This post is my second one that is inflected by swimming. It was inspired by the video that is below that is intended as a motivational tool for swimmers (apologies to my regular readers who are not particularly attuned to sports cliché and metaphors). Like sport, it can be difficult to stay focused on a daily writing practice. Self-discipline is hard.
I have always tried to approach to my academic practice is much like that of my swimming one, particularly my swimming practice during my youth. From when I was twelve until I was eighteen, I swan nine times a week for two hours and did five additional hours of cross training that usually involved weight lifting and other strength, endurance, or flexibility training. But it was having to wake up at 4:30am and jumping into the pool at 5:30am five days a week that was always the most difficult (especially when it was -40 C and completely dark outside). This routine took an incredible amount of self-discipline. I was a teenager and going to the pool under these conditions was not always as inviting as my warm bed and sleeping. Yet I got up and jump in that water day in and day out, with little fuss. It taught me not only how powerful habit can be as its effects accumulate over time (i.e. getting faster in the pool), but also how to stay attuned to the activities and condition I needed to keep going every day (i.e. eating right, sleeping enough).
I loved those days when I would wake up ready to jump into the pool and get right into the “grid”, as the video says. I still have those days but instead of wanting to do laps in the pool (which I still do, much not at such an intense level), I feel the need to open my laptop and start typing. But there are always those days when my mind is fuzzy, I feel tired, or I might actually be sick. These are the days I feel I have to keep even more focused. It is hard but these difficult days are what enable me t0 build “metal toughness,” the strength to persevere no matter what situation you come across. It worked when I was swimming and it also does during my writing practice (unless I am too sick and bedridden, there are limits that extend beyond the ability to be “tough”).
After you wake up, get to work as quickly as you can. This may be after the kids have gone to school or when you get to your office on campus. But the key is to get working as soon as possible while you are still fresh, mind and body.
I like to start my writing time like a do a swimming practice, start with a warm-up. Writing on this blog is one way of warming up my thinking, writing, and typing muscles (yes your fingers do need to warm up like any other muscular activity). After about 15 minutes to one hour (depending on how long I will be writing in total), I am ready to jump into the thick of whatever writing project is in need of my attention.
I try to do this everyday. Self-discipline is difficult when you start, but over time it becomes easier. You just have to be focused and make your activity, whether it is swimming, writing, or anything else, a part of your daily routine. After a while you won’t know why you didn’t start earlier and you won’t want to stop anytime soon.