Musings About Self-Discipline

First off, I’ve got a guest post over at Uni-verse-city with Nicole Basaraba today about how paranormal fiction is like garlic.  I’m a foodie.  Go with it.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of self-discipline this week–as relates to me, as it relates to other people.  More specifically, why do I seem to have it in spades and most people…don’t?

People often hear about my normal routine and call me super woman.  I’m totally that person who did more by lunch than most people do in a week.  Which means that the vast majority of people are either intimidated by me or simply consider me a whole other species.  Every now and then, I wonder if they’re right.  Because I am…apparently not like other folks.

There are lots of contributing factors.  My strong work ethic.  My type A personality.  My competitive streak.  The fact that I’m an only child.  That I was an intensive loner growing up and don’t play well with others?  That I was always group leader and the only one who gave a damn, so I worked harder, faster, longer, and generally better than everyone else because I wanted an A, damn it?  That there’s just flat no one TO do all the stuff that I do?  That I can’t ask for help (seriously, it’s a thing)?  The fact that I’ve been very effectively conditioned to avoid procrastination like the plague (thank you, Mom)?

I am pondering all of this not to make any body feel bad or like less but because I need to be able to understand other people and where they are coming from.  I need to be able to be empathetic instead of scratching my head when they say “I need to do x,” and wondering why they don’t just do it.  Because that’s how I operate.  I don’t necessarily like stuff, but I do it because it needs to be done.  Usually because doing it involves a better outcome than not.

  • Getting my butt up early and working out means I’m not 300 pounds and can eat more of what I want.
  • Cleaning the house means my inner neat freak is assuaged.
  • Cutting out social activities and buckling down to write during every spare moment of free time means I’m that many words closer to getting out of the job I hate with increasing ferocity every day and writing for a living.
  • Eating healthy means I generally feel better (and am not 300 pounds).

I think part of it is the ability to delay gratification.  Part of self discipline is being self aware enough to recognize the disparity between what you think and what you feel and going with what you think, which has a delayed or long term benefit over the immediate benefit of what you feel.  So, I get up and exercise at 5:45 even though I feel like I could sleep for a week (this is a daily struggle) because I know if I don’t do it then, it won’t get done, and not doing it isn’t an option I allow myself.   I’m super self-disciplined in almost every area of my life except eating out (see there, I do have an Achilles heel).  I almost never make the healthy choice when I eat out.  I manage it at home all the time because I simply don’t bring junk into the house.  But faced with a big ass salad or a cheeseburger, of course I want the cheeseburger.

I think of self-discipline as taking responsibility for yourself.  Being a participant in your own life.  Recognizing that nobody can fix x, y, z for you except you and then doing whatever you need to do in order to rectify that problem.  Whether that’s health, weight, diet, exercise, emotional state, butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard, doing your classwork correctly and on time (half my students don’t understand THIS concept), whatever.  The world, your friends, your family can all be supportive, but ultimately it comes down to YOU and YOUR internal motivation to make a change or do what needs to be done.

And I guess that’s what it comes down to.  If you are someone who DOESN’T have internal motivation for something…how do you get it? 

This question is kind of my Holy Grail right now.  How do you help someone with no motivation acquire some?  Being a good example?  Providing education?  These don’t work.  There’s scads of research that show that information alone is not sufficient to motivate a change in behavior.  So I don’t get it.  And I don’t understand the apathy with which some people face life.  In the words of Aida, princess of Nubia (palace slave to Radames), “If you don’t like your fate, change it. You are your own master, there are no shackles on you.”  Except those of your own making.  

Enchantment Passing Through from Aida

18 thoughts on “Musings About Self-Discipline

  1. This is a pretty serious post, and comments might take a lot of thought. Sometimes I think I have multiple personalities because I feel like I’m both types of people. A lot of it depends on what I’m doing and what frame of mind I’m in. (I’m very self-disciplined in my job, even though no one else here is.) I’ve been leaning toward being more self-disciplined lately because I’m getting up every morning at 5:30 and walking on the treadmill. Yesterday, I even did a short, light run on it. This morning, I almost didn’t get up. But I made myself do it. I haven’t always had this kind of discipline about exercise, and you can tell that by looking at me. You and Susan both helped me gain that when we were together that weekend.

