How to Master Self-Discipline

Calling all procrastinators and creatives who are struggling with motivation! Ready to hack your brain and create your perfect writing routine? Good, because in today's episode of ‘Hollie incorporates neuroscience and psychology into creative practice’, we're talking about motivation styles and how you can adapt your routines to appease your brain and achieve your creative dreams.

P.S. There will be no procrastinator shaming here, nor telling you to just ‘fight the resistance, man’. We're going to do things your way.

If you've been in the writing community for some time, you're probably familiar with the idea that self-discipline is key to creative practice. If you don't sit down and put pen to paper, you can't expect to finish that award-winning story you've been imagining in your head. Seems legit.

But for the procrastinators and unmotivated among us, it's not always as simple as plowing through and getting started, while the go-getters among us can also find it difficult to switch off and become burnt out. And all for good reason: your motivation style.

Does This Sound Like You?

Option 1

  • You like to plan, organise and prepare for things in advance.

  • You prefer to complete a task as soon as possible, then have the rest of the time to do what you want.


Option 2

  • You like to be spontaneous. You consider yourself easily distracted, bored or unmotivated when you know you should be working on something.

  • You prefer to spend time doing what you want and often wait to complete a task just before it's due.

It's important to note that the motivation styles are on a spectrum, but they will come naturally to you. You may find you use a combination of both techniques to get things done or have a preference towards one. You may even find nuances depending on the type of task and circumstances.

Understanding Your Motivation Style

Are you Task Driven?

Your brain may have a preference for the Task Driven motivation style if you answered yes to the statements in Option 1. Your motivation is activated by having the task in front of you. You may be anxious all the while the task is on the to-do list and likely can't really relax until it's been dealt with. You have the lucky ability to switch on that drive to get shit done whenever you want. However, you may also find it difficult to switch off.

Are you Deadline Driven?

Your brain may have a preference for the Deadline Driven motivation style if you answered yes to the statements in Option 2. Your motivation is activated by an approaching deadline. You may find that you switch off from engaging in the task if it's not imminent. You likely feel more uncomfortable trying to force yourself to complete a task when you don't need to, than you do working right before the deadline. You may be prone to distractions, while you subconsciously think about the task (yes this is a real thing, it's called incubation) until you're ready to actively complete it. You have the lucky ability to complete work in very few drafts (hi to everyone who wrote their dissertation the night before it was due). However, you may also find you get anxious and make others anxious when leaving things to the last minute.

If you want to learn more about neuroscience and motivation styles, visit for her courses on Procrastination, Distractions and her incredible book Find Your F*ck Yeah, for a more in-depth breakdown.

How Can This Help?

Knowing how your brain activates you can be intrinsic to finding a writing rhythm that works for you. If you know you're Task Driven, you can utilise those moments of energy when you just have to get things done, but you can also learn to recognise when it's okay to switch off. Meanwhile, if you're Deadline Driven, you can utilise your incubation period and incorporate ‘fake’ deadlines to keep you on track.

The most important thing: no motivation style is better than the other. Deadline Driven procrastinators, who are often labeled as ‘lazy’ for not actively starting sooner, achieve just as good results as their Task Driven counterparts who smashed that submit button weeks ago. The key difference is that getting things done quickly is beneficial to capitalism – so you can guess which motivation style society tells us is better.

Now we've got that out of the way, let's talk about 3 techniques you can use in your writing routine, whichever your motivation style.

The Writing Routine Hacks

Brain Dump or Lists

Our core processors only have a limited amount of storage, just like any other supercomputer. So whether you're struggling to turn your Task Driven brain off after a busy writing session, or your Deadline Driven brain wants to start a writing session but gets distracted by something else – release the pressure with a brain dump. This could be a list, a frantic scramble for a post-it note or a paragraph in your notes app. I find this hugely useful when coming to the end of a writing session and writing down a mish-mash of ideas I didn't get time to explore yet, or when my personal shopping list starts interrupting my villain's dialogue.

By taking this information out of the brain and putting it down, you create more space to focus on the task at hand, be it relaxing for the night or writing the chapter in front of you. So just get it out! Put it down! The key thing is that you can come back to that brain dump later, with more clarity and focus, when you have one less thing on your mind.

Incubation Time

Procrastinators are already highly skilled at incubation and it's something all writers can benefit from. Incubation is when your subconscious mind continues developing an idea, even though you've put your pen down. Have you ever started working on a story and then all of a sudden you're struck by new ideas after watching a similar TV series, or out on a walk? Yep, that's incubation at work. It's primed you to be on the look out for anything that might be related to your new idea – you're more likely to spot that creepy house down the road if it could be the perfect setting for your new horror story. It feels like a series of strange coincidences, but nope, your brain has been bubbling away under the surface, so you're ready to consciously connect the dots in front of you.

So, procrastinators and go-getters alike, this is me giving you permission to play that video game, tidy that cupboard, go out with your pals or whatever else your brain is whispering at you to do instead of writing today. Make time to incubate and don't beat yourself up over it. Just because you're not actively ‘being productive’ (do I smell capitalism again?) doesn't mean you're not still doing something worthwhile – it might just take a while to connect the dots. Once you do, you'll be ready to put pen to paper.

Create Daily *Achievable* Deadlines

Okay, let's be real, you can't incubate forever or you'll never write anything. The fact is we're all motivated by deadlines in some way, so adding these into your routine can also help you stay on track with your writing goals. Creating a list of tasks for today only can help to activate the procrastinator's brain by adding a focused sense of urgency. But making them achievable can also help soothe the go-getter to ensure you don't beat yourself up if you don't manage to complete everything. Even if it's just 100 words by 9pm. Those daily 100 words soon add up. Don't forget that accountability will also help you stick to these imposed deadlines. You could have a weekly check-in with a friend or share your weekly accomplishments with the #writingcommunity on Twitter. You could even join a virtual Write With Me session, like the ones with youtube writing guru, Abbey Emmons, to help you set aside dedicated writing time.

Just as it's important to let your brain bubble under the surface, you also need to show up. Mastering self-discipline isn't just about forcing yourself to crack on. It's up to you to experiment with what works for you so that you're showing up to write because you're ready and you believe in the story you have to tell.

So, there you have it. Go forth creatives, get motivated! I hope this was helpful. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to know How to Reach the Flow State, to help you enter deep work mode and boost your creativity.