Automatising Self-Discipline : From Zero to Two Hundred Posts!

A bit of self-discipline and soon you'll be celebrating with fireworks. Image from freeimages.com

This post is a particularly special one for Polyglossic. It marks two hundred weekly posts since the site launch almost four years ago. And the secret to that unbroken run? The old trick of repeating a new habit to the point of completely automatising self-discipline.

It is boggling to look back on the journey. It started as a personal challenge to improve my writing and focus my ideas on language learning. Through sticking with it, it became a habit almost by stealth. And it is a habit I wouldn’t do without now.

Hitting that weekly goal was not always easy, however. Some weeks have involved a long, hard think about fresh and original material. But there is always something to write about, and there is always the joy of writing it. Fortunately, there are the trusty favourite themes to revisit: Anki, Evernote and iTalki tips, amongst others. Exploring them on Polyglossic has been the source of so many valuable discoveries as a language learner.

Automatic self-discipline

But the best part about that weekly writing challenge? The self-discipline to write regularly has now become automatic. Where blog planning was once a deliberate effort, it now happens almost imperceptibly, in the background, without a second thought. Making sure to leave aside a couple of hours on a Sunday for editing and proofing, for example, is so ingrained that it just feels normal.

And that magic can work with any habit we want to adopt, including language learning.

So how do we go from zero to hero with a brand new goal? Here’s how I found the spark to get going – and keep going!

Use All the Available Tools

We’re only human. Sometimes, we forget, especially in the early stages of building new habits. As a helpful initial scaffold, we can enlist the help of all the modern-day tools at our disposal. These include to-do lists (electronic or old-fashioned pen and paper), mobile phone alerts / reminders and planning tools like these nifty time blocking notepads.

Tools like these keep you afloat while your habit is still sinking in, like water wings holding a learner swimmer above water. Eventually, your habit will be firmly established, swimming under its own power, and the supports can drift merrily away.

Likewise, there are ready-made frameworks for planning and organisation that support solid habit-building. The Twelve Week Year is a very straightforward, goal-oriented system, for example, and one I keep returning to. Scour the productivity shelves at the bookshop for gems like this. One bonus: they tend to be pretty short reads, too.

Pre-empt

Forewarned is forearmed. Avoid deadlines creeping up on you by keeping an eye on the calendar. Just because you aim to do Task X on a Sunday, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do some groundwork if you find yourself at a loose end on Saturday.

With a blog, be alert to post ideas during the week, and note down useful phrases or a skeleton paragraph structure as they come to you. With language learning sessions, glance over the material you plan to work through before the time. Search for extra resources and handy links on your phone whenever you have a spare moment. Embed good habits in your life – those that stick are not just isolated islands or quick bursts of activity here and there.

Developing a pre-emptive self-discipline extends to your work or study environment, too. Choose your time and place carefully to avoid interruptions. I find coffee shop working effective – it removes me from home distractions and the bustle helps me focus.

Have Contingencies in Place

We can pre-empt on a longer-term scale than just the week-to-week, too. Since life is often less than plain sailing, have some contingencies in place for disruption.

For blog writing, that might mean having a couple of draft posts almost ready for publishing just in case it looks like you will miss a deadline. More than once I’ve been saved from missing a week by a handy backup post!

For language learning – especially time-oriented goals like X hours a week – calendar slack is your contingency. In practice, this might mean setting aside a catch all hour or two in your week, when you can make up for any slippage. Or it might involve smart planning, where your scheduled ‘hour’ is actually 45 minutes, with some wiggle room either side.

Also think about building in margin to bulletproof your schedule against upsets. By not filling every waking minute, you have some space to hit your targets even when things go awry.

Share, share, share

Taking pride in the fruits of your good habits is important. And interacting with peers over them is an especially warm and sociable way to do that. For some projects, like blog-writing, sharing is a natural part of the process. But telling others about your progress works with all kinds of other projects.

Take the polyglot community, for instance. Like-minded souls use social media platforms to share their hopes, wishes and progress updates. It needn’t even be anything lofty. Revelling in a shared love of dabbling, for example, is a fun way to get others on board with your regular language goals. In return, the likes and comments can be a valuable source of encouragement.

Feeling recognition for our efforts can keep us coming back for more, reinforcing new habits and further automatising self-discipline. Better still, it sparks an exchange of expertise and advice that helps make everyone better.

Want It!

Lastly, make sure that your habits are building towards something you really want, some overarching goal or life plan. Doing it because you want it takes some beating as a motivator.

Polyglossic was born of that initial spark and desire to create, and through those cycles of organisation, repetition and encouragement, the self-discipline to keep the wheels turning has become automatic. That’s proper everyday magic, there. But any of us are capable of it!

Happy birthday, Polyglossic – here’s to the next two hundred!

Richard West-Soley

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