The more I manage to do things that require some degree of self-discipline, the better I feel when I put my head on the pillow at night.
So in this article I wanted to explore how to become disciplined.
First, let’s clear something up:
When you think about self-discipline, you are probably thinking about this shaolin monk doing his highly demanding kung-fu stuff.
It’s a great image really, but does it explain what it is?
It doesn’t. The only thing that makes the shaolin monks feat so admirable is consistency – doing that shit every single day.
Self-discipline = consistency (in other words, a habit)
It’s not something that you “get”, but it’s rather something that you build up over time.
You don’t become disciplined after doing something for few days.
You don’t become disciplined by reading this article.
You don’t become disciplined by having born in China.
You become disciplined after months of doing something consistently.
Why not just enjoy life man?
Well, if it would be possible to enjoy life doing just the fun and relaxing stuff, I wouldn’t be writing about this.
It sounds like a good idea, but in the end you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the leg.
It’s all about balance: when I’ve indulged myself into 24/7 fun, I’ve quickly realized that I wasn’t feeling so good by it after a while.
In fact, I became miserable.
This is all because of dopamine, the “feel good neurotransmitter”.
Once you do something that makes your brain go “woo!!1″ and makes you feel good, you obviously want to experience that same feeling again through the same thing.
Everyone knows that this doesn’t work in the long-term. What stimulated your brain so well yesterday doesn’t do it today.
You get into a habit of looking for that high once again and the more you look for it, the less likely it seems you are going to find it.
You become miserable, because the previously fun things don’t feel good anymore and you don’t know what to do. Your momentum is down, you don’t feel like doing anything – apathy fills your life.
Despite feeling like shit, you have to start doing something differently.
You have to transform your search for instant gratification to action filled with delayed gratification and this is where self-discipline comes in.
When I’ve managed to do productive things that have long-term effects, working hard even though I haven’t felt like it and just staying active by not letting myself rationalize to stop, I’ve felt fulfilled and satisfied.
That satisfied feeling has lasted as long as I’ve kept the momentum up and when I’ve finally taken a break, the “instant gratification” stuff has felt 1000 times better because it hasn’t been spoiled with excessive usage.
How about willpower?
Willpower is the ability to do something regardless of what you are currently feeling.
You are going to need it to create consistency – especially when you are running low on motivation.
In other words, willpower makes self-discipline possible.
A finite resource?
There have been studies saying that willpower is a finite resource.
Well, you could say that if you try to lift big weights with untrained muscle, it isn’t going to end well.
However, there has also been a study saying that willpower is a finite resource only if you believe that it is.
Based on my own experience, I agree that willpower depletes only if you let it.
One good way to tap into willpower after using it a lot is to get familair with the art of perverse masochism.
Starting is the hardest part of doing anything.
Once you get the ball rolling, it may feel easy and sometimes even joyful to do.
When it comes to the art of start, willpower is what makes it happen.
When you manage to keep up to it, you’ll notice that there’s considerably less resistance because you’ve been to it for so long – the time between thinking and acting shrinks and you need less willpower to start.
Your self-discipline starts to build up.
However, don’t make the mistake of deluding yourself: there will be times when it feels hard to stretch your willpower, even if you’ve been doing it for years.
It’s supposed to be hard – sustaining a fulfilling lifestyle isn’t supposed to be easy as it would lose its meaning quickly.
Motivation is easily the best way to start building your discipline towards something.
It’s also the most deceiving emotion, because you will always run out of it.
That’s why solely depending on having motivation in long-term is a shitty plan.
You need a plan B, which is this single piece of knowledge:
Instead of needing motivation to keep yourself disciplined, make that discipline itself into a source of motivation.
Life without self-discipline (life full of instant gratification) becomes quickly painful. I’ve made this realization way too often in my life to claim otherwise.
It makes much more sense to become excited about the chance to practice your self-discipline. It has so much mental as well as physical benefits for me that wanting anything else would simply foolish.
From that point of view, wanting continuous instant gratification becomes something that I want to avoid by all means necessary.
This simple knowledge makes it so much easier to become more enthusiastic about building the habit of consistency.
The reward, after all, is a life full of satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean that I deny all motivation, not at all.
Motivation is a bonus that will help you in your journey – it just doesn’t define it.
No zero days
A zero day is a day when you don’t do absolutely anything to make progress in your field(s) of choice.
This doesn’t mean that you have to bust your ass daily towards your goals (though that’s the optimal situation), but commit yourself to not making zero progress anymore.
Write one sentence, do one push-up, read one page. One is bigger than zero.
The biggest reason of failure is the lack of momentum.
The only way to get momentum is to move and do – when you do something daily, you keep at least a minimal amount of momentum up and start to build habit from ground up.
Watch your urges
reddit, facebook, fun sites.
These are all sources of instant gratification and the more you use them, the worse you’ll feel in the long-term.
I remember having such a strong condition towards facebook that I often found myself typing it automatically to my search bar without even thinking about it.
It’s essential to recognize these urges in you and resist them.
When you give in to them, they only strengthen that current habit – it’s going to get harder and harder to get rid of it.
I’ve found that a great way to stop the conditioning to distractions is to direct the urge to somewhere else. Instead of going to facebook, get up and take a few steps around the room, go take a crap, drink some water.
Then come back.
You can try to change yourself into a shaolin monk overnight, but you should be aware that it will be extra hard on you because you lack the conditioning of someone who has built it over the years.
If you succeed – awesome.
If you fail, don’t quit – start over, but smaller. Make one or few changes in your daily life and make a commitment keeping them.
Keep adding those changes and after a while you’ll find that you’ve made huge progress.
Do all the small things instantly
If something can be done under a few minutes, create a habit of doing it instantly.
This will give you more momentum and will condition you so that you’ll be more inclined to act on everything else too.
tl;dr / Summary
- Self-discipline = habit of consistency
- Know that excessive usage of instant gratification will screw you over
- Use willpower to develop self-discipline
- Motivate yourself with the knowledge of satisfaction that disciplined lifestyle provides
- No more zero days: Every day do something – anything – to make progress.
- Become EXTRA aware of your urges and stop following them
- Start small
- Do the small things that take few minutes instantly