Self-discipline usually is one of those terms most people use in January when hastily scribbling out New Year’s Resolutions. Of course, that was before 2020 came along and tore a hole in the space-time continuum.
Every day is now Monduesday. Ketchup is a vegetable and the past seven months have been like the IRS, TSA, and DMV came together and created their own version of the most un-fun mandatory Halloween EVER.
***The kind where NO ONE gives you candy, only hand sanitizer and a hard time.
It’s been a weird year for everyone in the world. Most people have had their lives totally upended.
I’ve been working from home for going on twenty years and homeschooling for almost four. One would think I would have a major advantage and be doing smashingly! Nope. Even I’ve been going bonkers.
Yes, even though I’m an introvert who enjoys alone time, my world has gone down a rabbit hole. For someone who used to excel at self-discipline, it’s become like trying to swim laps in a pool of quicksand. Me, being the curious person I am decided to ask…
Self-Discipline Isn’t Just About Self
I wrote a post back in April, The Truth About Introverts & Why the Quarantine is Hard on Us, Too. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about introverts. People tend to think that, out of everyone, the introverts would be doing AMAZING with shut-downs, quarantines, lockdowns, etc., but (barring some rare exceptions) that’s far from true.
Feel free to click on the blog to learn more about my theories, and I talk about the extroverts, too. Most people are a mixture of both (ambiverts). Pure introverts and pure extroverts usually cannot function in society.
This said, I think self-discipline is a sort of misnomer in my POV. Yes, WE are ultimately responsible for ourselves, but as the poet John Donne so eloquently put it:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and Seuerall Steps in my Sickness- Meditation XVII, 1624
Humans are biologically wired to be social creatures. Thus, I feel that a lot of developing self-discipline, strengthening, and maintaining self-discipline hinges on human connection.
Relationships, peer pressure, healthy competition and social interaction all help us create stability and strengthen healthy habits and routines.
Self-Discipline & Routine
I believe a lot of us are struggling with self-discipline because, first of all, a lot of the systems that built routines into our lives as a matter of course have been disrupted or even dismantled.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve worked from home for years. Until 2020, a lot of people were envious of me (and couldn’t understand why I would actually be envious of them).
There is something to be said for getting up at a certain time, clocking into a physical space that is NOT your home, working, clocking out, then going to the gym, going home, or whatever.
There is a delineation in your time. When systems that once used to be separated suddenly get tossed into a blender—work, cleaning house, working out, doing bills, schooling kids, cooking, spiritual activity—it’s a battle.
Routine is one of the best ways to develop self-discipline muscles.
A great example is going to the gym.
The hardest part really isn’t the working out, it’s the walking through the door. Once inside, we see other people, we feel the rush, the heathy peer pressure and we’re golden. The trick is to keep doing it, to build a system that feeds that routine.
Add in Social Accountability
I believe self-discipline is becoming harder than it’s ever been because it really is more and more self-discipline.
Going it alone, as in ALL alone is a rare quality. Social accountability makes self-discipline a lot easier. Think about trying to do yoga at home versus being in the middle of a yoga class.
You’re more likely to finish the 45 minute class, because you don’t want to be the one person punking out ten minutes in. Even if you simply curl up in child pose, you’ll stay to avoid the walk of shame criss-crossing through everyone’s mats.
Maybe just me.
We are actually capable of a lot more than we realize, and often give up way too quickly. The whole NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) proves this every year when regular everyday people rise to the challenge and write 50,000 words in a month.
Social accountability not only keeps us from tapping out when we really could do more, but it can also spark us to do MORE because of good old fashioned competitive FUN.
We Are Not Alone
Back in the olden days, writing was a very solitary profession. This was why I started the whole W.A.N.A. movement first on Twitter as a hashtag, then Facebook, and finally I just created my own site on NING, W.A.N.A.Tribe.
***W.A.N.A. stands for We Are Not Alone, btw.
Initially, I created these groups on social media because writers were terrified to be on-line (but that was really only a side benefit). The real reason I created community was because I understood a) that peer pressure was amazing when it came to developing self-discipline and b) no writer stood a chance of ever making it unless they could keep butt in seat long enough to finish the books 😉 .
Peer pressure gives accountability.
When you’re brand new and wanting to start a blog or write a novel and you’re all on your own, it’s tough. I know, because that’s how I began. Once I joined a local writing group, I started taking my writing more seriously.
