How do you define self-discipline? To me, it's the quality that enables you to force yourself to do something you know is good for you when you'd rather do something else.
It's focusing on business rather than pleasure.
It's favoring long-term goals (lose five pounds, meet the deadline) over short-term benefits (eat the chocolate, spend the gorgeous afternoon taking a walk).
It's getting up way too early in the morning, when any normal person would still be tucked up comfortably in bed.
But not everyone agrees with me.
Quite a few years ago, as an aspiring mystery novelist, I attended the late, great Cabrillo Suspense Writers Conference, a wonderful event held annually for a decade at a rustic lodge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One day I had a conversation over coffee with a fellow writer. At that time he had published two well-received mystery novels, but he was still working long hours at his day job at a local college. Finding time to write was a challenge for me, and I asked him how he managed to do that while dealing all of the other demands in his life.
Seriously? There's a 5 o'clock in the morning? I thought 5 o'clock automatically meant late afternoon.
I am not a morning person. I'm fine with being awake when it's dark outside, but only if I've approached it from the other end, the gradual fading of daylight into night. Wake up while it's still dark? Impossible. Until daylight touches my bedroom window, my eyes refuse to open and my brain is on strike. I can't find the floor at 5 a.m. unless I fall out of bed. There's no way I can write a coherent sentence.
But I have a high regard for writers, and I've known several, who regularly rise before dawn to produce pages. Good pages too, not the gibberish I'd come up with.
I said as much to my coffee companion: "You know, I really admire your self-discipline."
His response surprised me. "Oh, that's not self-discipline."
"What do you mean?" I said. "You just said you make yourself get up every morning when you want to be sleeping and force yourself to sit and write."
"How is that not self-discipline? It sounds like the perfect example to me."
He took a sip of his coffee. "It's not self-discipline because I don't enjoy it."
What? To me, if he didn't enjoy, then his peculiar (to me) habit fit the definition even more. Obviously we had different takes on what self-discipline means. I prodded, but I couldn't get him to explain his concept any further.
Self-discipline or not, whatever he was doing worked. He has gone on to considerable success and acclaim as a mystery writer, with more than two dozen novels to his credit and several awards on his shelf.
Maybe I should try setting my alarm clock just a little bit earlier.