What would your life be like if you had a little more self-discipline? Would you happily sweat your way through an exercise session, feeling strong and energised? Would you be out of debt and putting that down payment on a house? Would you stop procrastinating on that big project and finally make some serious progress? Learning how to be disciplined is one of the foundations of living the life you want. Thankfully, even if you feel you’re currently lacking in it, you can easily cultivate it to help you commit to your goals.
People who are disciplined get the best results because, whether they want to or not, they put in the work. They suffer the short-term pain for the long-term gain. They have a strong sense of self-belief, knowing they can achieve anything they put their minds to.
But how do you keep that up when you’re faced with one obstacle after another? How do you find the time and motivation when you’re already juggling eleventy bajillion other things? And wouldn’t discipline be that little bit easier if you weren’t so bone tired at the end of every day?
It’s not like you haven’t tried. You made a serious attempt to quit that bad habit last summer, and you were working steadily on your big goal for a few weeks. But, for whatever reason, you just couldn’t stick with it, so now you believe you just don’t have what it takes. You doubt yourself. Your brain reminds you of everything you’ve ever failed at in life, so you want to give up before you even start. (Your brain can be a bit of an asshole like that.)
How To Be Disciplined
So here’s how to be disciplined, no matter how many previous attempts have proved fruitless:
1. Why You Feel You Lack Self-Discipline
The reason you feel you lack self-discipline is because you failed at something before and now you think you’re no good at it. You let one little bump in the road completely derail you (it happens to us all), and now you believe you can never get back on track. Remember that troublesome brain we mentioned? It has a bad habit of only remembering the rotten times, doesn’t it?
The reason I believe your brain only seems to focus on the failures is that it’s trying to fix them. It’s “unfinished business” and your brain is trying to complete it. It keeps re-hashing it, not as a way to bring you down, but to try find a way through. A way to problem solve. While you’re sitting there thinking you’re no good at something, your subconscious is silently working on solutions.
So it’s not that you’re a failure, it’s just that you found a way that doesn’t work. You came up against an obstacle, and you’ve been trying to beat it ever since.
Just as the surfaces in your home may be currently covered in some clutter and unfinished projects, so too your past may be littered with a few mistakes. But while you’re busy beating yourself up about it, you’re forgetting that you’ve a big ol’ trophy cabinet stashed away upstairs with all your achievements in it. It’s time to dust them off and display them somewhere you can see them.
2. Re-frame Your Thinking
You’ve believed for so long that you lack self-control, so it’s time to prove yourself wrong. You’ve already seen that you’re only remembering the failures because you’re trying so hard to fix them. That alone shows a huge level of commitment to a cause. Continue searching for evidence to support your claim. Start by remembering at least one task you took on that you followed through to completion. It doesn’t have to be a major project (though definitely add that if you can think of one), it can be something as simple as running some errands or getting all the kids to school. Got it? Write it down. As more occur to you, jot those down too. Now you’re starting to build a strong case.
Now, have you ever complained that you tried but couldn’t quit a bad habit? Maybe you kept it up for a week before finally caving to temptation.
First off, that’s only a failure if you throw in the towel completely and revert back to your old ways. The other option is that you just dust yourself off and jump back on the bandwagon. After all, bumpy roads don’t mean you can’t still reach your destination.
Bumpy roads don't mean you can't still reach your destination.
Second, instead of thinking you weren’t able to quit, think, “I’ve proven that I can successful quit for at least seven days.” Flip your frame of mind so you’re always thinking in terms of success.
3. Building Your Self-Discipline Back Up
Here’s where things really step up a gear and your confidence starts to soar. Take on a small task and repeat it for a short period of time. Keep it teeny tiny. The aim is to make sure the risk of failure is almost non-existent.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve been feeling a bit slovenly lately, like you just can’t pull yourself out of a funk. Try getting fully dressed every single day for a week, including shoes. That’s it, just getting dressed so you look presentable. You don’t have to look like you’ve stepped out of a catalogue, and you don’t have to drape yourself in jewellery. You don’t even have to wear make-up or leave the house. Just get dressed every day for a week.
At the end of the week, celebrate your success. Make a big deal of it. You set yourself a challenge and you smashed it. High-fives all round!
See, you can do something when you set your mind to it.
Once that’s done, pick something else small for the second week. (At this stage you can either drop the first habit or keep it up. Entirely your decision.) Maybe within the first hour of waking you’re going to drink a glass of water.
Keep picking small challenges, and then celebrating the sh*t out of them. You’ll build your confidence and slowly start realising that YES, you can set yourself a goal and achieve it.
4. What To Do If You Slip Up
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Life happens. Sometimes you’ll wake up and have to rush out of the house so you’ll miss your morning glass of water. That’s OK. Just drink it as soon as you get a chance. Sometimes you’ll decide today’s the day to tackle all the laundry or to scrub the kitchen from top to bottom, and you’ll stay in your pyjamas because it’s just easier. That’s not a failure, that’s just an adjustment of plans. That’s you adapting to a different situation.
Cut yourself some slack. Do you honestly believe that a mini muffin is the end of all your healthy eating plans? Of course not. One bad day doesn’t undo one good, and thinking you’ll never hit a bump in the road is a sure sign of delusion.
Self-discipline isn’t about never having a bad day, it’s simply about ensuring those are the exception to the rule.
As long as you remember to walk before you run, you’re in good shape. Start small and, when you feel you’ve sufficiently rocked the sh*t out of something, take a tiny step up to something slightly more challenging, building your confidence and self-discipline as you go.
Before you know it, you’ll have so many small wins under your belt that you’ll be tackling (and achieving) things you never thought possible. All it takes is a promise to yourself that you’ll do something small for a set amount of time, and then smashing it.
I believe you’ve just won your case. 😉
What’s one thing you’re going to tackle this week to prove to yourself you can be disciplined?