Love him or hate him, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk—the face of Tesla, SpaceX, and most recently “X” (formerly Twitter)—can’t be faulted for his discipline and focus.
Musk is known for his laser-like focus and his intense work ethic. It isn’t a stretch to say he’s obsessed with innovation.
Musk is said to follow a strict schedule, “dividing his day into small increments of time dedicated to different tasks.”
Doing things this way allows him to not only manage his time effectively but also focus on multiple ventures.
Now we’re not saying that you have to Musk’s mentality to be successful, but his level of commitment to his craft does beg the question:
What does it take to be exceptionally disciplined and focused?
We found that the answers are rather psychological in nature.
1) Temptations don’t torment you
Say your goal is to turn your side hustle into a full-time career.
You’ve given yourself a deadline: by this time next year you plan on submitting your resignation to your day job so that you can start living the life of your dreams.
But before that you know you need to put away ideally six months’ worth of wages in savings as you anticipate that it will take time to bring in new clients and get things going.
You are plodding along and putting money away every chance you get. You’ve cut down on dining out, going to the movies, and buying things you don’t need.
Things are going smoothly until…
You receive an invitation in the mail about a family reunion happening overseas at a tropical resort. Five days of having fun in the sun and partying your heart out.
But also: the cost is $5000. And you find out that your sister and parents are going.
It’s soooo tempting. You could do with a trip to alleviate the stress you’ve been feeling lately.
Should you go? Should you?
Nope. You made yourself a deal. And you’re going to stick to it.
Resisting short-term temptations and delaying gratification to achieve long-term goals is a big part of being disciplined and focused on your goals, says Jeremy Sutton, PhD.
So is the ability to “override unwanted thoughts, feelings, or impulses.”
When you’re disciplined and focused, you don’t succumb to temptation because you have your eye on the bigger prize.
Besides, you know you can’t stomach half your relatives anyway. So really…win win.
2) You don’t let distractions derail you
Maybe you have really big dreams.
You might be working on the perfect recipe for a line of health food snack products that you plan to take to Shark Tank, for example.
You’re working away in your kitchen on crafting a “code” for a granola bar recipe one day, when your best friend calls you to vent about the argument she had with her sister.
Oh boy, you know that this could take a while. You want to be supportive.
“I’m really busy right now,” you tell your friend. “I just really need to perfect this recipe. I’ll call you when I can.”
You’re getting better and better at not allowing any distractions of the day to throw you off track to what’s more important to you.
You also don’t succumb to social media, Netflix, and the like.
“Like a muscle, each time a person exercises willpower and reinforces successful effort, self-discipline grows stronger,” says Michael W. Weiderman, PhD.
3) Your calendar is king
In my teenage years, I was obsessed with Mary Higgins Clark’s mystery novels. The suspense, the intrigue, dashes of romance, not to mention that her books were women-centric—well that was enough to have me holed up for days on end as I devoured chapter after chapter.
If you’ve read A Cry in the Night, you know what I’m talking about.
Clark wrote 51 books over her four-decade career so she was always on one deadline or another her entire professional life.
When she was just starting out as a writer, Clark’s husband died and she was left alone with two young children. She rose a couple of hours before the children to write her first novel.
Similarly, thriller novel writer Dan Brown is said to have woken up every morning at 4:00am to write. He did this 365 days a year—even on Christmas.
Sean D’Souza from PsychoTactics says that you have to have “a mountain of discipline” when you’re starting out because there is no deadline other than the one you give yourself.
You have to make a promise to yourself to push through. You have to create your own deadlines of what you plan to accomplish that day, that week, or that year.
“We see successful people as being disciplined, but let’s not denigrate their dedication,” says D’Souza.
“But without a deadline they’re often as lazy as you and me. They use their energy badly, get distracted and don’t achieve much. Which in turn tells us that we need to do something similar. We need our first win. Then we have an audience, and we make a promise.”
Be disciplined enough to get your first major win, then the dedication will come naturally.
4) You’re acting like your dreams are already happening
Since actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the news for less than positive reasons recently, I thought I would give a more positive anecdote about him.
We all know that Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder before he became an actor.
Schwarzenegger said that he pictured winning the Mr. Universe competition before actually participating.
“Before I won my first Mr. Universe title, I walked around like I owned it,” he said. “The title was already mine.”
Schwarzenegger said that he had won the crown so many times in his mind that he didn’t have a glimmer of doubt about it.
“Then when I moved onto movies, the same thing,” he said. “I visualized myself being a famous actor and earning big money. I could feel and taste success. I just knew it would all happen.”
More than anything else, it’s goals that compel us to be focused and adopt a policy of discipline.
“Goal-setting in psychology is an essential tool for self-motivation and self-drivenness—both at personal and professional levels. It gives meaning to our actions and the purpose of achieving something higher,” says the team at Positive Psychology.
When you set goals and can practically taste your dreams because that‘s how real they feel, you are giving yourself a roadmap of where you’re heading as well as the right path that will take you there the most efficiently.
“It is a plan that holds us in perspective—the more effectively we make the plan, the better are our chances of achieving what we aim to achieve.”
5) You prepare…and then you prepare some more
I recently interviewed CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins.
Collins was in early twenties when she became the White House correspondent for The Daily Caller, a conservative news website.
She told me she suddenly found herself working alongside seasoned political reporters and that every night she would study and read so much because she wanted to feel like she belonged.
“I wanted to feel like I deserved to be in the Briefing Room.”
Get this for focus and discipline: The Daily Caller didn’t even have a designated seat in the White House Briefing Room, but Collins showed up anyway.
“The room was packed and I’d have to go three hours before and sit in a seat, hoping the person who was supposed to sit in that seat didn’t show up,” she said.
“I would just sit there and work on my questions and think about what I was going to ask.”
You might remember that last May, Collins did a town hall with former President Trump—his first interview since leaving office.
I asked Collins if she was nervous going into the town hall.
Her response? “I wasn’t nervous because I was prepared,” she said.
And she was. In the weeks leading up to the in-depth interview, Collins rewatched Trump’s old campaign debate footage and she delved into his past interviews.
I’ll always remember this quote by new age pioneer and author Deepak Chopra: “Good luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.”
The idea is to be disciplined by design—not just when inspiration strikes
I couldn’t agree more. As a writer, if I waited for inspiration to be motivated, I would miss all my deadlines and no editor would want to work with me. I sit down to write and simply get to it. It’s then that inspiration will take hold of me when I’m already doing the work.
Similarly, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike to send out story ideas. I research and it’s in the middle of that that an idea will materialize.
In the words of Weiderman: “View self-discipline as a force that feeds itself.”
This one you’ve heard: “If you build it they will come.”
But you have to get out of your own way and build it first.
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