There are two things to I want to address when it comes to discipline: Will power & Habits
Many people think, if I need to become more self-disciplined, I need to have more will power. This is true, however, it is unsustainable. Will power is a finite resource and should be treated as such.
Most people have a full tank of Will power when they first wake up. But throughout the day things will drain your will power reserves. Cold day, but still need to get up to go to work? That takes will power. Choosing to pack a healthy breakfast, instead of that piece of cake left over from the day before? That takes willpower. By the end of the day, your will power reserves are depleted, so those good choices are harder to make, and you give in to temptation or what is easy.
So use your will power wisely, and where possible, use willpower to create good habits. (More on that in a second). Notice when you use will power, and ask yourself how can I avoid this moment so I don’t have to exert willpower?
So for example, the night before, I set up my sketchbook and computer, so all I have to do is pick up a pencil and draw. Picking up a pencil takes less willpower than setting up my sketchbook, finding and opening up reference images on my computer. I get that all done the night before.
Another example of this is healthy eating. I would prefer to exert 1 bit of willpower at the supermarket and buy only healthy food, than having to battle myself throughout the day, every day, to not eat those biscuits. If I don’t by the biscuits in the first place, then I don’t have to exert the willpower to not eat them (I love choc-chip biscuits!)
Creating good habits, and eliminating bad habits are key to success. Once you have developed a good habit, over time self-discipline becomes less and less involved, and it actually becomes uncomfortable to NOT do it. (Ever gone to bed and not brushed your teeth and not being able to sleep till you do - that's an example of a good habit in action)
A book I recommend for developing strong habits is Switch by Dan and Chip Health. In it, they talk about the Elephant and the Rider and the Path they take.
Here is a good video on it. Watch this first before continuing on.
Make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to do. I find it easy to just follow through a course, or preplan how I’m going to tackle a new piece. Even if it is dot points of basics things to do, just the process of thinking how you are going to do something helps.
You need to be emotionally invested in what you are doing and reward yourself for doing something good. Know what your big audacious goal is - it should be personal and an emotional investment for you. Connect those little actions to getting yourself closer to your big audacious goal. Even if you don’t like doing something, connect how it fits into getting you closer to your goal. If it is really tough, do it first thing in the morning (when willpower is at its highest)
This is your environment. Like the examples I gave for will power, these are shaping your environment for you to actually do what you want to do. Have your environment push you to achieve your goals. Eg, if you have kids, get up at 5am when everyone is asleep, so you don’t get interrupted when drawing? Set your drawing environment up before bed so its easy to just draw. I use to have a coffee machine with a timer, it would start brewing at 4:55am, so as soon as I wake up, BAM! Coffee. I do personal work in the morning before my 9-5, because I know I won’t have the energy/willpower to do stuff in the evening. I can sit around, relax and do nothing if I want and not feel guilty.
Your environment also includes the people around you. Surround yourself with people that encourage you. Get your S.O. on board. Get an accountability buddy to lift you up when you fall down. Get a mentor to help guild you (or at least a course that helps you grow). I have an art mate who mentors me and keeps me accountable. We talk monthly. I also have other mates who I talk to weekly who are always encouraging me and holding me accountable and making sure that I’m enjoying the process (which is something I often forget). Everything around me is driving me forward and keeping it FUN.
If your path is smooth, it makes it so much easier for the rider and elephant.
The Key To Habits
The main thing about building a new habit is consistancy. Many people go all in and say, I’m going to draw for 2 hours every day. This is going from 0-100 and requires a ton of willpower to get this habit started. More than likely, you will quickly burn out.
A better habit to create initially is to draw for 5 minutes each day. This is easy. And the thing is, you can draw anything.
When I first started drawing regularly, in those moments that I couldn’t be bothered drawing anything I would still open up that sketchbook, put a timer on and literally scribbled for 5 minutes.
It's not what you create, its the sticking to the habit that is important.
The crazy thing is that after that 5 minutes I usually kept drawing, but if I didn’t feel like it, I stopped after five minutes. Not guilt. I kept the habit.
I still keep this habit, but now I have put aside a 2 hour block for drawing. If I don’t consistently draw for 2 hours all the time that’s ok. (Sometimes I use it for going through tutorials if I don’t want to draw), but I always make sure I at least got that 5 minutes in of actually pencil/pen/paint on paper. (Don’t try this drawing for 2 hours daily - this habit took months to build up to.)
And yes, I’ve gone to bed with that itching feeling of needing to draw if I haven’t. I will then get up and doodle something for 5 minutes.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up.
You are going to fail. Period. You will fail multiple times. However, don’t beat yourself up about it? Miss that 5 minutes drawing on that day? Bummer. Just make sure you do your 5 minutes the next day. (Don’t be tempted to “make up lost time” and do 10 minutes the next day. It snowballs and makes you feel guilty as hell - which the elephant hates and avoids).
Just keep on going. If you take a small number of steps each day, in the future, you will look back and see that you have walk MILES. Consistency is the key.
Anyways, that's my brief take and experience with self-disciplined. Hope it helps.
Further reading if you are interested:
- Switch by Dan and Chip Health (Mentioned above)
- Atomic Habits by James Clear