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Entries from December 2012

The Gift of Discipline (with thanks to Anne Lamott)

December 14th, 2012 · 22 Comments

Too busy, too tired, too scattered to move forward with your dreams and important goals?  I know.  I struggle with it, too. 

When I’m not too busy or too tired to even start, my blog writing sessions sometimes go like this:

Get excited about a topic!!!  Write one sentence.  Re-read sentence several times.  Check email.  Think about second sentence on way to kitchen to make tea.  While water heats, rummage through purse to locate cell phone.  Check phone messages.  Plug cellphone into charger.  Pour hot water into cup, add tea.  While tea steeps, look around house for book that’s marginally relevant to writing topic.   Return to kitchen without book.  Remove a few receipts from purse while tea cools.  Pile receipts on counter for eventual filing.   Start load of laundry while tea cools more.

Whoops!  Before you know it, I’m either out of time or too tired to write.  Oh, and my tea is stone cold, too.

Sound familiar?

Anne Lamott, one of my very favorite writers, was recently in town at the Miami Book Fair.  She addressed this very topic–how to move forward with our dreams.

Anne took the stage in loose, faded jeans, sandals, and a white cotton peasant blouse.  Her unruly blonde dreads were tied back with a scarf.  She wore no makeup.

 During her talk, a fussy toddler began to protest being confined in his seat.  Anne stopped mid-sentence, and turned to fish around in a large shoulder bag that she’d plopped on the floor behind her.  Smiling broadly, she pulled out a plastic baggie of crayons and stepped down off the stage.  She walked through the auditorium to the baby and gave him the crayons. When she returned to the stage, she mirthfully told us that Sunday School teachers always carry crayons.  

 Anne’s that kind of fun, unpredictable person. 

 Yet, she gets things done.  She writes books.  Excellent, meaningful, funny, wonderful books.  Lots of them.  Many of them were written when she was a single mother with a young child.

 How does this spontaneous, free-spirited person do it? 

We found out when a woman in the audience asked Anne for advice.  The woman wants to write but has a busy life–a job, kids, a household to run, too much to do.  You know, the usual.  Our usual.  She told Anne that in the evenings, she’s only has enough energy to hang out on Facebook.  What can she do, she asked?

 Anne dished up some tough love.

 “The path to freedom is through discipline,” Anne told her.  “You will either write now, or never.” 

 “We don’t have the time to wait,” she continued.  “Treat every day as if it’s your last.  Ask yourself what you will care about at the end of your life?  Having spent your evenings on Facebook? Watching the 10 pm news?  Or something else?   If you want to write, you must commit that every evening at 10 pm you will write for an hour, come hell or high water.”

 Wow!

 The path to freedom is through discipline. Treat every day as if it’s your last.  You don’t have time to wait. It’s now or never.  Commit to do it, come hell or high water.

 Isn’t that what’s required to accomplish any of our dreams, any of our goals?  It’s how books and blogs and stories get written.  It’s how weight gets lost and kept off.  It’s how businesses get established and moved forward.  It’s even how we harness our inner voice of worry or any other self-destructive habit. 

 We don’t wait.  We either do it now.  Or never. 

 Anne’s talk was a beautiful reminder that we can have the self-discipline to accomplish our dreams and still be fun-loving, generous and spontaneous.

 It really isn’t that hard.  Letting a dream slip away is much, much harder.

 The truth is we are all disciplined.  We all have areas of life where we don’t hide behind our lame excuses, where we just show up and get the job done.  We brush our teeth regularly.  We pay the electric bill and feed our kids, too, not just when we’re not busy or when we feel like it.  We do it consistently.  With commitment and discipline.  We do it because we like our teeth and our lights and our kids well enough to take care of them.

 We must treat our dreams with that same commitment and discipline.  We must replace those old “I can’t/I’m too busy/I’m too tired” stories with the truth. 

Here’s the truth:  if we regard our dreams as essential to our well-being as we regard our electricity, we’ll move on them.

 Then, we can take “it’s now or never” to heart.  We can easily give up time on Facebook, watching television, checking email, or whatever words and habits we allow to suck up our precious time.

The result?  Time and energy for writing without interruption, no snacks after dinner, neglected business goals accomplished, freedom from the grip of worrying.

 So what’s your dream?  The one you don’t have the time or the energy for?  The one that, at the end of your life, you will want to have accomplished?  Here are some considerations, based on Anne’s wise advice, that will help you move forward:

 1. Ask yourself what is burning inside that wants to be liberated, accomplished, achieved?  What, at the end of your life, do you really want to have done? Identify the non-essential things you do instead—social networking, reality TV, or, like me, a murky soup of random activities.  Be sure to include all the time you spend ruminating about how you hate some aspect of yourself or your life—it’s a major time sucker.

2.  Identify the stories you tell yourself that get in your way.  The ones like “I don’t have time” and “I’m too busy.”  Get really honest about those stories, and remind yourself of all of the things you regularly do notwithstanding those stories.

 3.  Commit to use your precious time and energy for your dreams.  Remember that your dreams are as essential to your well-being as the electricity in your home.  Turn off the TV, get off Facebook, let the email wait until tomorrow.  Start immediately.  Remember what Anne said—it’s now or never.  Put your time and energy into your dreams, come hell or high water.  You don’t have time to wait.

 4.  Cultivate patience. Remind yourself that a big goal or dream takes time to develop. Remind yourself that changing habits takes time.  Remind yourself to take tiny steps forward.  Remind yourself that this is what progress looks like, and taking time is part of the process.

 5.  Bust yourself with kindness. Gently bust yourself when you need to, and then recommit and get back to work.  And remember—it’s especially important to speak to yourself kindly, reverently, and respectfully when busting yourself.

 Discipline like this—honest, authentic, committed, patient, kind–is a wonderful gift to yourself. You’ll be amazed at how great you feel, too, when you are moving forward toward your goals and dreams, rather than focusing on how tired and time-limited you are. It’s truly the key to your dreams and the path to freedom.

Now, finally!  I’m going to go make myself a cup of tea.  And drink it before it cools off.

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