Aim to Have Disciplines, Not to Be Disciplined
Most of us usually cringe at the idea of being disciplined. We have images of that Crème Brulee that we really, really want. But we know we really, really shouldn’t. Despite the mounting guilt, we order it and eat it anyway. And we tell ourselves, “I wish I were more disciplined.”
There is a better way to approach discipline.
Discipline is painful.
Being disciplined is doing what needs to be done even when we don’t feel like doing it. And as much as I force myself to do what needs to be done, even after a lifetime of discipline, it still does not feel great. As a teen I used to practice up to six hours daily on the piano a few months before a piano competition. In my twenties I studied all night sometimes to make it into medical school and often stayed up for 36 hours without sleep during my residency. In some areas I was able to be disciplined. In others I was not.
At times it seems I just cannot make myself do what I need to do. I am not as disciplined as I would like to be when it comes to exercising regularly. And I am terrible at keeping my office organized. I feel like a failure in those areas. As much as I try to push myself, I succeed sometimes, and other times I don’t.
I know many successful people who also seem to be so disciplined in some areas, but in others they are not. They may be the CEO of one of biggest companies in the world, but cannot seem to get themselves to eat well. Regardless of your accomplishments in life, discipline is just not easy, and in some areas it may seem impossible.
I want to share with you a different way to think about discipline.
Having disciplines is easy.
The breakthrough is this:
Consider how the US Marines train and operate. Would you say they are disciplined? They wake up really early at 3 or 4 am and go for a run. In the beginning it takes discipline, but after a while it become easy. They get used it. It becomes a discipline.
Personally, I struggled to read daily for many years. Now I can finish an entire book in 3 days, consistently. Previously, I would probably read 3 books per year. A person from the outside may look at me and say, “Oh wow, he is so disciplined.” But that’s not really the case. I do not have to use any force to read. I developed a discipline. It took a while for me to develop, but now it’s routine. It’s easy. I just have to be aware to keep it up.
Are you with me? You can do the hardest of tasks, if you are able to develop disciplines. I don’t know about you, but I really do not want to be forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do all my life. I want to live my life by having certain systems and practices that lead me forward to my goals.
So how do you move away from having to be disciplined to building disciplines?
How do you develop disciplines?
Developing a discipline has calm strategizing at the heart of it. Let’s examine what it takes to develop healthy eating habits. Most people I know want to eat healthier, but many times are not able to be disciplined to do that. So, this would be a great area for you to practice if this is something you need victory over.
Step One—Decide. Decide what you would like to have a discipline in.
Step Two—Dedicate Time. Take time to create a plan. Don’t start forcing yourself yet. This time is just thinking time. What I mean here is to literally block off 30 minutes of time, turn your phone off, and lock yourself in a room to do some intentional thinking. This time may need to be repeated daily, weekly, or monthly depending on how you are doing with your discipline.
Step Three—Strategize. During the time you blocked off, start thinking about how your discipline will look. For example, if you want to read regularly, then look at your time, examine your priorities and your tendencies. Have a piece of paper and pen with you, and write down ways you will start conquering this area. Reach to the root causes of your tendencies. If you consistently eat badly when you go out to a restaurant, don’t just try harder like most of us do. Stop and think. For example, come up with a list of “allowed restaurants” you will let yourself go to. Get their menus and choose things that you like that you will allow yourself to eat. Prepare choices in advance so that in the moment, you won’t be so tempted.
Step Four—Try. Start the discipline that you selected. Make the needed adjustments. Just go back to the drawing board often to fine tune it depending on your response. For me, with my reading, I started reading 30 minutes daily. Then I found that I was not pushing myself to read enough during that time. So, I changed it to 30 pages daily. I tried reading at night, then I found that I could not read when I am tired. So I switched to morning.
Creating a discipline starts with self-analysis. Be patient with yourself, but be clear that the end-goal should be a desirable behavior that will move you forward aggressively. Great disciplines will always require some effort, but not painful effort. If it is painful, then you need to go back to the drawing board and adjust your expectations.
Plato said that the best victory is victory over self. I believe there is nothing better than having great life disciplines, which we develop slowly to conquer ourselves.
Question: Could you name one area in which you would like to adopt a set of disciplines for yourself?
I look forward to the discussion in the comments section below.
For Further Reading: