Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Thing About Discipline...

Before I begin, I'd like to note that yes, I am aware that I'm writing a blog post on discipline despite this being my 2nd post in about 4 months. Obviously, I have not kept the discipline to write a blog post once a month...

But, something I have heard quite often recently is that I have discipline. People are surprised at how much I work, how much I do, and they often ask or wonder what it is that pushes me or motivates me to keep working. Without patting myself on the back too much, I work a full time job, I draw almost every day, I take improv classes, scene study (if I'm not in a play), write, am editing a movie (let's not talk about that one yet...) all while trying to stay social, see my friends, and sleep 7-8 hours.

Is it discipline?

Yeah, maybe. I'd like to think so.

How do I do it? Let's see if I can put it in words.

Now, I know for my last blog post, I had a numbered article and while this follows a similar format - I'm not numbering my sections. Why?

Because these all build up on each other. This isn't an article on "the best x ways to build discipline" or anything of the sort. This is the hierarchy that creates the 'discipline' or 'work ethic' I believe I've built up over time for myself. You'll see later that it turns into an ideology of sorts and it's really my belief system that permeates my motivation.

Break up your goals into small tasks

I have a lot of goals. It's the only reason I do things. You do too. You may not notice it. For example, work can be a goal or a means to a goal. What goal? That depends. Right now, my job is a means to the goal of 'living in New York City' but also a means to 'advancing my career in ____' (my job allows for a flexible career path so the blank is a strange grey area). So in a weird way, work is both its own goal as well as means to other goals.

But that's not my only goal. Becoming a freelance illustrator. That's a goal that, if achieved, will be ongoing. Technically, I have achieved that goal, but to the point where I'm even remotely satisfied. How do I get there? Well, I need to be better at illustrating. So I draw every day. The same goes for writing, acting, whether the goal is 'finish a novel/short story/script' or 'land a role', or even 'audition.' Nothing happens overnight and little steps are the way to get...anywhere really.

So I break up those goals into small tasks. I try to draw every day, even if I'm not working on a painting. If I know I'll have an hour of free time post-drawing, I can whip out a writing draft. If I have class in a few days, I'll pull out a monologue or scene. Smaller tasks are much easier to do and they create habit. Which brings me to another point.

Have some structure

This tip is a bit misleading. Or, at least, it's not what you think it might be. Structure doesn't have to be rigid. It doesn't have to mean rules. I hate rules. So I don't like making rules for myself. However, I have thought about scheduling my days out in terms of X minutes for drawing, x minutes for writing, x minutes for etc. I know it'll work, but I don't feel like I need to apply so much structure to my life right now.

However, you may be much more comfortable with such a structure. At work, I adhere to a calendar and it can be very time-efficient to hold yourself to one in life. At home, I know that there are pending projects. When I'm in my room, I know that if I work on any one of them, even for at least 20 minutes, I'll end up working on them much longer than expected. On weekends, it's sometimes difficult, but I can often still get a good amount done.

That's why I like thinking of things in small tasks. Small tasks done every day create habit which have an inherent structure within them. Eventually, those small tasks become so normal to me that I feel strange having not done them. But what about if I'm too tired, or if I start getting burned out?

Give yourself a cheat

Let me go off into a bit of a tangent here. I have a semi strict eating regiment. I eat almost no carbs outside of fruit. No rice, no bread, no crackers, chips, etc. What allows me to do that? 

Letting myself cheat every now and then. Are we getting free pizza at work? I'm gonna eat pizza. Weekends? I'll be out with friends so no need to stick to the 'no carbs' rule.

These little cheats and the knowledge that I'll have those cheats are what allow me to, for any non-cheat meal, stick with a no-carbs rule. Much in the same way, knowing that any given day I'll work on my various projects, I give myself a little bit of a cheat everyday. Some TV there, some gaming here. Nothing less than an hour or else I start feeling unproductive. 

It might sound like I'm working myself too hard. Just one hour of leisure time? That's so little! That might be true if it weren't for the next point.

Understand the value of hard work (enjoy it!)

When talking about goals, one of the large looming goals in my life is success. What does success look like exactly? There's no one way of putting it, but like I mentioned - it's getting work as an illustrator, it's being paid to act, being paid to write. With all of these goals in mind, the best way of achieving these goals is by being good at writing, painting, etc. How do you get good? 

Hard work.

There's no magic formula, no 'hack', tip, trick. I read and consume a lot of media regarding people whom I consider successful. Time and time again, what's consistent about their path to success is hard work. Hard work is hard (duh) but it's not impossible. I can work hard. We all can. And when hard work pays off, I love it. Even more importantly, I love working hard. I enjoy all the things I do - painting, acting, writing. If I didn't, I wouldn't do them. So if you find yourself unhappy with the work you're doing, even if an end result seems appealing to you, really ask yourself if that's something you want to be doing. Because if you don't enjoy the process, then why are you doing it?

But wait. Is hard work really all there is? What about luck, coincidence, who you know - all those other circumstances that come in play when we talk about success. They play a large part and shouldn't be ignored. You can work hard, but, some would argue, if you're unlucky, you're stuck. Yes but here's where my personal philosophy comes in.

Know that you're responsible for it all. In other words, be hard on yourself. 

There are very few things I believe in. God, luck, astrology, fate, ghosts - it's all the same to me. Nonexistent. For the majority of these things (ghosts being the odd one out), part of the belief in these things is a concession that what happens in one's life is out of one's control. Fate, luck, God's will - those are all explanations of why the world is the way it is. 

I don't see it that way. And without getting into any argument or discussion on the existence of such things, whether or not they do or don't exist, one's own will cannot exert influence on it, due to the very nature of those beliefs. Fate is fate, God is god, luck is luck. Even if I believed in them, how could I affect them?

So what do I believe in? Myself. Not in some kind of wispy fashion of 'if I just believe in myself, I can do anything!' but rather 'you have SO much control over your life, you better accept that control and affect that control.' I believe I can exert my will unto my life not through any kind of positive thinking or merely believing that everything happens for a reason. I actively reject that. Instead, I exert my will unto my life through my own actions. You can probably see where this is going. My actions of 'working hard' is an expression of my will that, I believe, will manifest into success and achievements of my goal.

So when I don't draw or work on any of the projects I'm on, I'm hard on myself. I get upset with myself and I really beat myself up about it. It can be argued that I put too much pressure on myself but honestly, there's no where else I place that pressure. I am responsible for how my life is and that's why I keep working. Because no one else is going to work for me.

Thanks for reading