Productivity: Discipline Mindset

Sometimes goals feel huge and unmanageable to me.

Do you ever feel that way?

Like, write a novel worth publishing.

*insert terrified face here*

When I think of the ultimate end goals I have for various aspects of my life, I can become PARALYZED and then I fail to act on anything at all.

Last week, I shared about creating SMART goals and this builds on that idea. No goal is accomplished overnight (okay, not many goals are accomplished overnight). So if things aren’t accomplished overnight and the goals feel totally overwhelming, how do we move forward?

With a little thing I like to call incremental forward progress.

This is simply breaking the goal down into smaller pieces that CAN be accomplished on a shorter and smaller scale than the ultimate finished goal.

Since I want to write a novel worth publishing, I have SO MANY steps I can break this into:

  • Write a first draft
  • Proof of concept readers
  • Edit
  • Alpha readers
  • Edit
  • Critique group
  • Edit
  • Beta readers
  • Edit
  • Editor
  • Edit

These can also be broken into even smaller categories. Every chapter is another mini-goal to reach in the editing stage or even in the early reader stages. And each one is totally manageable on its own and eventually, as I work my way through to the bottom of this list, I will have my goal – a book worth publishing.

Of course, with eight million steps between me and my goal, it’s easy to lose focus. It’s easy to get off track. It’s easy to get bored and want to move on. After all, how many semi-completed projects do I have just sitting around? I know I have two that made it through the proof of concept reads and another that stalled out in the alpha reader phase (because arguably the book wasn’t engaging enough to keep them wanting to read).

But these are fully drafted projects! And they’re stuck in various stages of completion.

That’s where the concept of discipline comes in.

Gross, right? I know.

Discipline – that ability to do what I know NEEDS to be done rather than doing what I WANT to be doing (which is often eating cookies or watching a nature documentary). Discipline is HARD. It’s really hard to keep going. To keep coming back to this project over and over. To edit the same thing for the FOURTH time (does editing EVER end? Seriously!). To comb through critique comments and tweak this and that (or even totally overhaul it).

I know many writers advocate writing every. single. day. I’d love to do that, but my discipline isn’t there yet. It’s something I’m consciously working toward this year, though. That and learning how to REST on Sundays. To avoid the temptation to dive into everything on Sunday afternoon rather than finish out the entire day resting and working the rest of the week from my rested state.

It takes discipline to do what ought to be done. It takes discipline to override my immediate wants and needs. It takes discipline to remain focused on my goals.

There are times I’ve remained mostly disciplined – when I have finished drafts. Or run a marathon. Or an ultra-marathon. Or a trail race. And you know what? I’ve never regretted the discipline required to accomplish these goals. Not one time have I wish I’d been LESS disciplined. Usually I wish I had been MORE disciplined because I know I could have done it better if I’d listened to discipline more often than whim.

I could have run faster or farther or with less pain had I been disciplined to maintain a strength routine. I could be a year ahead of where I am with my books if I had maintained discipline to work on them even when I didn’t feel like it.

The other thing I am learning this year, though, is grace. To remember that I am but a humble human being who is limited in every single way. To remember that there are things in my life more important than getting through one more chapter. To remember that even I get sick and need more rest sometimes.

Life can be such a funny thing where for weeks all goes well and then in the span of four days, everything you’ve worked to maintain falls apart because nothing seems to go right. I totally get that. I’m fighting off a cold as I write this. So you can believe there’s been no running, no strength training, no much of anything going on this week as I try to step back and allow my body to recover. My instinct wants to drive me harder, faster, and longer to get just one more thing done.

But I haven’t been.

I’ve been going to bed at 9ish and sleeping in until 6 or 7 instead of waking up at 5 to get in a few miles or a yoga workout. I’ve even been taking Nyquil to help myself sleep all night instead of suffering through no sleep all night because I feel so crummy.

Discipline requires that we take care of ourselves first, then tasks and goals. If I am not healthy, I can’t do anything for anyone else. It’s a mindset for sure, one that I’m trying to build up and have been trying to build up since I wrote about it six months ago now. I think I’m more disciplined than I was then, but I have so much farther to go.

How about you? Where do you stand on the discipline front? Or do you more sit and watch the discipline parade roll by?