Sunday, May 3, 2020

Potential Gap and the Value of Self Discipline

I’m currently reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I haven’t finished it yet, but it has given me some useful insight on the nature of doing creative work.

According to the author, the enemy of doing creative work is something he called Resistance. Resistance is the force that prevents you from doing what you are supposed to do. If you are a novelist, for instance, it will try to prevent you from writing. It does that by offering you easy escapes. The escape could be in the form of a bar of chocolate, an hour of watching TV, or others. If you take it, you will procrastinate.

But the fact is, short-term pain is necessary for long-term gain. There is no such thing as easy success, at least not if what you are seeking is true and sustainable success. You must always pay a price.

That’s why losing to Resistance makes you fall short of your full potential. It causes a potential gap: the difference between where you are and where you can actually be. The more you lose to Resistance, the wider the gap will be. Your goal, obviously, is to make the gap as small as possible.

But the question is: how can we do that?
There is no easy answer here: to close your potential gap, you must build self discipline. Self discipline is the ability to keep doing what you are supposed to do regardless of your mood. If you have self discipline, you will be able to resist the pull of immediate gratification. You will overcome Resistance.

Building self discipline isn’t easy; I’m still working on it myself. But here are some tips:
1. Have a strong why.
As with many other things in life, it’s essential that you have a strong motivation. You must have a strong enough why to overcome the obstacles in front of you.
In my case, I want to reach my full potential. Life is precious for me and I want to get the most out of it. I can only do that by having self discipline, so that gives me a strong reason to build it.

2. Cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain.
This is what Robert Greene suggested in his book Mastery (see my post). Or, in the words of Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art, you must learn “how to be miserable.” You must learn to somehow enjoy the difficult process that will get you to your destination. Having a strong motivation will help you here.

3. Start with something small.
Building self discipline is like building muscles. You must do it step by step. So start with a small commitment and go from there. The important thing is that you stay consistent along the way.

Mark Twain once said, “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.”

If you train yourself in discipline every day, not only will you do what you are supposed to do, but you may eventually enjoy it. That means you get the best of both worlds: you get things done and have fun along the way.
Isn’t that a great way to live?

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