Mind Over Matter

Self-discipline is the act of putting mind over matter and dictating exactly what your actions and behaviors are. But control over the mind is like saying you want to take a casual stroll to the surface of the sun. It’s not easy and it must be reined in constantly for you to even have a chance of self-discipline. As it turns out, there are many obstacles to acting disciplined and controlling yourself.

Mind Over Matter

Rosa became obsessed with films after watching Back to the Future at the age of eight, and subsequently decided she wanted to be a movie director. There hasn’t been any other ambition for her ever since. She always kept her goal of directing in mind, even though for the next 20 years, she never made any concrete steps toward it other than to be an avid movie watcher.
Her knowledge of arcane movie trivia was second to none. Whatever hours she didn’t spend watching films she spent on the Internet and in history books reading about them. If she could have gone on the trivia television show Jeopardy, she would have been a long-running champion. Rosa had read multiple biographies of all of her favorite directors: Spielberg, Kurosawa, Fellini, Miyazaki, and more.
Yet she never translated this research, knowledge, and information into action. She had a fairly expensive video camera that she kept confined to her closet, as well as an archive of film editing software that she had only used a handful of times. They were all too intimidating and confusing. Moreover, what if she discovered that all her knowledge and preparation weren’t enough and she was destined to fail at becoming a director? It was easier to take the path of least resistance and remain in inaction. At least learning about Fellini and Miyazaki’s favorite films made her feel productive to some degree, even if she was avoiding the elephant in the room.
One day, she discovered an acquaintance of hers had started a YouTube channel that was quickly amassing millions of views. Out of curiosity, she started viewing the videos and was struck by what she saw. This wasn’t art—the shots weren’t framed adequately, her focus was wrong, and the narrative structure was reversed!
None of the viewers seemed to care, however, as the views continued to increase. What’s more, the reviews of the videos were all glowing and encouraging. No one cared about the framing or focus. So Rosa made a dramatic decision. If she can do it, why can’t I?
For four months she was going to make real, concrete strides toward becoming a director—of anything. It was time to buckle down and keep going when all she wanted to do was give up. No more retreating to her comfort zone; she was going to translate her dreams into reality through sheer willpower and self-discipline. She already had the knowledge; it was just time to put it into action.
She first organized her time into two categories: “learn” and “practice.”
During “learn” time, Rosa methodically studied how to write a script, assemble a plot, and what methods renowned directors used to get the shots they wanted. During “practice” time, she experimented with different shots and angles, wrote a few scenes, and changed perspectives and storylines to see which ones worked the best. No more was she spending hours watching commentary of old movies she’d seen hundreds of times before. And no more was she letting her equipment gather dust in the closet for fear of not being able to use it correctly.
The day those four months ended, Rosa set out to make her film. She found a few local actors who were willing to work for pizza. She herself was the camerawoman. Her cousin was her sound person, and her dog was a prop. When she finished, she put it online and it garnered a few hundred views, mostly from family and friends. Rosa wasn’t a professional filmmaker, but these were all steps on the journey to seeing her wishes become reality.
She committed herself to completing one short film every month thereafter. She soon grew a reputation for being one of the speediest and most knowledgeable directors in the business. A scant three years later, one of her short films was entered into a film festival competition, something she never even dreamed about when she was just starting out. While she didn’t win any prizes, she still gained recognition and began to be able to support herself through her childhood dream of directing.
Some might say Rosa was lucky. That is partially true—but if Rosa had never made the decision to buckle down and do what she had been avoiding for years, she never would have been in the position to be lucky.
So what brought Rosa the success she attained as a director?
She realized just in time that she needed to give herself the gift of self-discipline. She knew that whatever she wanted was behind a door that could only be unlocked by it, and no one else could do it for her.
She changed her habits, started thinking methodically, and put her ideas into motion. She didn’t accept a lifestyle devoid of challenge or pain, and she willed herself to a goal through hardship and struggle. She didn’t give up when she wanted to, as she did for years, and put her goals above a sense of temporary discomfort.
Self-discipline, willpower, self-control, “mind over matter”—whatever you want to call it, that’s what Rosa summoned, and that’s what this book is about. It’s the process of going through what we’d rather avoid, in order to reach what makes us happiest.
On the surface, it’s easy to explain: ensuring that we act in accordance with our intentions. It means focusing our intentions and behaviors in one direction to achieve the life we want. It represents the ability to do what we want no matter what. We intellectually and logically know that it’s the way to what we want.
So why did Rosa wait years to act? Why is it so hard for many of us?
Self-discipline and matching a thought to an action involves the mind. The second part—the action—is not a problem because our arms and legs generally do what we tell them to do. They aren’t pulled in different directions by stray thoughts. Even if they don’t listen to us the first time, we can physically force them into compliance. But the mind—your thoughts, intentions, and expectations—can’t be twisted and forced into anything.
Consider that the goal of most meditation and mindfulness practices is to eliminate all mental chatter to focus on a single thought, or to focus on a physical sensation and no thought at all. Control and mastery over our minds is one of the best weapons against stress and anxiety. Arguably, control over the mind and translating that into action is one of life’s most elusive achievements.
Quick—don’t think about the purple elephant wearing a tutu. Did my warning work? Are you now not picturing the elephant standing in a meadow with its big floppy ears and a white sheer tutu? Are you successfully not imagining its trunk and thick legs? Probably not. And that’s why the mind is such a difficult beast to defeat.
Self-discipline is the creation of a clear path between your internal and external realities, no matter what.
No matter if there are no immediate rewards; in fact, the rewards are usually so far away that you can’t even fathom them at the moment. No matter that sometimes the progress is so gradual that it’s difficult for one to gauge any difference, and if they can’t see exactly how they’re getting better, then they’re apt to give up. No matter that other times, the mind is hijacked by emotions, triggers, and otherwise damaging thought patterns.
This is just a small sampling of what we battle on the road from intentions to actions. However well-intentioned you are, your mind just doesn’t care. It has to be coaxed, built, and even tricked into compliance, and that’s what you’ll learn in this book.