I’ve noticed a funny relationship between motivation and discipline lately.
For me, motivation has often been the precursor to discipline. I am motivated therefore I am disciplined. When I strongly believe in the merits of, for example, carving out ample early morning time for my fitness and creative practice, then that belief translates to motivation, which translates to the discipline to do the things I want to do. While this often times works well for me, it is not real discipline, and I must disappointedly admit that I need a better foolproof technique for moments when my motivation goes awry.
Ya see, I’m the kind of person who really values doing things I consciously believe in, things I have a conviction around, things that feel meaningful to me. I can’t get myself to do things just because society says so or it’s popular or it’s what the doctor ordered. I’m the kind of person who needs to understand why something is important and purposeful, and I like to feel moved to do those things. When that understanding and inspiration takes place, then usually some surge of motivation gets me to follow through with my thoughtful desires and goals. What I am realizing now is that my aversion toward doing things “just because” and my proclivity toward doing things out of passion have prevented me from instilling true, diehard, unwavering discipline around the practices that matter most to me.
So what is true discipline? Discipline is:
- Independent of motivation
- Acting even when we don’t feel like acting.
- Consistent, reliable, habitual
- Fireproof, waterproof, overthinking-proof, cynicism-proof, “what’s-the-point-of-this-anyway”-proof
- Willpower and self-control
- A product of careful calculation/study/wisdom, from which there is no turning back (e.g. I brush my teeth everyday, no questions asked for the rest of my life)
- That which trumps whims, moods, impulsiveness, vices, temptations
- Choosing an ideal and committing to its realization
If motivation naturally ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, jumps out of bed or crawls back for comfort, then discipline is the constant, the perpetually rotating earth, the predictably setting and rising sun. It’s the fixed variable, the habitual way, the deliberate routine.
So why do I want discipline so badly right now?
I've often felt that the only thing keeping me from achieving my dreams, both the simple and lofty ones, was discipline. I have no problem working hard, but it's not about working hard. For the self-employed, work-from-home, creative types like myself there is a critical need to structure or define a daily schedule that serves us and our goals. What discipline is really about is living the life you want to live every single day.
We need discipline in order to:
- Do the little things that have such big value
- Be healthy and be happy
- Practice our craft day in and day out, week in and week out
- Work when it’s time to work
- Take breaks when it’s time to take breaks
- Stand tall when discouragement strikes us down
- Stick with habits that support well-being and creative growth
- Do what we care about most, even when nobody around us believes in the importance, or when nobody even knows what we're doing (Can I get some snaps from the sisters and brothers who work alone and really get me on this point!)
- Avoid decision fatigue caused by unnecessary questions (e.g. Should I wake up right now? Should I skip meditation? Should I take fifteen extra minutes to eat a nourishing breakfast? Should I rehearse for one hour or two?)
- Free up our mental energies and channel them through impactful, mindful pursuits
- Achieve our goals in a grounded, gentle, incremental way
- Compost, recycle, conserve water, eat locally (Shout out to planet Earth on this happy Earth Day!)
- Do what we love, now not later
Sometimes people have called me highly self-motivated, but they don’t know the whole truth. Yes, it's great when it just happens magically, but many times, motivation is hard. Motivating myself by myself is haaaard. And sometimes I just hate being the only one around to motivate me. What do I do when motivation evaporates and I struggle to follow through with my grand plan of action? What I’m going to do in those moments when I'm left high and dry is hang onto discipline. Lean into the lackluster moments and lean on discipline to help stay the course.
Annie Dillard wrote in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” I want discipline because I want my life to look like something beautiful everyday. I want it to be something I am proud of, something wholesome, that enriches me, supports me, moment by moment, and carries me to greater heights.
For that reason, I ask you, will you dare me? Dare me to be disciplined. So I may live the life of my dreams today, tomorrow, and always.