Arguments for discipline

Sometimes there are spurts when it’s just … difficult to create.

But since last April, I’ve managed to get a post up every Wednesday.

That hasn’t been because of a watershed of creative inspiration. It’s because I’ve set a publish date for myself of every Wednesday. No options, just publish.

Sometimes I get six or seven weeks ahead, and then things dry up for a time. And then the opposite happens. We get a string of a few weeks when it’s just not flowing. Wednesday’s in sight, and there’s nothing scheduled to go up.

And then I remember the admonitions: Discipline equals freedom. You don’t need motivation, you need discipline. Don’t wait for inspiration, use discipline.

Jocko Willink, David Goggins and Tucker Max, respectively, by the way.

As Steven Pressfield notes, do the work. Just show up and write, and the writing will be complete. Eventually.

Here are a few relevant definitions for discipline:

the rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc.
behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control
a set or system of rules and regulations.

How does it work, then? You set up your rules of order (or system or control, however you want to read that), and then you adhere to them.

Setting up the rules is easy. Picking rules that you can stick to is not.

Like goals, rules have to be achievable, measurable and time-bound.

“Write every day” is not a good rule (not measurable). “Write 3,500 words every day” is probably not a good rule (not achievable). “Write 250 words every day” is a better rule.

Once you set your rules, you have the simple (not easy) job of showing up and following your rules.

And so it is with these posts. I set a fairly straightforward set of rules:

• Blog post must go up Wednesday morning.
• Include something that is interesting for me to write.

It doesn’t have to be long (although some are). It doesn’t have to be spectacular (although hopefully some are). It simply has to publish, and I either have to learn something or pass along something I’ve already learned that I thought was interesting.

That’s why I so often include definitions and etymologies in these posts. We may have a concept in mind when we think about a word like “discipline,” but do we think about what it really means, and how we got it.

Speaking of which, it’s an old word, dating back to Old English (for reference, Beowulf was Old English, The Canterbury Tales was Middle English, Shakespeare wrote in modern English).

The Old English variant usually referred to a system of rules — much like we’re using it here — but the usage really didn’t hit our lexicon until the mid-13th century.

Back to discipline over everything else.

If you wait for inspiration, you’ll be able to get some inspiration occasionally. If you wait for motivation, you’ll be motivated sometimes. If you don’t give yourself a choice — if you work with discipline — you will hit your marks.

And Willink’s assertion that discipline equals freedom? Choice is fatiguing. You make a lot of choices throughout the day — what, when and where to eat, what to wear, when to shower — and it takes a toll on your brain throughout the day. You get tired. You make worse choices at night. You make worse choices when you’re hungry. You make worse choices if you’ve simply been making choices all day.

But if you remove decisions from the equation and work on discipline alone, you get your stuff done. If you set your workout clothes the night before and set up the coffee pot, you can put on your clothes, brew your coffee, work out, shower, eat the breakfast you already prepared. You’ve done things you’ve set yourself up for, you won’t have to start tiring yourself out with decisions, and you’re ready to keep going.

The more disciplined you can be in sticking to the positive routines you’ve set up for yourself, the more successful you’ll be, and the freer you will be to choose things that are more interesting and fun for you.


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