Cultivating inner discipline is something that takes patience.

Expecting rapid results is simply a sign of impatience.

– – – The
Dalai Lama


“How do I get myself to write? I want to, but I keep getting distracted.”

This question arises in all walks of life when effort is required to accomplish something. As a writing coach, I hear it over and over. I’ve done a lot of writing over the years and I know the drill about watering the plants that don’t need it, dusting the shelves more than once or running a vacuum over a perfectly clean carpet instead of sitting at the computer. Unfortunately, I know only one tried and true way to dig in when you don’t feel like it: Cultivate discipline.

This takes patience. It requires unswerving diligence, steadiness, fortitude and the will to keep getting back on track when the going gets rough. Schedule a session in your calendar as if it’s a doctor’s visit and show up. If you treat it like an appointment that will charge you a cancellation fee, you could throw some money in a box when you skip your session and buy yourself a new computer, but that won’t help you write. A British writer for the BBC told me, “I wasn’t
writing so I bought myself a new computer. Now, I’m not writing on two computers.”

As much as we’d like a magic bullet to get us to face the blank page, discipline and consistency are the keys to unlock the stories that you’ve hidden away and to tackle the job of editing your work. In the year 2000, I wrote a book called, “Romancing the Bicycle,” for Johnny G., the South African long distance cycling champion who created the training craze called “Spinning.” It was ironic that during Apartheid, this little Jewish boy from a well-to-do family sat in a shed
with his Black gardener and learned a powerful philosophy of life that led him to his passion: One pedal at a time.

When Johnny was four and a half, in order to escape a disturbed family, he climbed on his bicycle, pointed it in the direction of the beach, and as he rode, he discovered his spirit and his freedom. And as he grew up, the very thing that had set him free required diligence, discipline and consistency to become the expert that he aspired to be and that he ultimately became.

It’s also ironic that the origin of Spinning is the polar opposite of the meditative and repetitive training method that Johnny developed. When he was growing up, he witnessed a violent sport called “roller racing.” If the weather was too cold to ride outside, cyclists would drag a piece of equipment into a bar: a set of rollers that looked like a treadmill. After downing too many beers, the riders put their bikes on top of the rollers and pedaled hard until they fell off and crashed into the walls.

“Spinning,” on the other hand, was a gentler indoor training for cyclists who wanted to strengthen their resolve, monitor their heart rates and improve their skills. One of the greatest ghostwriting perks is the opportunity to discuss the ins and outs with people who are experts in their particular fields. During my interviews with the cycling champion, we engaged in some fascinating philosophical
discussions about life and athletics. I had been an athlete, too, and I found it particularly interesting when we investigated the difference between discipline and consistency.

For me, although it’s a necessary part of training, “discipline” is a hard word, suggesting a rigid structure that we force ourselves to obey. Johnny told me about mornings when he didn’t want to train and his wife literally shoved him out of bed to go get on his bicycle. I told him about mornings when my mind tried to seduce me into skipping my ballet training – just for one day. I didn’t succumb. I knew that if I skipped one day, I’d keep on doing it. The constant internal debate – should I or shouldn’t I, will I or won’t I – was like a voice yakking in my ear. It was an ongoing battle and the only way to stop it or at least push it into the background was calling on my discipline to point me where I needed to go. And to go there.

That’s what it took, but an unexpected spin on this occurred. A quote from Albert Einstein comes to mind: “When a man is sufficiently motivated, discipline will take care of itself.” It felt like grace as the more I trained, the more the discipline softened and it began to turn into consistency. For me, that’s a softer word that suggests allowance and surrender, a way to transcend the battle altogether as
the training becomes a meditation. A way of life. Today, after I get up, I have coffee, scan the bad news in the newspaper and go straight to the computer to write, even if I have nothing to say. It’s about creating a habit that feels alien at first. That’s the discipline part. Until it turns into a lifestyle. That’s the consistency part.

These concepts are true for physical and mental exercise. Buddhist teachings emphasize the importance of mastering one’s mind and behavior that will lead to liberation from suffering. Another form of discipline. You simply have to do the work and whether it’s physical or mental, if you don’t act kindly toward yourself, whatever you want to achieve will be much harder. Or impossible. If you shame yourself for skipping a session, you’ll want to skip the next session. If you shame yourself for not finishing something, you won’t want to go
back to it. If you shame yourself for doing a bad job, you won’t want to try to fix it. If we can just leave ourselves alone and do what’s in front of us, the difficulty will lessen and our suffering will ease up.

The late Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said that when he was in a car and he came to a red light, instead of complaining about being delayed, he found his discipline and took a moment to just breathe. What a concept.