Number 4 is my favorite.
A popular misunderstanding is that discipline is all about what you have to do.
- Hold your ground
- Stay strong
- Improve your self-control.
- Push hard.
Allow me to offer a possible replacement:
Improving your self-discipline helps to take on fewer responsibilities.
If you’re already exhausted from working hard, there’s little point in trying to put in even more effort. What if you tried something completely different…
What if you actively sought out and removed the sources of distraction that were preventing you from exercising greater self-discipline?
Working to identify and eliminate these four habits that interfere with discipline may be a much more helpful strategy if you have struggled for a long time to be more disciplined without much success.
1. Self-criticism as a source of inspiration
Many of us learn early on that we have to be difficult with ourselves if we want to achieve anything. And if we fail, there is no point in trying because we will be pretty worthless.
Self-criticism and self-judgment become ingrained mental routines from a very young age…
We try to convince ourselves that our anxiety over the upcoming presentation is unrealistic and silly.
Every time we find ourselves putting things off, we have a mental conversation about how “lazy” we are.
Every time we aren’t as productive as we’d like to be, we scold ourselves for being easily sidetracked and unfocused.
Still, we achieve some measure of success: we graduate from top institutions, land satisfying careers, etc.
…and now for the deciding factor…
We associate our success with our habit of constantly criticizing ourselves.
However, as everyone who has taken introductory statistics courses knows, correlation does not necessarily indicate causation.
Just today, the price of Bitcoin dropped by 0.57% while I drank my coffee half an hour later than usual. Bitcoin’s price certainly had nothing to do with my new coffee routine.
To put it another way, just because you’ve always relied on self-criticism as a source of motivation doesn’t mean that it was effective in doing so or even keeping you motivated and on track to achieve your goals.
In fact, after spending many years in the company of other people who are both incredibly self-critical and incredibly successful and productive, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon.
Self-criticism is not a necessary precursor to productivity, and most people manage to get things done despite it.
They become more productive and self-disciplined when they learn to let go of their habit of self-criticism and judgment.
Self-criticism ultimately leads to feelings of shame, anxiety, and low self-esteem, all of which get in the way of improved self-discipline.
However, self-discipline is easier to maintain when you show yourself kindness and understanding.
Make an effort for yourself and conduct a little test: Give yourself a week to try treating yourself with compassion instead of judgment and see what effect that has on your discipline when it comes to your diet, exercise routine, personal development goals, or work tasks.
After all, you can always go back to being mean to yourself. But I have a feeling you won’t want to:)
2. Overcoming Distractions
People who believe they lack discipline tend to rely heavily on adapting strategies when it comes to overcoming challenges…
- In order to concentrate more effectively, they try various techniques.
- Increase your mental strength.
- Refuse to give in,
As if interruptions were some external factor over which they had zero influence.
Okay, but here’s the thing:
Some interruptions are unavoidable and must be worked around, but many others could be prevented entirely.
For instance, when it comes to writing, I tend to be fairly self-disciplined. Every day, first thing in the morning, I sit down and try to get some writing done.
The internet’s accessibility makes it easy for me to get sidetracked, and the fact that my phone is always with me and contains all my favorite apps only adds to the temptation. In fact, if I have my phone sitting next to me while I work, I am much more likely to be distracted from my writing, waste time on social media, and later beat myself up over it.
I could make more of an effort to ignore my phone during my writing sessions, but you know what actually helps more? Staying focused on the task at hand from the start!
To avoid distractions while I’m writing, I usually put my phone in a drawer or leave the room. Since I know I lack the self-control to avoid getting sidetracked by my phone, I don’t keep it within reach.
Since I get my best writing done when no one else is around to distract me, I prefer to get to the office early in the morning.
When I clock out for the day, the only thing left open on my computer is my publishing program RXCHAT.
I don’t let anything on my desk distract me from working, so I clear it regularly.
Never waste time trying to deal with a disturbance that could have been prevented in the first place.
This basic idea can be used in many different fields…
Take, for example, a new diet in which you hope to exercise greater self-control. Avoiding nightly ice cream consumption shouldn’t depend on sheer willpower. If you don’t want ice cream in your house, don’t buy it.
