The Gift of Discipline (with thanks to Anne Lamott)

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.”


 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.

22 thoughts on “The Gift of Discipline (with thanks to Anne Lamott)

  1. Terry Post author

    Thanks Sarah! It almost feels like I’m using a dirty word–discipline–but it really isn’t!

  2. Missy Nemeth

    Hi Terry,
    Just wanted to share this on FB but don’t see a button. Is there a way to do it? Thanks! Missy

  3. Yasemin

    Interesting post. I’m all for living life to the fullest etc, but I never understood the argument ‘and what will you regret on your deathbed’? This seems to be made in the assumption that anyone really knows how it is to die, and would sort of live on to ‘tell the tale’ afterwards. Who cares? When you’re dead, you’re dead. Maybe you will appreciate that you’ve watched the 10pm news. Or you won’t care, or you will think about something completely different (if you are still able to think, because let’s face it, we don’t even know how we are going to die.) So I’m always amazed to read this widely popular ‘make sure you follow all your dreams, so that you don’t regret stuff on your deathbed’ argument. It makes little sense to me.
    Otherwise, I fully agree to cherish life, follow your dreams, live passionately. Not for the deathbed, but for the here and now.

  4. Jackie

    Thanks for this post Terry. It was like you were following me around my house, busy and getting nothing accomplished. Funny how we always have discipline to do for others and not for ourselves and our dreams.

  5. hatt

    LOVE THIS! Actually, I am challenged by it and really need to apply it to my process. You have expressed my challenge so clearly that I am printing this and placing it in a spot where I cannot avoid it! Thanks and blessings Terry!

  6. Terry Post author

    Fantastic, Hatt! I am challenged with this too. I wrote it as a reminder to myself! Glad it will help.

  7. Linda Ford

    Love this Terry. Put’s everthing into perspective. Especially this line:

    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.

  8. Terry Post author

    That is amazing, isn’t it, Jackie? Women, especially, will drop whatever is on their own agenda to come to the rescue of someone else. I think that’s pretty close to the definition of co-dependency, isn’t it? 😉

  9. Betsy

    “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.”

  10. Terry Post author

    Hi Missy–you can share it from my Facebook page. I’ll have to get the right widget on this blog for the future. thanks!

  11. Terry Post author

    Yasemin–You are right that regrets are of no use to the dying. But those themes, revealed in numerous interviews of the dying and the hospice workers who care for them, are powerful information for the living. For some of the living, it provides motivation. Obviously, not for you!! Thanks for your perspective!

  12. Yasemin

    Hi Terry, it’s just that I don’t focus on the deathbed thing, I guess :). Life is very precious (and short!), and I think it’s important to live passionately and joyfully now, irrespective of what may or may not be at some later point in time…

  13. Terry Post author

    You are so right, Yasemin! Living passionately and joyfully now is the place for our focus. Thanks, again for your persepctive.

  14. Kirsten

    Terry, dear,
    This is EXACTLY what I need to get me kick-started for 2013. Thanks so much for a great post!

  15. Denise Costabile

    Read this today as a result of Susan Hyatt posting it. I am so glad I followed the link!
    Than you for putting forth tour wisdom. Wishing you many cups of hot tea. 🙂

  16. Leda

    The path to freedom is through discipline!

    In January I decided to give up diets and lose weight by loving myself, understanding myself, feeling compassion for myself. That is fine and dandy but what happened is I became too zen, too loving and compassionate and forgot all about discipline! So I gained 10 lbs since then…

    Needless to say, I really needed this today. Thank you, Terry.

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