Discipline: How I’ve Learned to “Get Things Done”

“Rather than agonizing over whether you are ‘good enough,’ make it your purpose in life to develop your own special gifts in a way that enlivens both yourself and others.” - Jack Poggi, The monologue workshop

They say to write about things that you know something about, so I thought I’d write about discipline. Only, I became disciplined by learning about what it takes to be disciplined, and there are a few teachers that have especially stood out to me. I would like to share these with you now.

What The Past 2 Years Have Taught Me About Discipline

The Steps

1. Keys to Creating an Effective Goal

(Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

First, you need to set a goal. I think that  you should definitely have goals that are sort out of your control (like winning awards or getting a specific agent) but for the purpose of this exercise, try choosing a goal that you can measure based on your own effort. For example: Running the race in under __ minutes, completing my novel, losing __ pounds.

When it comes to goal setting, Stephen Covey’s “rules” work really well for me:

1. Whatever you choose, it needs to be your own goal, not someone else’s goal that you have absorbed.
2. Your goal should focus primarily on result rather than activity.
3. It should identify where you want to be, and, in the process, help determine where you are.
4. It should give you important information on how to get there, and tell you when you have arrived.
5. It should unify your efforts and energy.
6. It should ignite meaning and purpose in all that you do.
7. Finally, it should translate itself into daily activities so that are proactive.

“You are in charge of your life, you are making happen each day the things that will enable you to fulfill your personal mission statement” – Stephen Covey

The examples I gave above all fit into these criteria. I think the most important thing is that your goal gets you excited.

2. Clear Space For The New

(Arielle Ford, The Tiferet Talk Interviews)

Once you have your goal, the next step is to clear space for change. This is something that I’ve had to do recently. As some of you may recall, I started teaching spin classes about a year ago. I really loved it, but about 1 month ago I gave my notice at the club and stopped teaching. I’d started when I had the intention of pursuing something of a career in the fitness industry, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m also grappling with letting go of my position with examiner.com. Sometimes you need to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. You can’t do everything. You must make room for change.

Arielle had this to say:

“On a nice, sunny day, open all the doors and all the windows, and take out a broom, and with your imagination, sweep their energy out all the doors and out the windows so that you are literally moving their energy out. And then to further prepare your home and your space for somebody, you want to clear out any clutter, so you want to move any mementos, photos, or keepsakes from the past relationship. You don’t necessarily need to throw them away, but you do need to put them away. “the universe hates a void.” So, in essence, if you’re clearing that space, you’re also opening it for someone else to come along, right?”

Do this after you’ve set your goal. You need to brush out old ways of thinking. Get rid of both old successes and old failures. It wasn’t until I took down all the theatre posters from productions I’d done in university (in which, for many of them, I had small roles) that I booked my role on Made of Stone. Make room.

3. Focus Your Mind

(Gary Mack, Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence)

“One key to achieving success in sports is learning how to focus on the task and not let negative thoughts intrude. The mind can concentrate on only one thing at a time. So rather than suppress what you don’t want to happen, you must focus on what you do want to happen, or on some neutral thought.”

Now that you’ve set your goal, and cleared some space so that you have the room to work towards it, you next need to focus your mind. Your thoughts are more than happy to tell you why you can’t do what you want to do. That’s why you need to trick it.

“Your mind works most effectively when you’re telling it what to do rather than what not to do.”

Here’s an exercise, that Gary Mack provides in his book, that will help you to focus.

Exercise: Choose a word that, when said to yourself, will block out all negative thought and help relieve tension.

I would also recommend visualizing the result that you’re looking for. Picture yourself with the finished manuscript, or finishing the race in the desired time, or living in your dream home. Remember:

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”

- William Arthur Ward

4. Hang Out With the Like-Minded

(Jack Canfield, The Success Principles)

I’m sure that you’ve heard this one before. You need to hang out with people who are where you want to be. Besides this, you should also look for a mentor. Keep this in mind. A mentor is not something you deserve, it’s something you earn.

When it comes to mentors, you should be looking for “advice from people who have already traveled the path [you are on]. The most successful people in the world make a habit of seeking regular guidance and support from experts in their fields.”

Check out Jack Canfield’s complete article here: 5 Steps for Building a Successful Mentor Relationship.

5. Create a Plan

I think that it’s important to plan your time, otherwise getting anywhere can feel intimidating. I use a weekly planner that is based on a template I found in Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Here is the template. You are more than welcome to use it. I have detailed instructions on how to use it inside the document. If you need an example, here is one that I completed for the week of November 10-16.

I also recommend the app Lift.

Oh yeah, and the other part of this is of course that you need to show up. I’m sure you’ve heard it 1000 times, but there really is no getting around doing the work.

6. Build a Bridge into the Next Day

(Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit)

I love this advice from Twyla Tharp:

“Don’t drive yourself to the point of being totally spent. Try stopping while you still have a few drops left in the tank, and use that fuel to build a bridge to the next day. confident way.”

After you’re done work for the day, make you don’t stop feeling exhausted, but with some extra fuel in the tank. Whenever possible, have a place to start from the next day. For example, on more than one occasion I’ve made the mistake of pushing myself way too hard during a run or workout. The result: I’m afraid to go for another run because all I can remember is almost puking near the end. Try to end each work session with a smile, and a memory of how rewarding what you’re doing feels.

In addition, this is a lesson that I learned recently: Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do, ALWAYS focus on what you did do. You’ll be much happier for this advice. Some days you may get nothing done, but beating yourself won’t get you any closer towards your goal. Simply make a promise to yourself that you’ll do better tomorrow. Keep moving forward.

7. Find the Courage

(Steven Pressfield, The War of Art)

Finally, after you’ve done all of this, the next step is to let go and find the courage to move forward towards your goal with your shoulders back and your head held high. The next step is to believe that you can actually do this.

“When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens. A crack appears in the membrane. Like the first craze when a chick pecks at the inside of its shell. Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to the person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius.”

I strongly believe that we all have a little bit of genius inside of us. For most, however, it has been shoved down and repressed because of fear.

I came across this quote recently and I really like it:

 “people will kill you over time, and how they will kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases like ‘Be Realistic.”‘ – Dylan Moran

One of the final exercises in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, is to create a fear jar where you put all your fears for “safe keeping.” I especially liked this exercise because it helped me to put a visually see the energy that I didn’t want: How to Create Your Own Fear Jar.

Also, check out these quotes from Morgan Freeman, Samuel Beckett and Anna Quindlen on overcoming fear: Study the Greats and Become Greater


I hope that you found all of this helpful. If you have a step that I might have missed, please share in the comments below. 

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