Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline

This book is another one of my favorites, by personal development guru Brian Tracy. Even if you never pick up a personal development book, I would really recommend this one, because its not woo-woo, or airy-fairy, or light in anyway - in fact it kicks your a**. The book is basically one long pep talk from the toughest coach you can think of, and I think its particularly important to mention on this blog, because I think anyone interested in being a successful writer (or other creative professional), especially someone trying to do this while holding down a day job, needs all the motivation and successful strategies they can get.

Here’s the thing. Doing anything well is hard. If you also add to the mix doing something when you don’t really have the time to do it, or have a lot of obstacles in your way, or have to juggle multiple commitments, it is even harder. I certainly find it difficult to make time for writing, or the other tasks that go with this, like marketing, pitching to bloggers and reviewers, and staying current on the industry, in addition to taking the time to read and find inspiration, along with everything else that I need to. I tend to develop a self-pitying attitude sometimes - like why is it so hard, why do I have to do all this, why can’t I have more help, etc. A lot of the time the many many things I do, don’t pan out, and I don’t get the reviews I wanted, or the person who said they would read my book neglected to post any feedback. It is easy to feel like giving up when every step forward is followed by two steps back.

Brian Tracy is having none of this. According to him, “you can achieve almost any goal you set for yourself if you have the discipline to pay the price, to do what you need to do, and to never give up”. Sounds easy? Well, it certainly isn’t, but it is doable. With self-discipline, in his book, Tracy describes how to achieve success in terms of making more money, having more career success, losing weight and what is most important to writers, achieving goals and managing time. He even gives advice on increasing sales, which if you are a self-published author trying to sell more books, you are obviously interested in. How does he suggest we can do all this? Through applying self-discipline, which he defines as:
“Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not”.

Something I talk about in my book for students is the importance of mindset. With the right attitude, anyone can be successful at learning any subject or topic, and Brian Tracy reiterates this principle - it is hard to develop your self-discipline muscle, but once you do learn to develop it, every other good habit becomes easier to master. In that way, it is a keystone habit, as in it leads to the development of other good habits far more easily.

I feel this is a really important book to read especially now, as we are halfway through 2016. Last week’s book review, on the12 Week Year discussed the importance of setting shorter time-frames and how it really is possible to get a lot more done on our important goals than we think. If that book told us what was possible, this one lays out the foundation - the how. 

Some of the crucial tips from this book that you can start to apply right away to achieve more of your (creative) goals:

1. Write Down Your Goals. 
According to the book, only 3% of adults write their goals down, and this 3% achieve more than the other 97% combined. I completely believe in this, and have been writing down my goals for years. It is gratifying to go back and see how much has gotten done. One important thing to remember though - write down what you really want to achieve, not only what you think might be possible. Dream big here.

2. The Ten Goal Exercise
Write down 10 goals that you would like to achieve in the next 12 months, in all areas of your life. Then pick the one goal that would most impact your life at present, and take one small action, anything, towards it. This puts things in motion, and sends a signal generally into the universe that you are committed. Of course one small action won’t make it happen magically, but its a start. 

3. Learn From The Best
Brian Tracy suggests that you model your behavior and actions as much as possible on those of the top people in your field. While this obviously doesn’t mean that you adopt the particular brand of coffee that your favorite author drinks or start hanging out her local cafe, what this does mean is that often we can learn how to be successful by modeling those who succeed in our field.   As writers (and creative professionals in most fields) we are lucky nowadays that so much information is available, and those we admire have books, training programs, blog posts and myriad other content telling us exactly how they work and how they succeeded. There is more information than we have time to consume. We don’t need to read everything, but Tracy points out, and I too know from my own personal experience, that very few people ever ask someone how they succeeded, and then follow that advice

When I was a successful student in school and college, not one person ever asked me for any tips. However, plenty of my peers grumbled about how I was obviously “a genius”, “born smart” and “lucky” to get good grades. It is fine if grades don’t matter to you, and you’re fine with whatever you do get. But if you’re at all interested in improving, claiming the other person is lucky or smarter than you lets you off the hook - after all, if they are smarter or luckier or whatever, then you don’t have to work hard. And unfortunately, I see this attitude in writer’s forums and emails from authors as well. Although most authors I have interacted with are incredibly hard-working and professional, there are some who put no effort into putting out a professional product, or even interacting professionally. In those scenarios, it is easy for an outsider to see why they aren’t successful. 

4. Think Before You Invest Time
This is one of those pieces of advice that is so obvious, and yet I suspect all of us could do with reassessing whether we do this right. Each of us have exactly the same amount of time in every day, and it is important to ask yourself before embarking on something: “Is this the very best use of my time?” Very often we get caught up in doing “shoulds”, without really questioning if its worth doing the thing we said yes to. Most importantly I find, the reason we don’t realize how much time we wrongly invest, if because we don’t ask ourselves what we are therefore saying no to. By saying yes to more time on Facebook or baking brownies for the committee meeting, you end up saying no to working on your book. 

Brian Tracy suggests that before you take on something new, you ask yourself: “What am I going to stop doing so that I have enough time to work on this new task?”

5. Take Control of Your Life
According to the author, happiness stems from the feeling of control over ones life. If you feel that you are in charge of the ship that is your life and that you are steering it, you are much happier than if you felt that you were merely a passenger, being thrown around a bucking boat, at the mercy of the ocean waves. The key to happiness then, according to Brian Tracy: decide to take complete control of your life, and change the situation that makes you unhappy. 

Now I realize that sometimes we genuinely don’t have control over things that happen to us - death of a loved one, serious illness, other debilitating problems that can make us feel out of control. But just the same, I believe that there are many areas of our life that we do control, and that we can change, if only by changing our perspective. And sometimes by taking concrete action. Whatever it is, once we decide that our life is in our control and no one else’s, it can turn around our thinking and our perspective.

While I know that the tough love, get over yourself, work hard and you will be successful approach won’t be for everyone. I personally prefer it when the author of a book holds your hand and guides you to the point, which is not the approach of Brian Tracy. But I love his books nevertheless, because reading just a section or part of a chapter usually is enough to galvanize me into taking action. So if you need a little nudge to set aside your fears and take action on a half-finished project, or finally finish that creative thing you have been putting off, read this book. 

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