I have a confession to make. I’m not that good at self-discipline or self-motivation. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I suck at it. And of course, I feel guilty about this.

You wouldn’t think it to look at my background from the outside. I’ve pretty much always been a good student, completing assignments on time and receiving good grades. I’ve done martial arts (in some form or another) for a little over twenty years. I post daily on my blog. Heck, I finished a graduate degree! You’d think if nothing else did that would take some modicum of drive.

But from inside my head, the perspective is a little different.

It’s true that I did well in school. But I regularly left assignments until the last minute, rushing to get them into something resembling a presentable state. I got through grad school because it became a habit (that, and I wanted to succeed just to spite some of the professors). When I write a blog post, I often put it off until my girlfriend is on her way home from work, since that adds a time constraint. And while I did git my black belt, martial arts also became habitual, and whatever deep lessons and core values about perseverance and self-control didn’t seem to take.

Basically, I suck at doing anything without an externally-imposed deadline. I can tell myself, “Alright, we’ll get home from work, take a few minutes to check email and decompress. Then we’ll write so we can have the rest of the afternoon!” But inevitably I check Facebook. Then Tumblr. Then some of the blogs I read. Maybe a quick dip in a video game or two. Next thing I know, it’s almost 4h30 and the afternoon has been completely wasted.

And it’s not just writing. I could want to brush up on Drupal, or re-teach myself HTML and CSS. Or finish up my taxes. Or do the dishes. Or clean up my office. Or send out a few resumes. Inevitably, my achievements fall woefully short of my expectations.

Why is this? I don’t know. I look back, especially at my martial arts training, and wonder. Why can’t I motivate myself? Why can’t I be productive without a hard, fast deadline? What’s wrong with me?

Boy, that last question is more than a little loaded, isn’t it?

There is one thing I’m good at, apparently: internalizing expectations and a bunch of “Shoulds,” then beating myself up when Reality has its harsh way with me.

I’m trying to accept that who I am is who I am, no matter what other, seductive internal voices might say. And sometimes I even pull it off. But the sneaky things about internal voices is that, even if they aren’t yours, cloak themselves in your own identity. Using your own voice against you. Saying things like “You’re not good enough” and “Your motivation is bad, and you should feel bad!” And inevitably, you start to believe them.

I’ve tried to fight the voices. But no one’s making me do it. And that’s the hardest of all.

1 thought on “Self-Discipline

  1. Mark

    What have I told you about getting out of my head? Go on! Out! Git! C’mon, git!

    I think a lot of the issue, at least from my perspective, is growing up and living with the expectation that if you’re not doing something useful and productive, you’re a leech on society. There’s a lot of flak out there even now about how people who aren’t going out there, getting good jobs, working their way up the ladder, etc. are just lazy good-for-nothing layabouts who won’t amount to anything. If you’re not moving forward, you’re wasting both your time and the time of others.

    It’s kind of an interesting quandary. We say, as a society, that we want people to value their time with friends and family, to not take work so seriously, to learn to relax, and that such a world where we could do that would be ideal. But anyone who takes the time to do those things instead of moving up and trying to make their situation better (a better paying job, a bigger house, whatever) will very quickly get left behind in a corporate world that values drive over everything else. Granted, that does sound like an excuse for my own lack of progress; if the world doesn’t value what I do, then clearly there’s something wrong with the world, and not me. Nope, not a thing I can do about it, not at all!

    Well, there is, I just don’t seem to have the drive to do it. 😛

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