How to Discipline Yourself without Hating Your Life?
We know it’s key to progress, growth, success, reaching our goals.
But it’s painful…
Self-discipline, really, any kind of discipline… it hurts. It’s not our norm, our default mode of being. It requires things like commitment, sacrifice, work, diligence, less sleep, more sweat.
Icky stuff. Painful stuff.
And as much as, in theory, we want to reach our goals and be successful and be better people and do great things, we also really really really just want to sit on the couch in our sweats, eat some ice cream, and watch A Town Called Panic (again).
We read all those posts.
You know the ones: The ten greatest productivity hacks you’ve ever seen! and The one key to success you’ve been missing!, and How to get up early, and How to run a marathon while simultaneously writing a novel!.
We read the inspirational manifestos about creating great art and doing great work and doing great things and being great people.
We admire the blogs and skim the posts that tell us everything we need to know about saving money, planting a garden, losing a pound a week, writing a bestseller, and opening a homeless shelter.
And we think, I should do that… That, that one thing, the one there… That thing. I should do that.
And inside we’re grimacing, OUCH, because we know it will hurt, and we really don’t want hurt in our lives, and even though we want the end result, we don’t want to live a life of hurt to get it.
We Want to Enjoy Life, Not Hate it
And we’re kind of afraid that if we go for that thing (whichever one it is) we’ll end up roping ourselves into this life that we absolutely hate, one that does not, in any way, shape, or form, include lounging on the couch with ice cream.
Probably the self-disciplined, goal-driven version of relaxing with munchies is something horrible like eating fried worms in Mongolia or dashing off another chapter in the next bestseller while jogging at a 90% incline on the treadmill.
Yeah, I don’t want to eat fried worms either. Any kind of worms, for that matter: deep-fried, sauteed, steamed, boiled, minced… Nope.
Discipline isn’t going to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be all about painful.
What is Your Motivation?
The first important thing to do is figure out what’s motivating you to go for whatever element of discipline you’re considering in your life.
Let’s take running as an example, because the whole being healthy/losing weight thing is lots more common than the write an 8-volume treatise of the early Scandinavian poets thing.
So (hypothetically) you think running would be a good discipline for you. Why?
- You want to be thin?
- You want to be healthy?
- You want to look better?
- You want to feel better?
- Your neighbor runs 10.4 miles per day and she’s hot, and you think you’ll be equally hot if you do the same?
- Your neighbor runs 10.4 miles per day and she’s hot, and you think you’ll score a date if you do the same?
- You want to impress someone? Everyone?
- You want an excuse to buy cute work-out clothes?
- You need an identity, and “I’m a runner” sounds better than “I’m a couch potato”?
How about this one: you actually like running, and whenever you’ve gone runnig you’ve enjoyed it and felt better, and you think you’d like more of it in your life.
Also, secondarily: you’d like to lose a little weight and you’d really like to be healthy, so a good exercise habit would help with both of those secondary goals.
In Short: Motivation Matters
Before we go any further with motivation, let’s look at another aspect of life/growth/change/discipline.
Your strengths and your passions: BOTH matter.
You may be passionate about African Swallows (and coconuts?), but do you have any skills related to African Swallows (or coconuts?). If not, that passion may be a passion of admiration. Kind of like your passion for Justin Bieber, or Twilight, but not so full of shame.
In other words: this passion is destined to remain a small part of your life, or SHOULD only comprise a small part of it at any rate, if you lack any distinct and real skills to go with it.
Without skills that connect with your passion, you can’t do more than be an ardent admirer. Ardent admirers are fine, but when they take it too far they turn into stalkers and kooky scary people, and you don’t want to go there.
So find the passion that is connected to a skill. And then hook ‘em up and see what kind of babies they make, essentially.
Okay, there’s a bit more to it. Let’s continue.
Strong You are, Young Padawan
Know your areas of weakness and avoid them.
Find out where you are strong and get stronger.
It makes more sense to spend time getting MUCH better at what you’re already good at than getting a little better at what you’re not any good at.
Plus it’s more fun.
Know what your weaknesses are. What’s that? You don’t have any? Oh, good, we’ve been looking for you. Please come this way.
The rest of you, keep reading.
If you’re not sure what your weaknesses are, maybe pause for a minute and think about it. I’ll come up with more thoughts and helps on that in the future. For now, think through what you’ve been complimented on, what you’ve achieved, what has produced results in your life. And think about what you hate doing, what you feel inadequate doing, and what doesn’t produce results in your life.
Find your strengths, boys and girls. And find your weaknesses.
Focus on maximizing the areas where your strengths/skills and passions intersect and minimizing (trade, delegate, defer, outsource, remove) your areas of weakness.
By the way, in case you hadn’t figured it, THIS IS NOT HOW MOST OF US DO WHEN IT COMES TO DISCIPLINE.
Most of us know instinctively Hey I am super weak in XYZ area. Like, maybe, avoiding donuts or not calling people dirty names. Those are two common flaws, right? Ok, let’s pretend they are.
So we think, since I’m weak in XYZ area, I’ll FIX IT. I will add this opposite-of-XYZ habit or exercise or task to my life and I WILL CHANGE and become AWESOME, I mean, totally amazing and AWESOME at XYZ area. I will be like the SUPERHERO of this, instead of the loser at this. PERFECT.
But what happens? We fail.
Because we are trying to take an area of weakness and make it an area of strength, and folks, it ain’t gonna happen.
That is totally the wrong approach, and we end up hating every moment of it because we’re so BAD at what we’re trying to do, so it’s SO MUCH WORK and it’s PAINFUL and we make so LITTLE PROGRESS.
Does any of this sound familiar at all? Have you been here?
Discipline will definitely be something you hate if the discipline is all weakness-and-negativity oriented, trying to get you to focus on what you shouldn’t/can’t/won’t do, and trying to build up strengths were you are naturally weak.
You will suffer, you will struggle, and you will have very little to show for it. In the end, you will probably cave and go for the donut. And cuss people out.
How about, instead, you just focus on finding what you LOVE and are GOOD AT, and putting lots and lots and lots more of that in your life? You will not only enjoy it, you will also make lots more progress. You will not just like the goals, you’ll also like the process of reaching the goals, and the more of those strengths you put in your life, the less important the weaknesses will be.
Because let’s face it, if you are a totally rocking person, doing totally awesome things, disciplined in what matters to you and full of life and challenge and energy, nobody will really mind if you binge-eat a dozen donuts now and then.