But, after a few years, I outgrew even that and needed more.
Eventually, I got away from running the W.A.N.A. groups on Twitter and Facebook because there was just too much distraction, data-mining, spam, and drama.
I pay for W.A.N.A.Tribe out of my own pocket because I want people to have a safe space free from ads, spammers, drama, trolls, and distraction. We’ve been meeting in the chat section 5 days a week every week all year long for over six years now.
We do one-hour sprints where you can write, research, blog, do laundry, homeschool your kids, cook dinner, plot global domination using genetically enhanced sea monkeys, whatever.
Sure, it’s mostly for writing, but we all know that being a writer involves a LOT more than putting words on a page.
We go for an hour, then when we call time, you report what you accomplished. This is when we chat for a bit, laugh, joke, encourage one another, then we go again. And, like my gym or yoga example, between the structure, focused time, and peer pressure, you’ll be SHOCKED how much more your are capable of doing when you add in these additional factors.
Every year that we’ve had NaNoWriMo participants, we’ve had over 90% completion (usually 100%) and in record time. Shortest was 50,000 words in 11 days. It’s amazing what we are capable of with a team cheering us on.
This said, in this weird year, checking in at The Tribe has been one of the few things that’s kept any semblance of order in my life. But I won’t lie, it has STILL been really tough.
Self-discipline should feel good. I know 2020 feels like we’ve been strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl and everything feels out of control. But, hard life fact here? Control is an illusion anyway.
So chill. Breathe. Find a couple areas where you can start and realize you are not alone. You’re human. Bad news? No one else can do this self-discipline thing FOR you. Great news? We can do it WITH you!
We might all be texting and zooming and meeting on-line, but this too shall pass and WE ARE NOT ALONE.
What Are Your Thoughts? I LOVE Hearing From You!
I know the whole W.A.N.A. Tribe thing sounds like an ad. I don’t make any money off any of y’all hopping in and telling us you’re gonna do some laundry in the next hour, finish painting the hallway, or outline your next romance. It’s a service I’ve been paying for since 2012.
I get the JOY of being on your team and knowing maybe I can help y’all add back some STRUCTURE into this crazy, crazy world.
That, and we do have a lot of fun.
What are your thoughts? Have you had a tougher time being self-disciplined? Do you think it has to do with our world having everything either closed down or closed off or the hours all weird? That the metrics we’d used for so long just went out the window and we’re trying to recalibrate? Maybe we are isolated and that’s jacking us up?
What are your ideas? Suggestions? I’d love different thoughts or angles. Because Halloween candy for breakfast will only cut it until the Reeses cups are gone…
Yeah, it’s tough on introverts, too. I think the toughest part is reminding ourselves that when we reach that point where we want to at least be among people, we realize that we can’t just hang around many places anymore, or they’re the same places which is boring as heck.
I miss sitting in Starbucks and just people watching, smelling the smells and whatnot. I can re-create most of that effect at home (birds chittering and dogs barking create plenty of background noise), but I guess it’s the minutae, the smells and the ebb and flow of conversation or the unexpected sound. Those things spice up life a little, even some of the little annoyances. It’s trickier to write without those little unplanned sights and sounds, because sometimes they jar something loose or create new avenues to explore or character quirks to put in the story.
Though I gotta admit, I’m very happy not having to listen to someone’s speakerphone conversation about a lousy party or upcoming doctor’s appointment while I passive-aggressively and obviously put on my noise-cancelling headphones (and can still hear the call). Yeah, that part I don’t miss.
Kristen, I joined the W.A.N.A. Tribe awhile ago, but I think I just didn’t understand what it was about or how to interact, exactly. I probably needed a tutorial. What you said here made sense. I never thought of needing other people to help me with MY self-discipline. I’ll give it another shot. Thanks!
Just jump into the CHAT section and we sprint all day. We used the tribes ages ago for private groups, but the chat turned out to be way more effective and fun.
Oh, Kristen! You have absolutely nailed the psyche of the introverted writer with this piece. I always look forward to getting your posts in my inbox, and this one was exactly what I needed on this particular day. Thanks!
I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. It’s a lot of work to do these posts so I love to know they brighten your day!
Thank you for this quality article, Kristen! This has really helped to ground me and helps me see why I have been thriving when doing live sprints with other authors. You are right: without accountability, we can often struggle to muster up the motivation for work.