Get rid of the TV in your bedroom if you want to reduce your nighttime TV viewing and go to sleep at a more reasonable hour.
Are you ready to commit to using that expensive treadmill you bought last year? You should get rid of the television in the living room and instead keep it in the room where the treadmill is kept.
I realize that some of these suggestions may seem extreme. Do you really want to be more self-disciplined, or not?
If you’ve been trying to ignore distractions for this long without much success, perhaps you should try something new.
Rather than focusing on personal growth, why not try altering your circumstances?
3. Disregarding your attention
As an entrepreneur, one of the most heartbreaking things to hear are accounts of children having their natural curiosity suppressed or punished.
Obviously, it’s sad to think of a curious young child being told that their passions are pointless. What’s tragic is the long-term impact this has on people’s ability to live their best lives and pursue their deepest passions.
People who appear to be highly disciplined, focused, and able to consistently achieve their goals share a common trait: they take pleasure in their work.
People who exercise regularly, day after day, year after year, usually do so because they’ve discovered an activity they enjoy. In other words, the exercise itself pulls them into it because of its inherent rewards, rather than their own willpower and discipline.
To give yet another illustration:
People are always curious about how I manage to write so much on top of having a business to run. Lots of folks are interested in the systems and methods I use to maintain my level of efficiency. While I do have a few of these, the fact that I enjoy writing so much is by far the most important factor.
Of course, there are challenging moments. But rather than having tremendous self-control, the reason I am able to do it regularly is that I was willing to put in effort toward something I cared deeply about.
This raises more questions than it answers…
Many people have difficulty developing better self-discipline because they focus on the wrong areas.
The wrong approaches are being taken, or they are being ignored altogether.
It’s difficult to stick to any kind of routine if you don’t feel that the thing or process you’re working toward is rewarding in and of itself (i.e., if you lack intrinsic motivation).
People are brainwashed into ignoring their own curiosity, which is why so many of them choose to work on things that aren’t intrinsically motivating.
They were told to ignore their passions and instead pursue what society deemed to be of value, typically at a young age.
Ignoring one’s natural inclination to learn is the quickest way to ensure low motivation and sloppy behavior.
On the other hand, when you pay attention to and pursue your genuine interests, you discover things that you will truly enjoy. Discipline and motivation take care of themselves when you devote your time and energy to pursuits that you find personally fulfilling.
4. Focusing too much on your aspirations can be detrimental
For example, suppose you’re interested in learning to play the guitar. That’s the overall goal.
An easy question follows.
What length of time should you devote to planning how you will achieve your objective?
Almost none is the short answer.
While it’s important to have objectives, dwelling on them can be counterproductive.
Let me illustrate with a guitar metaphor:
If I’m a total beginner on the guitar but I spend all my free time fantasizing about how great it will be when I finally master the instrument, I’ll probably end up feeling even more discouraged about my current level of skill every time I sit down to practice. This makes it more likely that I will lose interest and stop trying altogether (or at least not practice as often as I should).
Or, consider this alternative case:
Let’s pretend I want to cut 20 pounds. If I concentrate on the idea of being 110 pounds, I will be disappointed every time I check my weight on the scale to monitor my progress and see that I haven’t yet reached my goal.
The overarching principle is as follows: when it comes to objectives, you should adopt a “set it and forget it” mentality.
Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, you need to put most of your energy into taking the baby steps that will add up to big success down the road.
Focusing too much on trying to emulate Jimi Hendrix’s style can be counterproductive if you want to become a great guitarist in your own right. Instead, practice your finger placement to master the F chord. Then, start talking about how great it felt when your fingers finally learned how to finger an F chord on autopilot.
Alternatively, if you want to shed those extra 20 pounds, you should commit to working out at least five times per week and cutting back on your portion sizes. Because if you keep your mind on those, you’ll have a much better chance of noticing progress, which is both satisfying and inspiring. And if you maintain this course of action, you will reach your goal.
Disciplined individuals consistently focus not on the end result but on the steps necessary to get there.
You may be sabotaging your own efforts to reach your goals by focusing too deeply on them.
Goals are something that, once established, you can forget about.
Don’t lose sight of the daily habits and incremental successes that, taken together, will get you where you need to be.