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Ever since I started freelancing as a social media manager I've heard so many people tell me that they could never start their own business because they fear they lack self-discipline. What I've started saying to them is, it's not that you need to learn how to be more self-disciplined. It's that you need to be more self-liberated!
That's what I've come to know about self-discipline.
Let me explain.
I get it - employed people judge themselves often based on how they spend a day off work when they plan to do something productive.
I know because I've been there.
The weekends and holidays after a week of the 9 to 5 when we end up watching Netflix in our pajamas all day, eating peanut butter from the jar with our fingers.
Wanting nothing more than to veg out and forget about our mental 'to-do' list.
But I'm here to tell you, that's just not how it is when you work for yourself.
First off, that fear that you won't be self-disciplined enough is basically a symptom of imposter syndrome.
When we have imposter syndrome, we're forever holding ourselves up to this image in our head of we think we're supposed to be.
My image is always of a lady with flat-ironed, perfectly straight hair with a straight cut, in a blazer. Yea, she's in a blazer while working at home (AS IF), and she's out-working my ass. She's getting up at 6 am and she's not stopping until 10 pm, the hustler! So every time I stopped working early then say, 9 PM, I'm thinking, "she's out-working me!" I created my own imaginary competition in my own head!
But I didn't learn how to be more self-disciplined from trying to out-discipline the blazer-wearing workaholic in my head.
I learned how by killing her altogether.
At its core, self-discipline is a mental freedom issue. We think we lack self-discipline because maybe we're just lazy, disorganized couch potatoes. But we need to stop thinking about self-discipline as other people define it. The rules that work for other people might not work for us. We need to define our own rules, based on our own goals.
What people really lack is not self-discipline, it's self-definition.
Just think for a second what 'self-discipline' means to you. Here's what I use to think:
- A self-disciplined person gets up early -
- Someone who eats, drinks, exercises, spends money, and parties moderately, because anything in excess isn't self-discipline
- Someone who puts in 8 hours of work 5 days a week, like clockwork.
But here's the thing: these ideas are just what we all often first think about when we think about self-discipline. Our parents, teachers, employers, and our government sanction these ideas so they must be right, right?
Yet, the very definition of self-discipline is that it doesn't come from anything outside of us.
It's never externally driven.
It's only externally rewarded.
So what I mean when I say if we think about self-discipline as a vague commitment to an externally defined idea - it's not self-defined self-discipline.
It's external-discipline, which relies on willpower and is boring, restrictive, and frankly, hard to sustain.
Self-discipline is the contract we sign off on with ourselves based on only what is important to us.
We can select and choose our own rules to follow and uphold, as I discovered over the years.
Here are just a few of my own daily rules:
- NO ALARM CLOCKS. I wake up naturally but I start work by 10 am every day, after exercise, meditation, and creative visualization (if I can be arsed).
- Stop eating by 8 pm.
- Brush and floss my teeth twice a day.
- Check Facebook notifications when there are over 20 there.
- I often take 2 - hour afternoon breaks when I feel like it. This works really well to revive my brain and get back into a second round of work, btw.
True self-discipline feels enjoyable, challenging, and personally rewarding.
True self-discipline makes us feel proud of ourselves.
So if you want to have more self-discipline, make up your own damn rules of what it means for you.
Stop defining it by external rules and ideas.
You can become the most self-disciplined person you know when you decide that achieving the thing that is important to your life is not about what time you get up, or what you eat, drink, or how often you party.
Or that fact that you might want to take a two-hour afternoon break to watch Narcos on Netflix (my latest favorite show!).
You can work for yourself and take a break anytime you please, and still be successful. You don't have to grind at it 10 hours a day, with the vague idea that THAT is 'self-discipline'.
It's self-punishment, is what that is! Be kind to yourself - give yourself a damn break.
When you define your life by your own policies you find a lot of what other people think is important really just isn't.
And then a really funny thing happens...
You gain self-discipline in your life, because you stop bullying yourself with someone else's rules!
Ask yourself, how can you design your own day to customize it to how you like to work and live? How can you fulfill your work obligations in a way that makes you more motivated to get started or get back into it?
Would taking a long walk every afternoon help you re-focus? Would taking multiple tea and coffee breaks help?
Everyone works differently - do what suits you.
If you're still feeling anxious about the prospect of being your own office manager, train your brain with expert advice on habits and motivation.
I recommend reading one of 2019's bestsellers, Atomic Habits by James Clear.
This book will help you set up the right conditions to increase good habits and reduce your bad habits. It will help you understand what motivates or demotivates us to get something done.
I've re-read my copy twice now - it's so useful!
So, I hope you'll stop saying you don't think you're self-disciplined enough to work for yourself now.
You just might not feel like it yet because you haven't thought out how to customize your day to suit how you want to work. Go for it!
The great joy of working for yourself is the FREEDOM of choice it gives you.
And let me know how you go. 😉
Come and join my new Facebook community, Marketing For Creative & Unconventional Women for more tips and support to outgrow ugly duckling imposter syndrome, kickass with your online marketing, and fund your DREAMS.
I'd love to see you there. 💜