We all know someone who is the embodiment of self discipline: They are meticulous about what they put in their bodies; They are up before everyone else working out; They plan their days at the beginning of the week. Have you ever looked at them wondering if only I could be a fraction of what they are, how different would my life be?
The good news is that discipline is a skill and like all skills it can be learnt! Even better news, the first place to start is the first place we start anything: recognizing that there is a need and then taking daily action towards it. That's the key: daily action. Before we get there though, we need to ask why.
What's Your Why?
The fact that you are reading this article means that something in your life is not working the way you want it to. There is a feeling that there is something more to life and you feel that you have not been able to move past the point you are currently at. Self discipline involves sacrifice. Let's be honest. No one likes sacrifice. For this reason, knowing your why becomes critical. Your why will keep you going beyond the point of easy. The actions you take then support your why even when your motivation is at its lowest. Some examples of why:
I want to be a good role model for my children.
I want to reclaim my health to live a long and healthy life.
I want to become the best version of myself.
I want to make the vision that I have for my life a reality.
Motivation is great, but there will be many days that you will wake up and motivation alone will not be enough. Maybe you've had a tough day or maybe you had a setback. Focusing on your why will allow you to get back on track.
Create a Goal and a Deadline
What do you want to achieve? For someone whose why might be that they want to reclaim their health, a goal may be: to lose 10lbs by 31st October 2020. Remember to make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). Put your goal up somewhere you can see it clearly every day. Keep things simple. The reason so many people quit is because they become overwhelmed by trying to do to many things at the same time. I suggest one or two goals in the beginning. As you become more and more settled into your practice you can then add new goals.
Let's say that your goal is to run a marathon, you don't wake up one morning and try to run 42km. You will need to start where you are and then work your way towards your goal. If you have never run before, then you will want to start walking for five minutes, then ten minutes. If you want to write a book, maybe start writing articles which will help you get to into the practice of writing. If you are writing fiction and are clear on what you are writing, you can write short stories. You write a book one chapter at a time. The goal is to start. Small steps add up. They build momentum which over time leads to big rewards.
Develop a Schedule
This is another crucial element in becoming more self disciplined. Life is busy and there are many things that will demand your attention. Creating a daily schedule helps to keep you focused on the tasks at hand. Many of us create to-do lists, but we don't get to the end of them. A schedule has one thing a to-do list does not: time-allocation. We are often unaware or underestimate the amount of time something takes. Having a schedule helps you to 1) become more efficient with the time you have and 2) become more aware of how much time you ACTUALLY spend on an activity. At the end of the day you can look back at your schedule to determine what needs to be adjusted. Schedules also help you to track your progress. What does not get tracked, does not get measured. Measuring goals help to keep you focused and maintain momentum. Finally once a schedule is developed, it helps you to remove activities which full up your calendar but don't positively impact your goals.
Distractions are aplenty! In this world where everything is at your fingertips, you can spend hours of your life participating in activities which do not serve you or your goals. You need to remove any and all distractions and temptations in your life. If you want to lose weight then you need to stop stocking your home and office drawer with unhealthy snacks. If you want to get your business off the ground then you need to remove time wasters like social media and websites. If you want to write your new book, then you need to switch off your phone for a specified time frame in your day as well as, clean the clutter your desk/laptop. You need to create an environment that supports your goals and not sabotage them.
Find an Accountability Partner
In the beginning you will struggle. Accept that this is a part of the course. Struggle is part of your growth. Find someone who will support you on your journey. You will definitely want to find someone who already has a practice of self-discipline. If there is no one in your life then there are many forums online where you can find the support that you need, no matter what your goal is.
Create Daily Habits and Rituals
Success can be found in what we do on a daily basis. Think about what, when, where and how with respect to your goal and the tasks that support it. Let's say your goal is to read one new book a month. You may want to set up an area specific for reading. Select a time that you will sit there every day, for example between 7pm to 8pm. Place the book that you are reading in the spot. You may also put things like a cushion and/or a blanket. I always read with a cup of tea, so my ritual is to make a cup of tea just before. I shower, put on my pj's, take off the television and then sit in my reading spot with my tea in hand and a blanket over my lap. Habits and rituals help to engage all of your senses which is vital to helping you to create new patterns of behaviour.
Schedule Breaks and Reward Time
You can't be "turned on" all the time. Every single one of us needs a break. Include time in your life to relax and recharge. We are trained to fill our days and nights with activities, but the truth is, true creativity and freedom comes when we give our minds and hearts the time to just be. Maybe your favourite thing to do is sit in your garden; maybe you enjoy going to the beach, maybe you enjoy chatting with friends. A well balanced life includes joy. Find ways to bring joy in your life. This will breathe new life into you and give you the energy to focus on achieving your goals. It is also important to celebrate your wins, no matter how small they are. Maybe you book a massage or maybe you give yourself one hour of TV time upon finishing your set tasks for the day. Recognizing small gains helps to keep you motivated.
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
We have been sold a lie that life is suppose to be easy; that we are meant to always be comfortable. Growth comes from being able to move through discomfort. We numb ourselves with the familiar so we can avoid doing what we know that we need to do. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable helps you to become more responsive and flexible which in turns helps you to become more resilient. Resilience lies underneath the practice of self discipline. It helps to keep you going both long after everyone else quits.
Change is hard and that is the truth of it. If it was easy everyone would be doing it and you would have no need to read this article. You will struggle. You will miss your daily target some days. You will feel tired, frustrated and scared. Trust the process. Give yourself a break. Don't let one setback keep you from achieving your goals. Learn the lesson. Get back up. Refocus. Start again. THAT is the ultimate sign of self discipline.
It has long been my belief that discipline makes the dream work. It is the difference between those who achieve their dreams and those that don't. You have to act. You have to act even when you are uncomfortable, unsure, afraid, frustrated in order to achieve your dreams. Developing a practice of discipline helps you to feel those feelings and do it anyway.