just sugar - I promise.
We’ve been told time and time again that if we want to succeed in life we need to be motivated. We need to seek motivation out, hold it close and bring it out in order to light our footsteps along the road of our dreams. If you Google “how to be motivated?” , two hundred and forty three million results pop up in less than half of a second. But, here’s the thing: motivation gets you started but without discipline, that is where you will end: right at the starting line - not an accomplished goal in sight. If you want to lose, rely on motivation alone - I dare you.
It is easy to sleepwalk chunks of our lives away while we wait for motivation to show up and give us the desire to do something. Motivation is like that cool, hip, hyped up on coffee, worldly friend who pops in and out of your life between trips to Monaco or Dubai. It doesn’t last year round. Eventually, you realize you’re stuck in the monotonous grind trying to convince yourself that your dream is worth all the effort. In order to succeed you need to develop the discipline to do the work that needs to be done even if it is the last thing in the world you want to do. It isn’t motivation that gets you to the gym when your bed is warm, you partner is cuddly and you really want to sleep for an extra hour. It isn’t motivation that gets you sat in front of the computer to work on your novel, poetry or song lyrics. It isn’t motivation that gets you to pick up your pencil and sketch. It isn’t motivation that gets you to take out your course work and go through the material. When the motivation has faded away you are either left with the rugged determination to get things done or you are left with nothing. Creatives! I can see you shaking your head right now. You’re probably saying that you need inspiration to get by; you need your Muse. Maybe. But, I find that we (me at least) often put too much on needing to be inspired and motivated. What’s the use of having a three thousand word writing sprint every six months? What’s the use of smashing a workout once per month? Consistency will always trump sporadic episodes of excellence.
There are probably several thousand articles on how to develop discipline but I believe there are three crucial steps.
Create a Routine
Plan your life. I don’t mean down to the second. Once you’ve established the various things you need to work on to achieve your goals it is important to set aside time in your day / week to actually perform these tasks. I remember once I complained to a friend that I could never find time to write. She kind of looked at me like I was the most precious, stupid human she’d ever seen and said, “You don’t make the time.”
She encouraged me to treat writing a second job and to give myself working hours , show up and put in the time. It wasn’t enough to say I will write for two hours every day. I was to pencil it like an appointment that could not be missed. On the days you don’t feel like showing up to the appointment, it is important to forget your feelings and in the word’s of Nike - just do it. It is said that it takes 66 days to form a habit. So, just stick to your routine even when you can think of a million and one reasons not to. Eventually, it will become as instinctive as breathing.
I touched on this in the last blog. However, it is important to note that one of the most important things you can put in place is a mechanism to ensure accountability. This can be as simple as a friend who will call you up every day and nag you until you do the thing you need to do. Or, it can be something more public like a special Instagram account. Or, you know, a blog :). Whatever it is, find a medium that will push you to work. I have an app that tracks how many words I write each day. I get a little high every time I update it and see myself inch closer to my goal. Whatever it is - whatever works for you - find it and put it to good use.
Positive reinforcement guys. You should be very familiar with this if you are a parent or have done a psychology course. Sometimes the best way to keep ourselves disciplined is working towards a reward. Although the amazing feeling of fulfillment at achieving our goals is a great reward, sometimes we need little things along the way. It may be as simple as a cheat day at the end of every diligent dieting week or that outfit/jewelry/gadget you always desired if you were able to take home all A’s. For me, I have divided my final word count into four segments and I have allotted myself gifts, increasing in value, the closer I get to the end of the book. I will be rewarding myself with lunch at my favorite restaurant when I hit the halfway mark of my current work in progress. Often times, it has been enough to get my butt sitting in a chair in front of my laptop to get those words.
I am not decrying motivation. Motivation and inspiration can be amazing things. It can push you to write, study, practice and work out longer and harder than you ever thought possible. However, the true test comes when the motivation has dried up and there is no desire to do the things necessary to achieve your goals. This is where discipline kicks in. This is where you win.
Remember: motivation gets you started but discipline gets you finished.
What other tips do you have for developing discipline?