The Difference Between Self-Discipline and Self-Flagellation
I have a difficult time determining whether or not my internal insistence that I bang out xxx number of words in a day—no matter what!—falls within the realm of constructive self-discipline or destructive self-flagellation.
There’s no easy answer. The words don’t magically type themselves.
I asked Steve about this when I was in LA a couple weeks ago. He reminded me of his friend who trains thoroughbred horses. He wrote about him in TURNING PRO. What the trainer told Steve is that he never grinds the horses, making them finish a lap when they stop running. While he certainly has an agenda each day and he nudges them with encouragement to improve, once they get tired or bored, he takes them off the track. Tomorrow’s another day.
When I got back to New York, I dug out my copy of TURNING PRO and read further…
“A horse is a flight animal. Even a stallion, if he can, will choose flight over confrontation. Picture the most sensitive person you’ve ever known; a horse is ten times more sensitive. A horse is a naked nervous system, particularly a thoroughbred. He’s a child. A three-year-old, big and fast as he is, is a baby. Horses understand the whip, but I don’t want a racer that runs that way. A horse that loves to run will beat a horse that’s compelled, every day of the week.
You’ll see that I bolded Steve’s sentence HE’S A CHILD.
The reason I did this is that it took me a lifetime and thousands of dollars of paying someone to listen to me blather from a couch to figure out what Steve so eloquently wrote in his book. And still I forget…like every day.
The person that the muse comes to hang out with when we’re at work is not the guy who went to Harvard. Nor is it the guy who wants to show those bastards why they’re so full of shit. Nor is it the guy who wants to write something lyrically profound by using hundred dollar words and super long sentences.
The muse has come to play with our purest self…the little haberdasher who made a suit of clothes out of construction paper when he was four. The little girl who made a townhouse out of a refrigerator box.
The muse loves the child inside that doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of him…the guy who is just happy to be here. To get a chance to make stuff up and try it out. She’s not interested in hanging out with Mr. Ass-kicker. Would you be?
Self-discipline is simply having the nerve to sit down with a pile of construction paper or a laptop or a band saw every day at an appointed time and letting that little guy come out to play. If he gets fidgety after a while, let him go do something else.
If you don’t, no amount of bubble gum or cake will lure him out the next day.
Whatever you do, try not to yell at him. The muse really doesn’t like that. And you shouldn’t stand for it either.