    This is the thing…not everyone is the same. Everyone’s head is not in the same place and different brains work differently. It’s hard for disciplined people to understand those that are not, and vice versa. I just try not to judge people. If I let other people’s incompetence and slack ways bother me, I would have killed my boss by now. On the other hand, those that are more competent and better disciplined than me might want to choke me. LOL. People are people. They are what they are. We just have to learn to deal with them even if they are vastly different than what we want them to be. And if we’re jealous of what they are, that has to be dealt with, too. You can’t change people, but you can help them change themselves sometimes…only if they WANT to change. You and Susan encouraged me because I wanted to be better. If someone doesn’t care, all the encouragement in the world won’t help. I worked for Weight Watchers for years, and I’ve seen all kinds of people.

    • I find it a lot easier to deal with differences when they don’t directly affect me. I have a real problem coping with people in my immediate life who lack motivation because I’m absolutely willing to bend over backward (and have) to try and help, but I don’t seem to be getting anything on their side and I’m just…out of ideas.

      • In all honesty, it sounds a little like depression, which I’m ashamed to admit I used to think was ridiculous until I had 3 tragedies thrown at me in a matter of months and experienced it myself. Because I’d never experienced it before, I knew mine was situational. The kind I don’t understand is chemical, and I don’t think I’ll ever experience that. For the people in your life that are leaving you out of ideas, try to figure out what it is that they fear. Helping my my loved ones face those fears is the thing that has been the most successful for me. You can’t do it for them, but you can suggest and support and even do it yourself and drag them along lol. I think it’s wonderful that you care enough to ask others for help with this. 🙂

      • When you’re in that situation, it’s hard to figure out what to do. Because we can’t make people do or feel certain ways. I have a very close friend who is always depressed and has no motivation and I’ve tried, his wife tried, but no one could seem to help. Sometimes I wanted to just sit and cry. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this thing. 🙁

  2. This is an amazing question and one I’m sure has an incredibly complex answer. If it’s just needing to understand, then I think you’re absolutely right, you make your own fate with what you’re given. If it’s more about you trying to help someone that doesn’t have the strength currently to remember that they are in control of themselves, then that’s a whole other can of worms..maybe more like a canyon than a can.

    I have people in my life like this, and the only reason I force myself to have the patience to find the thing that will help them realize they can do it (whatever *it* may be) is because either a) I love them or b) I feel like maybe if I just told/showed them they could, then they’d believe it themselves. I was always told I could have or doing anything I dreamed of and so most of the time, I have believed that I could. Not everyone was told that, believed it, or has been able to remember it with life running them over daily.

    • You’re absolutely right. I was also raised with that kind of attitude, so maybe that’s another of my contributing factors.

  3. Hmm, very interesting question. I’m someone who’s struggled with self-discipline all my life. I think that’s part of the reason I was heavy for so long. Now, going on the intense diet I did last year helped my self-discipline quite a bit, but I still struggle with it, and I can’t really say WHY. Maybe it’s because I was never pushed to do certain things. I do love walking and riding my bike outside, and I’ve got no problem getting my exercise in that way. But I hate treadmills and recumbent bikes (they flare up various physical problems), and I just don’t want to go down and do it.

    I’m a naturally tired person – one of those who has a lot of yawning days no matter how much sleep I get. It’s definitely gotten better over the last year because of healthy eating and a better schedule, but I still struggle with “meh.” Now, since signing my contract, I’ve been MUCH better about getting my butt in chair and working most of the day on something writing related. The problem is now two-fold: figuring out marketing and how much time to spend on it, and getting the %*#$*NG plot of the new book down so I can actually start writing again. I’ve given myself a deadline as to when the rough draft needs to be finished, and I’m working hard to stick to it.

    But I’m telling you, I have to PUSH myself every morning. I know that doesn’t answer your question. I’ve just always thought of myself as inherently lazy, lol.

    • No it’s very illuminating! It’s interesting to hear from people who struggle with (and overcome) a tendency toward no self discipline because it really does seem in general like we’re wired differently. Which makes it even more of a challenge to try to help those people find internal motivation.

