He used to smoke cigarettes. A lot of. If I ran out of cigarettes and the shops were closed, nothing would happen, I would take butts out of the ashtray or garbage and smoke them. I was smoking right when I woke up and right before I went to bed. Sometimes he smoked while eating. I knew it was a disgusting habit, one that could kill me, make my face look like an old shoe, and make it stink like a bar rag, but I was so into it that, as with all abusive relationships, I chose to pretend. nothing was happening even though in the back of my head there was a little voice screaming: “Stop! Please stop! We are dying around here!”
Then one day I was about to drive from my beloved New Mexico to Los Angeles and my love story came to a sudden halt. The night before, she had spent a particularly unpleasant evening sitting smoking cigarette after cigarette with three other smoke-loving friends. It was kind of like how after a particularly nasty night of drinking, you decide that you will never drink again. Only unlike those losers, I was serious. Oh yes it was.
I packed up my car, lowered the top, and began my road trip through the desert as a smoke-free woman. Smoke free as soon as I finished the 6 cigarettes I still had in my pack, that is. “I’ll smoke one now, and another when I get to Gallup, then in Flagstaff I’ll stop for lunch and have one there …” Suddenly I realized that there I was, under a beautiful desert sky, listening to my favorite music, from top to bottom, surrounded by warm sweet desert air, flying, free, happily accelerating, and all I could think of was the next time I would voluntarily suffocate. I realized that I couldn’t enjoy one of my favorite things to do on this planet because I was distracted by something that I knew I wanted to stop doing. I also realized that I was a big liar, that I was already delaying my quit date as I would be arriving in town at a good friend’s party and would definitely want to smoke, so maybe I shouldn’t quit until next week when …
I stopped the car and threw out all six cigarettes and haven’t had a puff since. That was more than ten years ago and it was a very significant moment because I realized something huge that applies to everything in life: if there is something you really want to do, the only way to get there is to stop negotiating. Do it NOW, not after losing five pounds or having more money or more time or whatever you “need” to do before you start. Negotiating and doubting are the deadly enemies of self-discipline. I decided at that point that I was not a smoker. It became a non-negotiable fact. I didn’t smoke, so I wasn’t going to spend more time thinking “maybe maybe just a cigarette” than I was going to spend thinking maybe inhaling horse tranquilizers. I am not a snort of horse tranquilizers, nor a smoker. Next topic please.
This mindset works with everything: if you want to lose weight, decide that you are a person who does not eat sugar. Forever. Or who only eats one cookie at a party instead of ten. Or who gets up at 6:30 and exercises. Or if you are a writer, decide that you are a person who writes every day at noon for half an hour. Or who writes two pages a day. If you start negotiations, you open the room for failure. If you make it happen, just do it, no questions asked, and move on to something else. It’s a blast, it really works, I promise.
Here are my top 5 tips for breaking the whip and disciplining yourself:
More on this important topic can be found in Twyla Tharp’s amazing book, The Creative Habit. She is a self discipline machine and this book is one of the best spankings I have ever received.
Set realistic goals.
Don’t decide you’re a 20-mile-a-day runner when you still consider walking to the pizza parlor around the corner as a day of exercise. Start by running a mile a day and add more as you get stronger. Discipline is a muscle, you have to develop it at your own pace. If you bite off more than you can chew at first, it is very likely that you will become discouraged and give up completely. Set achievable goals and slowly build from there.
Remember your why.
When that sexy piece of chocolate cake catches your eye, remember how much better it will feel to weigh five pounds less than during those two minutes, rolling chocolate in the hay. If you are writing and you are tempted to get up and wash the dishes, make a phone call, do ANYTHING but write, remember how wonderful it will feel to have a real live book with your name that will help the world. Make your “why” your mantra, bring it back to the front of your mind when temptation shows you its sexy smile and you will be a powerful and unstoppable force. It will also keep your emotion level high, which will keep you motivated and help you get the job done.
Write down your achievements.
Keep track of how well you are doing and give yourself a good cheer on a regular basis. Self-discipline is on your mind, so making your mind a happy and focused place is key. The more you realize how well you are doing, the more you will be inspired to keep the ball rolling.
Make a bet with someone bad.
If you are someone who really likes responsibility, this can be a great way to stay in line. Place a bet with someone who will force you to do it, someone who doesn’t pamper you or “understands that you did the best you could,” that you won’t accept excuses, and that they will show up at your door if they stop answering your calls. And be sure to bet something that is painful enough to lose, but not too realistic. For example, you could bet someone $ 100 that they will have the first chapter of their book written by a certain date. Make it a payable amount that you don’t really want to pay.