Hi Everyone! This is Laura Young, the Dragon Slaying member of the Positive Blog Network. I’m filling in for Steve today while he’s on vacation. This goes out to everyone who thinks a bit of discipline is all they need to make them more productive. Maybe. Maybe not. Discipline flunkies, take heart!
This is a common problem for many, particularly creative and entrepreneurial individuals. Many people believe if they were simply more disciplined they would have caught up on their taxes by now, have a clean home, a profitable, well-managed business and, most importantly, the peace of mind they imagine will come with all these achievements. The problem is that setting a goal of being more disciplined is a difficult one to get enthusiastic about. In fact, for some it may take the creative wind right out of their sails. For people who create by breaking rules and challenging conventions, trying to maintain a commitment to become a better rule follower and schedule minder often ends up as a series of false starts, frustration, self-loathing and Ben and Jerry’s binges.
While the desired end results of discipline may be worth dedicated pursuit, perhaps focusing on discipline as the means to goal achievement creates more problems than it solves.
For example, Twyla Tharp, a highly disciplined dancer and choreographer wrote an excellent book on this subject entitled The Creative Habit.
Sounds much more appealing than “The Disciplined Dancer,” yes? Developing a habit seems far easier that developing discipline. This may be a matter of semantics as in the end their outward manifestations may look quite similar but consider the energy and connotations each of those words has for you. Habits are easy to follow and hard to break. Discipline on the other hand sounds like work every day. Discipline is continually applied effort to achieve a certain end. Relax your focus and discipline falls apart. By contrast, habits take on a life of their own, apparently driven by their own power whether you want to engage in them or not.
In my experience, when people talk about having a need to be more disciplined, they are really talking about a need to be more consistent in the pursuit of their endeavors. What can be done to help you become more consistent?
Stop talking about discipline unless you really love the word. In fact, any word that feels like it has lead weights attached to it is one to strike from your personal vocabulary. If you want to make sustainable lifestyle changes they have to feel positive, powerful and attractive or you will be doomed from the start. Anyone can be disciplined for a weekend, but if the goal is consistency and the creation of habits which support you over a lifetime, you have to be enthusiastic about the process.
Remember Pavlov’s dog. Any pet owner knows that animals easily fall into routines and patterns of behavior. Just as your dog or cat recognizes the sound of the cabinet door opening that holds their food and rushes to you in eager anticipation, Pavlov noticed that a dog, used to hearing a bell prior to being fed would start to salivate just at the sound of the bell alone. This is called “classical conditioning.” When I was young, my father would play Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Goin’ On every Sunday while we were cleaning the house. To this day, when I hear those familiar songs I get a compulsion to start dusting. You probably have noticed some songs always make you think of summer. Some scents always remind you of your Aunt Millie. It’s the same principle.
Make this conditioning work in your favor by creating an environment that energizes you when you have to buckle down and tackle a project that is going to take some effort to achieve. Involve all your senses and think in terms of creating a ritual. Writers do this all the time, using specific writing instruments, sitting in a certain place, arranging the desk a particular way and maybe drinking a specific beverage when they sit down to write. With the cues set in place consistently, the mind begins to associate the setting with the activity and slides with increasing ease into a productive mode. The key is consistency combined with inherent appeal of the environmental associations. The more pleasant the setting, the more likely you will even start to look forward to the activity. Think about the sounds, scents and feel of your environment. Use the same attention to invite yourself to show up to a task that you would use if you were preparing to greet the love of your life. How delicious can you make the experience for yourself? Isn’t thinking about creating a delicious experience far more appealing than thinking about how to become more disciplined?
Think in terms of shifting energy. This is probably the most overlooked and most powerful technique you can use. Cleaning a closet is nearly a silver bullet when it comes to jump starting one’s productivity. The thought of cleaning a garage, doing your taxes or organizing your office may be overwhelming. Don’t worry about that. Simply focus on one place in the environment where you notice the energy is stagnant and shift it. Have an article of clothing in your closet that looked good in the store but that you hate wearing because it’s somehow wrong in a way you can’t quite identify? Why is it still in your closet? How about the refrigerator? Have some old condiments or a hunk of old cheese that you haven’t tossed out yet but that make you feel like “there is nothing good to eat in the house” every time you open the door? Just clear out a bit of dead energy. Same with that old stack of unread magazines and junk mail. You are not obligated to go back and read anything that has been sitting around untouched for a year or two before you toss it out or pass it on. I recently lost a five year history of e-mails for my business before switching to a more reliable webhost. Problems created? None. Very minor inconveniences for about 48 hours. Minor. And this was my livelihood. You have a lot of latitude here.
What does tossing out an old blouse and some stale Gouda have to do with getting your office clean and your taxes done? Nothing and everything. When your environment is draining you because of all those little pockets of dead and stagnant energy it will be nearly impossible to build the momentum you will need to approach tasks you dread. Have you ever gone to check the fridge while procrastinating on setting yourself to a task only to have the thought “there’s nothing good in here” come to mind? The fridge checking and the thought did nothing to add to your productive momentum. It’s okay to start doing work in an area unrelated to your goal. Energy is energy and once you are able to build it you can start to direct it.
Think thematically and integrate. Integration is far more powerful than discipline. Consider what is important to you in your life and what you value most. What does having a clean office really represent to you? What would it mean to have all your bills and paperwork filed? What would be significant for you in committing to getting out your canvas and paints? Rather than thinking of the activities and the outward signs of productivity try to identify the themes that underlie them.
Consider your personal definition of success. For example, several of the business owners I work with are able to name a financial goal that represents this. A common benchmark is making a six-figure income. It never fails when I ask someone what would change in their lives if they were making that wage that they confess much of what they are tolerating in themselves and in their environment would no longer be acceptable. One woman said, “I wouldn’t slouch and my desk would be clean.” What does slouching have to do with one’s checkbook? For her, there was a whole image of success that she became aware she was not embodying. While she may have had work to do before the money would start to come in, her posture and the self-respect coming with improving it was something she could work on immediately.
You don’t have to have a dollar figure attached to success, of course, but play with the concept however you wish to define it. I guarantee using your personal image of success as a litmus test for your current decisions will help you spot numerous subtle and powerful ways to bring your energies in alignment with your desired goal achievement. From the television shows you watch, to the food you eat, to the people you spend time with and the things you read, simply asking yourself, “Would I agree to this if I were successful? Is this consistent with where I want to be heading in my life?” will help you weave together all these seemingly tangential choices into an integrated lifestyle pattern which give you more energy and momentum.
What does energy, momentum and integration give you? Freedom. Freedom to say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. Firm boundaries make one a better gatekeeper so energy drains don’t get a chance to accumulate allowing you more freedom to devote yourself to what you most want to create. Establishing a solid foundation of self-respect and integrated healthy habits which demonstrate that self-respect will give you more energy. Having clear standards for where you are willing to let your energy be spent only strengthens the foundation creating a self-sustaining cycle in which your activities actively support your path to success.