I used to smoke cigarettes. A lot. If I was out of cigarettes and the stores were closed, no problemo, I’d pick butts out of the ashtray or garbage and smoke them. I’d smoke right when I woke up and right before going to bed. Sometimes I smoked while I ate. I knew it was a foul habit, one that could kill me, make my face look like an old shoe and cause me to stink like a bar rag, but I was so into it that, as with all abusive relationships, I chose to pretend nothing was wrong even though in the back of my head there was a little voice screaming, “Stop! Please stop! We’re dying over here!”
Then one day I was about to drive from my beloved New Mexico to Los Angeles and my love affair came to a screeching halt. The night before I’d spent a particularly disgusting evening sitting around chain smoking with three other smoke-lovin friends. It was kind of like how after a particularly disgusting evening of drinking you decide that you’ll never drink again. Only unlike those losers, I was serious. Oh yes I was.
I got my car all packed up, put the top down and began my cross-desert road trip a smoke-free woman. Smoke-free as soon as I finished the 6 cigarettes I still had left in my pack, that is. “I’ll smoke one now, and another when I get to Gallup, then in Flagstaff I’ll stop for lunch and have one there…” I suddenly realized that there I was, under a gorgeous desert sky, listening to my favorite music, top down, surrounded by warm, sweet desert air, flying, free, happily speeding, and all I could think about was when I was next going to voluntarily asphyxiate myself. I realized I couldn’t enjoy one of my favorite things to do on this here planet because I was distracted by something that I knew I wanted to stop doing. I also realized that I was a big fat liar, that I was already pushing my quit date back since I would be arriving in town at a good friend’s party and would definitely want to smoke so maybe I shouldn’t quit until the next week when……
I pulled the car over and threw out all six cigarettes and haven’t had a drag since. That was over ten years ago and it was a hugely significant moment because I realized something huge that applies to everything in life – if there’s something you really want to do, the only way to get there is to stop negotiating. Just do it NOW, not after you lose five pounds or have more money or more time or whatever you “need” to do before getting on it. Negotiating and waffling are the mortal enemies of self-discipline. I decided at that moment that I was not a smoker. It became a non-negotiable fact. I did not smoke so I wasn’t going to spend any time thinking “perhaps maybe just one cigarette” anymore than I was going to spend any time thinking that maybe I would snort horse tranquilizers. I’m not a horse tranquilizer snorter, nor a smoker. Next topic please.
This mentality works with everything – if you want to lose weight, decide that you’re a person who doesn’t eat sugar. Ever. Or who only has one cookie at a party instead of ten. Or who gets up at 6:30 and exercises. Or if you’re a writer, decide that you’re a person who writes every day at noon for a half an hour. Or who writes two pages a day. If you begin negotiations, you open the space for failure. If you make it a fact, you just do it, no questions asked, and move on to something else. It’s a doozie, it really works, I promise.
Here are my top 5 tips for cracking the whip and disciplining yourself:
More on this all-important topic can be found in Twyla Tharp’s awesome book, The Creative Habit. She is a machine of self-discipline and this book is one of the best spankings I’ve ever gotten.
Set Realistic Goals.
Don’t decide that you are a person who runs 20 miles a day when you still consider walking to the pizza parlor around the corner a day’s worth of exercise. Start with running one mile a day and add more as you get stronger. Discipline is a muscle, you have to build it at your own pace. If you bite off more than you can chew at the start, chances are excellent you’ll get discouraged and give up altogether. Set attainable goals and slowly build from there.
Remember Your Why.
When that sexy piece of chocolate cake is giving you the eye, remember how much better it will feel to be five pounds lighter than it will during that two minute, chocolatey roll in the hay. If you’re writing and are tempted to get up and do the dishes, make a phone call, do ANTYHING but write, remember how awesome it’s going to feel having a real live book with your name on it that is going to help the world. Make your “why” your mantra, keep bringing it back to the front of your mind when temptation flashes her sexy smile at you and you will be a mighty, unstoppable force. It will keep your excitement level up too which will keep you motivated and help you get the job done.
Note Your Accomplishments.
Keep track of how well you’re doing and give yourself a hearty bravo on a regular basis. Self-discipline is all in your mind, so making your mind a happy, focused place is key. The more you notice how well you’re doing, the more you’ll be inspired to keep the ball rolling.
Make a Bet With Someone Mean.
If you’re someone who really thrives on accountability, this can be a great way to keep yourself in line. Make a bet with someone who will hold you to it, someone who won’t coddle you or “understand that you tried your best,” who will not take excuses and who will show up at your doorstep if you stop answering their calls. And make sure you bet something that’s painful enough to lose but not too unrealistic. For example, you could bet someone $100 that you’ll have the first chapter of your book written by a certain date. Make it a payable amount that you really don’t want to pay.