I used to smoke cigarettes. Much. If I ran out of cigarettes and the shops were closed, no problem, I’d take butts out of the ashtray or garbage and smoke them. I smoked right when I woke up and right before I went to bed. Sometimes he smoked while eating. I knew it was a bad habit, that it could kill me, make my face look like an old shoe and make it stink like rags, but I was so into it that, as with all abusive relationships, I chose to pretend nothing was wrong. even though in the back of my head there was a little voice screaming, “Stop! Please stop! We’re dying here!”

Then one day I was about to drive from my beloved New Mexico to Los Angeles and my love story stopped in its tracks. The night before, she had spent a particularly disgusting evening sitting around smoking nonstop with three other smoke-loving friends. It was kind of like after a particularly disgusting night of drinking, you decide you’re never going to drink again. Only unlike those losers, I was serious. Oh yes I was.

I packed up my car, put the top down, and started my road trip through the desert as a smoke-free woman. Smoke free as soon as I finished the 6 cigarettes still left in my pack, that is. “I’ll have one now, and one when I get to Gallup, then in Flagstaff I’ll stop for lunch and have one there…” Suddenly I realized that there I was, under a beautiful desert sky, listening to my favorite music , upside down, surrounded by warm, sweet desert air, flying, free, happily accelerating, and all I could think about was when I was going to voluntarily suffocate next time. I realized that I couldn’t enjoy one of my favorite activities on this planet because I was distracted by something I knew I wanted to stop doing. I also realized that I was a huge liar, that I was already delaying my quit date because I was coming into town for a good friend’s party and definitely wanted to smoke, so maybe I shouldn’t quit until next time. week when…

I stopped the car and threw away all six cigarettes and haven’t smoked since. That was more than ten years ago and it was a very significant moment because I realized something huge that applies to everything in life: if there is something you really want to do, the only way to achieve it is to stop negotiating. Just do it NOW, not after you lose five pounds or have more money or more time or whatever you “need” to do before you start. Negotiation and talk are the deadly enemies of self-discipline. I decided at that moment that I was not a smoker. It became a non-negotiable fact. He didn’t smoke, so he wasn’t going to spend time thinking “maybe maybe just a cigarette” any more than he was going to spend time thinking maybe he’d inhale horse tranquilizers. I am not a horse tranquilizer snorter, nor a smoker. Next topic please.

This mentality works with everything: if you want to lose weight, decide that you are a person who does not eat sugar. Ever. Or that he only has one cookie at a party instead of ten. Or that he gets up at 6:30 and works out. Or if you are a writer, decide that you are a person who writes every day at noon for half an hour. Or that he writes two pages a day. If you start negotiations, you open the space for failure. If you make it a fact, just do it, no questions asked, and move on. It’s great, it really works, I promise.

Here are my top 5 tips for cracking the whip and disciplining yourself:

Stop negotiating.

You can find more information on this important topic in Twyla Tharp’s amazing book, The Creative Habit. She is a self-discipline machine and this book is one of the best spankings I have ever received.

Set realistic goals.

Don’t decide you’re a 20-mile-a-day jogger when you still consider walking to the pizzeria around the corner a day of exercise. Start with running one mile a day and add more as you get stronger. Discipline is a muscle, you have to build it at your own pace. If you bite off more than you can chew at first, there’s a good chance you’ll get discouraged and give up entirely. Set achievable goals and slowly build from there.

Remember your why.

When that sexy piece of chocolate cake is calling your attention, remind yourself how much better you’ll feel if you weigh five pounds less than during those two minutes of chocolate roll in the hay. If you’re writing and you’re tempted to get up and do the dishes, make a phone call, do anything but write, remember how amazing it will feel to have a real book live with your name on it that will help the world. . Make your “why” your mantra, keep remembering it when temptation flashes its sexy smile, and you’ll be a powerful and unstoppable force. It will keep your enthusiasm level up as well, which will keep you motivated and help you get the job done.

Consider your achievements.

Keep track of how well you’re doing and give yourself a hearty bravo on a regular basis. Self-discipline is in your mind, so making your mind a happy, focused place is key. The more you realize how well you’re doing, the more you’ll be inspired to keep things going.

Make a bet with someone bad.

If you’re someone who really likes responsibility, this can be a great way to stay in line. Make a bet with someone who will make you do it, someone who won’t coddle you or “understand that you did your best,” won’t take excuses, and will show up at your door if you stop answering their calls. And be sure to bet something that’s painful enough to lose, but not too unrealistic. For example, you could bet someone $100 that you will have the first chapter of your book written by a certain date. Make it an amount to pay that you really don’t want to pay.

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