More Freedom Requires More Self-Discipline

They say there are two sides to every coin. And it’s true, though not all sides are created equal. If you’re don’t have enough money and you’re struggling to make ends meet, that’s definitely a stressful problem. If you have a lot of money and you’re stressing over how to maximize the return on your investments, that can also be troubling… but I think we can all agree that, in this case, having too much money is probably a good problem to have.

And you’ll find that flexibility in your schedule can work in much the same way. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem you need to overcome.

With Great Power…

… comes great responsibility. Of course we’ve all heard and read Uncle Ben saying this to us many times before. As much as we would like to think that with great freedom comes great self-discipline, it’s simply not the case. Indeed, the effect is the opposite.

With great freedom comes a great need for self-discipline.

With more traditional employment at a more conventional company, there are more external factors to keep you in check. You might have set working hours. You might have a boss watching your every move, and even if you don’t, the social pressure of being surrounded by other co-workers can compel you into working, because you don’t want to be seen as a slacker.

But when you’re in a home office, by yourself, no one is watching you but yourself. When you work from home, for yourself, no one is telling you when to start and stop your working day but yourself. It’s all on you. And this can prove exhausting.

The Problem of Fatigue

In psychology, there’s this concept called decision fatigue. Basically, the more decisions you have to make, the poorer your decision making ability becomes. Willpower is a limited resource that takes time to replenish.

This is why you’ll find the tabloids and candy bars at the supermarket checkout aisle. After you’ve spent all that time shopping for groceries and deciding if you want Brand A cereal or Brand B oatmeal, your willpower is diminished. After resisting the temptation of cookies and potato chips, it’s harder for you to resist the temptation to pick up a copy of the National Enquirer and a bag of Skittles. Grocers know this.

Especially when you work online, as is the case with professional blogging, the opportunity to distract yourself is always there. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are always just a quick click away. So, you resist. And things might go pretty well for a while, but then your willpower diminishes over the course of the day.

Pretty soon, you find yourself falling down the bottomless pit of subreddits again.

Eyes on the Prize

Many people dream of living the dot com lifestyle, free from the shackles of the rat race. What so many people don’t realize is that it’s really easy to escape the 9-to-5 only to find yourself engulfed by the 24/7. Freedom has a price, and that price is the requirement for persistent and reliable self-discipline.

Here’s the thing. You might care a lot about the overall goal or greater vision. You want to save for a new home or you want your blog to reach a certain level. However, you likely don’t care nearly as much about the nitty-gritty, the day-to-day tasks that you need to do right now… but you don’t want to do. So, you actively avoid them, procrastinating and distracting yourself. Your self-discipline falters as your willpower depletes. The instant gratification of scrolling through Instagram is too much.

To counteract this, you can attempt to externalize some of that discipline. Use distraction-blocking software. Set predictable working hours, so there’s a defined line for when work MUST be done and when you MUST stop working. Self-imposed deadlines can add artificial pressure to perform. Better still, ask someone else — a significant other or a fellow blogger, for example — to hold you accountable. Like a workout buddy, but for working.

You’ll still need self-discipline, of course. But, you just may be able to enjoy that freedom just a little bit better.