A New Spin on Discipline

 In Habits, Productivity, Writing

If you are like most people you probably wish you could be more disciplined.  It is a natural assumption that more discipline leads to better time management and improved productivity, but let me tell you why this isn’t necessarily the case.   A while back I had a chance encounter with a spiritual master who taught me a different spin on the concept of discipline.  I walked away with a new clarity on harnessing my willpower to avoid distractions and focus more intensely on achieving my goals.   I want to share this new spin on the concept of discipline with you to help you stop procrastination once and for all.   If you know what you want to achieve but have trouble following through, then keep reading.  If you don’t yet have a greater purpose in mind, it is probably because you are surrounded with distractions so keep reading – I’ve got some tips for you as well.

Merriam-Webster defines discipline as control gained by enforcing obedience or order, or restraint exercised over one’s impulses, emotions, or desires.  We have all heard it repeated over and over again that discipline is a finite resource.   And while they say it is something you can strengthen and grow over time like a muscle, this is misleading.  It is actually ‘focused discipline on a particular pursuit’ that is most likely to show noticeable growth.   

A Chance Encounter With a Master

The first thing the master told me when I mentioned that I would like to be more disciplined (and in hindsight seems so simple), is that striving for discipline in and of itself is likely to lead to little or no visible progress in any area of one’s life.  Developing and reinforcing strong exercise habits leads to having greater discipline in the realm of physical fitness.   This does not mean you will automatically be more disciplined in other areas of your life because it just doesn’t work that way. 

Too Much Freedom and Not Enough Discipline

For self-employed individuals, particularly those who work remotely online and answer to no one but themselves, avoiding distractions and stopping procrastination are the two biggest hurdles to overcome.  This procrastination often expresses itself in the form of mindless web-surfing. I have personally known many people who still seriously struggle with distractions even years after comfortably settling into their grooves, and I am firmly convinced that we as unique individuals must find our own rhythm and routines which provide stability, comfort, and productivity. 

If you are someone who has a lot more restrictions in your life, believe me, on some levels I envy you. This article is equally applicable to you because the first recommendation I have for people with no immediate pressure to perform is to set deadlines!

A Fish Out of Water

As the spiritual master continued his teaching, he clarified for me the distinction between discipline and focused discipline.  Striving to be a more disciplined person in every area of one’s life leads to a thing called willpower depletion.  You know, that grating feeling of resisting every temptation that rears its ugly head – finishing a report instead of strumming the guitar, being polite to someone when you’d rather scream at them, or not enjoying a delicious piece of chocolate cake. 

The master’s words reminded me of a close friend from childhood – one of the most motivated individuals I know.   I was shocked when he confessed to me two years after quitting his job and being self-employed that he was treading water just to stay afloat.  He originally planned to use his newfound freedom to master the guitar, get in great shape, and learn a new foreign language or two.  He didn’t achieve noticeable success in any of these areas and now I know why: willpower depletion.  He was trying to do too much and as a result ended up surfing the web and playing games online.  He has since returned to normal employment and given up on his dream.  (I can’t help but wonder the success he might’ve accomplished had he signed up for a free 14 day trial of FocusMe.)

Brownie Points

Studies across the board show that when participants engage in consecutive activities both requiring the exertion of willpower, those who indulge themselves in the first activity tend to suffer a decline in willpower in the second activity.  A simple example would be to put a bunch of people together in a room with a tray of fresh brownies and a tray of celery sticks, only allowing them to choose one snack.   Unless someone has impeccable dietary habits, refraining from the brownies usually require willpower.  If you take this same group of people and immediately afterwards have them play a memory game or some activity that requires concentration and focus, the group that previously exercised discipline by not indulging in the brownies will show a noticeable inability to concentrate and maintain focus.

A Few Neat Facts

Brains require a lot of energy (known as glucose) to function at their best, and brains that are working extra hard to exert control and maintain discipline can actually consume glucose faster than it is replenished.  This is why learning about and mastering one’s diet is a key component to long term success, but that isn’t the focus of this article.  Studies also show time and time again that people who are driven by their own internal desires are able to outlast people who are driven to please others – think the difference between an employer following their passion versus a disgruntled  employee.  This also highlights the importance of finding something you like to do and actually doing it.

But what if you have found what you like to do and still can’t motivate yourself to take decisive action or you find yourself regularly procrastinating?  Or what if it is something you don’t want to do at all, but rationally you know it would be beneficial to do?

The Wise Man Speaks…

The spiritual master explained further, and it struck me profoundly, that discipline is merely a process that makes someone more likely to do things they don’t want to do.  Let me repeat: Discipline is a process that makes you more likely to do things you don’t want to do.  Discipline is not something you do or something you have, rather it is a process you engage in, or essentially habits you reinforce over time to minimize unpleasantness that occurs along the way to achieving a goal or completing a task.  This new spin on discipline shows us a more optimal way to look at how we engage the world as we head for success. 

Motivation is also something that is nice to have a lot of, and is something that should absolutely be factored in when designing what you want your ideal life to look like.  However, motivation is not one of the variables involved in completing a given task.  For those of us who work online, we have tasks to complete, and we often have no motivation to complete them.  In order to complete a task, doing what is required to complete the task is the only thing that is required.  Discipline is what allows us to stay focused and overcome the negatives and frustration that show up in the process of task completion.  If you find social media to be a distraction, try using a website blocker or app blocker to block social media and block games.  This sets you up for success in the future because you won’t have those escapes readily available.  You will be able to stay focused and put one foot in front of the other to complete your tasks and build discipline.

When I make business decisions, I decide what needs to be done using logic, weighing all the relevant factors, and applying common sense.  Only after I decide what action to take do I have to concern myself with the negative feelings that arise between my decision and completion of my goal.  This is where discipline comes into play – nurturing those habits, attitudes, and behaviors that reduce the frustrations or headaches that arise on the path to task completion, thus increasing the chances for success.

Set the Bar Low for Long Term Success?

This is why you often hear about the importance of setting the bar low when starting something, because it gives us ample time and opportunity to foster those behaviors that minimize the negatives of doing something.   If you want to be a writer you can start your day by writing 50 words before doing anything else, and if you want to begin exercising then start day 1 with a 10 minute walk.  The point is that it is very helpful to have a very low barrier to entry, allowing you to slowly build the habits and hone the processes that make you more likely to do the things you don’t want to do.  In other words: BUILDING DISCIPLINE.  As your competence and ability grow, discipline will follow, and under such conditions it is common to experience a surge of motivation, helping you to accomplish tasks at a startling pace.   

A Cool Trick to Immediately Increase Discipline

Regardless of what it is you are trying to accomplish, you should always start by doing one thing – helping yourself succeed. FocusMe is a very powerful blocking software so if you want to give yourself a virtual shot (or two!) of discipline and once and for all be able to avoid distracting web pages and apps and give yourself a leg up on the competition, you’d be wise to get started using it right away.

Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Lars von Panzerbjørn
    Reply

    If I had more discipline, I’d get up with my partner when our child wakes up at 6:00-30 ^_^

  • Sabe Jones
    Reply

    Some interesting ideas here, but referencing ego depletion is a hit to credibility, at this point! A quick Googling on “ego depletion reproducibility” may be educational.

Leave a Comment

0
7 Tools and Techniques