The Connection between Discipline and Inspiration


I’ve been staring at an empty page for a few days now. Odd I know, I just started this blog and I’m already experiencing writer’s block. But it comes with the territory, I suppose.

I think of it as soreness for athletes. It’s something they have to kind of live with. There will always be some measure of pain involved with any passionate pursuit, and you will have to learn to pursue in spite of it.

But this time I didn’t panic like I usually do. Instead, I waited for the words to come to me. This was my mistake, and I will explain why, but first you should know that the words didn’t show up while I sat around and waited for them.

They didn’t wake me up in the middle of the night, and I didn’t dream about them. I wasn’t struck by inspiration during my morning commute and I wasn’t so overtaken by an idea that I had to scribble furiously on anything I could get my hands on. Those are the easy creative conquests, the ones where inspiration doesn’t just find you, but runs you down. It’s easy to pour my heart out on a page when my mind is focused like a laser on what exactly I want to say. The times when paragraphs are deposited in my mind almost magically are as easy to express as cutting through room-temperature butter with a steak-knife. These experiences are meant to urge us along and encourage us in pursuit of our passions. They’re meant to serve as our second wind, and confirmation that we’re headed in the right direction.

But that’s not always how the creative process goes.

Sometimes it’s like giving birth: long, hard, and excruciatingly painful.

Sometimes I hate it.

Sometimes it feels like I’m groping around in the dark and picking up random objects hoping and praying that this will be the thing that brings the words.

But today I had an epiphany of sorts, and I’m going to share it.

I had the realization that maybe creativity won’t always approach me in the same way. Maybe I won’t always ride the word tsunami all the way to the shore. Maybe sometimes I will have to sit out in the water for a while. Maybe I’ll need to paddle out a little deeper than I’m used to. Maybe it won’t be a wave this time, maybe the words will rise up from the deep and greet me at the surface. Maybe I will have to dive in after them. Maybe I will have to chase them down and force them through the funnel of my mind in order to form coherent, organized thoughts.

So I decided to paddle out. I decided to just begin and trust that creativity would meet me out there. And I’m happy to say it has.

As I sat in front of my computer and began typing out random words hoping to spark something, I realized how many times I have fallen victim to the ‘waiting game.’ Because I didn’t feel an urging to do something, I assumed it wasn’t the right time. But even writing this, I’m realizing that sometimes inspiration leads you to create, but other times the creation is discipline’s reward.

Perhaps the reason I had this phantom writer’s block was two-fold. One, I expected inspiration to show up conventionally and when it didn’t I froze. And two, I expected inspiration to show up without me being willing to dedicate the time and space it needed to settle in. This week I wasn’t willing to quiet myself long enough to let inspiration know I was ready to receive it, and that ended up hurting me in the end.

Discipline is one of those things that we always hear about, but is so much harder to cultivate in real life. I think the reason it’s hard is because it requires intentional, consistent change. It requires a made up mind and a new direction. Discipline requires admitting that you aren’t trying hard enough at something, and that’s humbling.

So now I’m wondering how many areas of my life that I think are uninspired, are simply stagnant because of a lack of discipline. Here is a question from my contemplative side, “Have you thought that perhaps the reason the tree isn’t bearing fruit is because you haven’t watered it?” Touché, higher self.

I don’t know what’s holding you back, but I encourage you to consider the possibility that it may be your own lack of discipline. We (humans), creatives especially, like to blame our lack of production on being “uninspired”, but the truth is a lot of the time we just don’t put in the time that our craft requires.

I think when you’re developing your talent into a skill, your first job is to show up. Steven Pressfield eloquently describes his writing process in his book, The War of Art, and one of the points he makes is this: you cannot do your job (fulfill your purpose, or complete the task that is assigned to your life specifically) if you do not show up to work, with a mind to work, on a daily basis. That’s our responsibility – to show up again and again, even when we’re there all by ourselves. And I wholeheartedly agree.

But this concept doesn’t just apply to creatives, it applies to anyone on a mission to accomplish something substantial. Because the acquisition of anything substantial will require hard work, and hard work necessitates discipline. Without discipline you won’t get very far. Perhaps opportunities will arise, but without the discipline to steward them effectively, you will never be able to make the most of them.

That isn’t to say that blocks don’t exist, because they do. We burn out, we grow weary, we run ourselves into the ground trying to stumble upon inspiration. So the blocks are real, and they’re painful, and they happen, but I think we’ve all had those moments when an idea jumps at us and we ignore it. We put off expressing ourselves because the nap or the t.v. show is too appealing. This was me all week, and I have a suspicion it’s some of you as well.

This might not have been as beautifully written and as philosophical as I had hoped, but it was a much-needed wake up call. And even though my inner perfectionist is saying I shouldn’t post this, it’s my journey, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to only talk about my highs and ignore the lows. We do too much of that on social media and unfortunately in real life too.

This week I encourage you to challenge your lack of discipline. Look at the dead things, the stagnant things, the broken things, and honestly evaluate how disciplined you’ve been regarding those things.  Have you treated your talents with the respect they deserve? Have you given them the space they need to develop, connect with you, and to change you in the process?

I think it’s safe to say the block is gone. Now it’s time to get to work.

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