Motivation and discipline are both important parts of doing a thing, especially a creative thing. No matter how much you love doing the thing, how much you want to do it, how much it matters to you, it isn’t always going to be easy and you probably won’t always feel motivated. In those times, you can lean on discipline. Discipline is your friend.
Before I go any further
I want to explain a few things so we’re both on the same page. This post is focused on creative projects, especially writing, but could most likely to applied to any project where your motivation might go through peaks and troughs. I’m going to assume that you have consciously chosen to do the thing, that you’re realistically able to do it, and that you have time to do it. I’m not here to tell you how to make decisions or advise you on getting started with time management. Also, I’m pretty sure there’s a layer of hell reserved for people who say things like, “Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in a day.” I mean, bless your wee soul if you believe that’s true and you don’t understand that individual circumstances affect what can be done in each of those hours, but yeah…reality exists. So I’m not doing that.
Right, let’s go.
What motivation is about
It’s about drive, desire, want, interest and incentive. It’s the excitement and buzz of it all. It’s the distillation of the dream into action. It’s beautiful. Utterly and completely beautiful. And it’s not a permanent state of being, at least not in anyone I’ve ever known or spoken to. I don’t believe it can, without fail, be summoned at your convenience. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it, and that’s natural, human, and valid.
What discipline is about
Discipline is perhaps less flashy and exciting. Discipline doesn’t often have people punching the air and shouting positive mantras with fire in their blood. Discipline is more often quiet, determined and, yes, also utterly and completely beautiful. Discipline is the other side of motivation, the solid foundation of the breathtaking architecture.
Motivation and discipline both have value
And they are both profoundly necessary. I’m going to use writing as an example here. I absolutely LOVE writing. I genuinely do usually feel motivated to write. But sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter that just won’t flow, or I’m creating detailed intersecting life-long timelines for five characters which is totally necessary but not exactly fire-in-the-blood exciting.
That’s where discipline comes in. I can make a conscious and informed choice to sit down at my computer and get the thing done, even though it isn’t making my soul sing in that moment, because I understand how the not-so-fun stuff fits into the bigger picture. I’m not discounting the value of bribing yourself with cake, Netflix, reading or whatever your reward of choice might be, but I am saying that you definitely have the power to do a bit of grunt work as part of a larger project that care about deeply. It might feel difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Quick sidebar! If you find yourself struggling on the regular, or doubting that you actually do care deeply about the project, or questioning if your goals in relation to completing it are realistic and practical for you, or in line with your authentic values, then you maybe need to have an honest conversation with yourself.
When motivation is in short supply, summoning discipline can help
Remember the bigger picture. Actively remember it. I don’t mean just have it in the back of your mind. I assume you’re unlikely to forget that you’re writing a book or a short story. I figure you’re probably going to be consistently aware that when the project is complete, you’re planning to publish on your website, on Wattpad, on a sales platform etc. I know it’s unlikely to slip your mind that when you get this draft done, you’ll start sending out query letters to agents or taking part in #PitMad on Twitter.
When you’re making friends with discipline, it’s about more than just being aware of your goal, knowing your why. It’s about really, deeply, carrying that why around in the front of your mind. It’s about wearing why-tinted glasses so when you look at the work you don’t feel like doing today, you’ll see it through the lens of passion and excitement (even if you aren’t feeling too passionate and excited in the moment). Why-tinted glasses are pretty good for focusing on things that matter.
Part of discipline is about routine and organisation
If those two words have you running for the door, or closing your browser tab, wait. Please. Give me a minute. You can have routines and be organised while still having fun and being flexible. I’m saying this as someone whose health makes flexibility a non-negotiable requirement. I’m also saying this as someone who likes fun. If you love setting up a highly structured schedule that you adhere to without fail, go for it. If that makes you die inside, aim for a less strutured system that still includes time and space for you to do the thing you’re doing in a way that fits more organically into your life. The point is that you decide you’re going to do the thing, you set aside time for it in whatever way works for you, and then you actually show up and do it, even when you don’t totally feel like it. I’m willing to bet that once you finish the job, or even once you finish that half-hour work session you were dreading, you won’t be left wishing you hadn’t bothered.
Another quick sidebar! I’m planning a whole post about how counterproductive and unhelpful statements like, “You have to write every day to be a real writer” are, so I’m not going to get into that in detail here. BUT. I do want to make it 100% clear that I would never, ever suggest that you can’t skip a day, take a break, have time off, change your strategy, put the thing in a drawer and ignore it for a month or whatever length of time you need to. And if you honestly do want to only write when you feel fired up with inspiration and motivation, that’s totally fine and this blog post probably isn’t aimed at you. You do you. OK? OK.
I sort of hate that I can summarise this entire post in one sentence, especially as I’ve been planning it since I started my blog and a lot of thought has gone into it, but you know what? I can summarise it in one sentence, and this is it.
You do not have to be motivated all the time because you can choose to be disciplined.
And there it is. Take it or leave it. But the next time you’re feeling down because your motivation has temporarily left you, try reminding yourself that perpetual motivation isn’t a requirement and discipline is never out of your reach.
In my next post, I’m going to talk about choosing a focus word for the year. You might have already done this. You might be interested in doing it. You might have no idea what a focus word for the year even is. Or you might just want to know about why I’ve chosen my own focus word (it’s TRUST, by the way). I’ll be diving into all that good stuff, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss the post, you’re very welcome to subscribe by email or via WordPress Reader.
See you in 2020, my friends! ❤