Motivational highs are incredible for helping us to take action, and a solid arsenal of habits can help keep routine tasks on track. But if life has taught me anything, it’s that motivation and habits are not enough to get you to the finish line.
You’ll never be motivated enough to succeed.
A bold statement?
But I’ll wager it’s true.
I mean, I’m sure you’ve been motivated many times before, right? Motivated to lose weight… to build muscle, to clean-up your diet, get back in shape.
Whatever it was you were emotionally primed to take action.
But here’s the thing, while motivation might get the party started, it’s rarely enough to see it through to the end.
So habits then?
That’s all the rage now.
You just form a bunch of healthy, wholesome habits to carry you through when motivation inevitably wanes. Now you don’t need to be motivated to take action — the whole process is essentially on autopilot!
You’ve got habits for packing your gym bag. Setting your alarm. Eating before you food-shop.
You see, while habits are indeed next-level for behavior change, they are also pretty fragile in that they explicitly rely on one or more specific cues.
But what happens when the cues aren’t there? Or you find yourself confronted with decisions that fall outside your repertoire of habits?
Take that alarm.
Sure you have a habit for setting it, and for jumping out of bed when it goes off. But what stops you hitting snooze on those mornings when you’re just not ready?
And you pack your gym bag every night because it’s sitting there right by the bathroom door—until you leave it at work one day.
This is where habits can’t save you.
And when you don’t have a pool of motivational energy to fall back on, all that’s left is discipline.
Discipline > Habits > Motivation.
The sad thing is, discipline gets a bad wrap.
It’s got this negative connotation associated with it that people just can’t get past.
And that dictionary definition doesn’t exactly help:
“The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”
Obey. Punishment. Disobedience.
Hold on, I’ll just go grab that cane!
Now luckily, when we talk about discipline in the context of self-improvement, we really mean self-discipline.
The power of self-discipline
And putting that “self” in front of discipline changes everything:
“The ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”
It’s your emotional leveller—an outward expression of will.
Your determination and resolve to follow-through and take action.
A superpower if you will.
“The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and passions”. —STEPHEN R. COVEY
It’s self discipline that gets things done when they need to be done, whether you feel like doing them or not.
The difference between ordinary and extraordinary. Between average and great.
Could you tell that I’m a passionate advocate for the power of self-discipline?
But if you’re sitting there thinking “Great, but I don’t have good self-discipline, Paul.” then I’ve got good news for you.
Self-discipline is a learned skill
Self-discipline is just like a muscle, and it can be trained.
And here’s five things you can do to “flex” your self-discipline every day.
- Do it anyway. Stop waiting for it to “feel right” and do what needs to be done. Or at the very least robustly challenge the myriad of feelings that seek to slow your progress.
- Act as if you were already successful. If you lack clarity as to what needs to be done, stop and think about how it would look if you’d already achieved your goal. Strong people wouldn’t skip that workout. Lean people make smarter food choices. Healthy people prioritize movement.
- Know your why. Clear goals are critical to success, and we need a strong plan of execution to get there. But when the going gets tough and bullets start flying, knowing your why can be like donning your own Bracelets of Submission. In fact It’s so powerful that uncovering your why is one of the first things I do with my coaching clients.
- Be all in. 99% is hard, 100% is easy. Why? Because there’s a line of reasoning that being 99% committed to something means that it’s open to question—and if it’s open to question it’s just another decision to make. And if you’ve ever shopped at the grocery store when you’re hungry, you know decision fatigue is very real. So identify what needs 100% of your commitment and resolve, and be all-in on those things.
- Eliminate options. Muscles get tired, and your self-discipline muscle is no different. So create some space for your self-discipline to recover by reducing distraction and eliminating options. So if Snickers bars are your Kryptonite, consider not keeping them in the house and perpetually “testing” your self-discipline.
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