      • Yes, we are all wired differently, and to echo Lauralynn’s second response, for me, part of it is depression. I argued against it for years until I wrecked my car (while TEXTING) in 2009 and took a downward spiral. Finally talked to the doctor and got on meds. I am a lot better, but still a work in progress. And I don’t complain because my depression isn’t all-consuming like a lot of people’s. It’s really just the occasional meh’s to fight through.

  4. I honestly believe a person cannot be helped unless they want to change. Be it someone who is lazy, has a gambling problem, an over-eater, an alcoholic, a drug addict…
    They either want to really change, or a force comes along that makes them (a death, loss of a child, loss of a home, etc).
    Of course, when you throw mental health in there (depression, bi-polar, borderline, etc) the lines blur.. and what may seem like a cake walk to someone not suffering, is Mt. Everest to the sufferer.
    I can be very lazy and procrastinate.. on the other hand, when I really want something, no one and nothing is stopping me from getting it!!

    Great topic today, Kait!

    • This is totally true. And my training is in clinical psychology, so I intellectually know the answers to all of this, but sometimes it’s hard to apply it to real life.

  5. Heather_Ponzer

    Someone was discussing this on The Today Show a while ago. This person wrote a book about how self-discipline is a muscle. Anyone can get these muscles, and they get stronger the more you work them. I absolutely believe this.

    I think a lot of people stay stuck in a rut out of fear. Fear that they’ll fail. When I struggle to do certain things that’s usually a factor. It certainly was with writing.

    But overall, I’m pretty disciplined and was a freak of nature to the rest of my family. Still am. Do you find it hard to actually take a break and relax? Cause I struggle with that.

    • I absolutely agree. Fear is a huge component for a lot of people.

      Yes, I absolutely do have trouble taking a break and relaxing. I’m bad at it.

  6. katecopeseeley

    Well, I was raised by an overachiever mother, so I have a LOT of self-discipline. However, there are a few things where I find myself lacking. Writing was one of them, fully admit it! Being accountable was what kept me going to finish up Aeris. And I was accountable through ROW80, so thanks for that. The same goes with losing that last 7 pounds of preggo weight. I have to confide in my friend and my husband about how I’m doing on the eating stuff (exercise is GREAT for me, because it’s a break from the kidlets, so the motivation is already there), otherwise I will PIG OUT on sweets!

    Vicki Keire has been bragging about twitter sprints and a couple of other ROW people have been talking about 750 words or something like that.

    It sucks about your day job and I REALLY REALLY wish you could quit it and write full time, simply because I’m super greedy and want to keep reading your work. You are a fantastic writer and it is a shame that you can’t make a living at it yet. But I’m confident that you will.

    • Oh you’re so sweet. I’ll get there. I’m very motivated. It’ll just take longer than I’d like 🙂

  7. I like this sentence a lot “The world, your friends, your family can all be supportive, but ultimately it comes down to YOU and YOUR internal motivation to make a change or do what needs to be done.” I think another factor comes in, which is fear. Maybe fear of what could happen or being reluctant to change because its hard.

    Very inspiration post Kait!!!

  8. authormarieandrews

    Excellent post Kait! I’ve always been a driven and motivated person, and I love to motivate others. I’ve also been shut out by friends for being too driven. I was thrown off my path at the end of September when my computer hard drive went caput, and I lost nine months worth of work.

    It took me three months to get my head screwed back on straight. I can’t remember ever feeling that lost in my life. I’ve always had direction. Those were difficult months because I couldn’t let anyone in (always been a loner), but those people who shut me out before were all too happy to support me, because I was at a low point. They were more sympathetic. So I had support when I was lost and hated my life…go figure. Frustrating considering I’m there for those same people regardless of whether they’re up or down.

    The nice thing is I’m back on track. The path is clear. It’s daily work, but it’s the good kind of work. And of course those same people aren’t nearly as supportive.

  9. I tend to agree with you, Kait, since I’m definitely more like you. The people I really don’t understand are those with no talents (that’s a matter of luck, I know), and on top of that, with no hobbies. What do they fill their lives with?

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